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5 Sep 2016

Slapp Happy “Slapp Happy” 1974 UK Prog Avant Garde Experimental

Slapp Happy “Slapp Happy” 1974 UK Prog Avant Garde Experimental
SLAPP HAPPY was a multinational (specifically British/German) Avant-garde pop group consisting of Anthony MOORE (keyboards), Peter BLEGVAD (guitar) and Dagmar KRAUSE (vocals). SLAPP HAPPY was formed in 1972 in Hamburg, Germany by British composer Anthony MOORE. At the time he was recording for Polydor, but was continually frustrated by the more popular direction the label was trying to woe his music. His music was sited as not commercial enough. Venting this frustration he proposed the formation of a pop group with his girlfriend (Dagmar KRAUSE) from Hamburg and an American friend Peter BLEGVAD. So Slapp happy was born. After much disputes and bantering BLEGVAD and MOORE convinced Krause of their inabilities to sing and she step up as their sing. And to this day remains as one of the distinctive characteristics surrounding the band. 

In 1972 SLAPP HAPPY recorded their first album ‘Sort of’ for Polydor (Germany), with the Krautrock group Faust as their backing band. They took a very simplistic and innocence mind set into studio, crafting a primitive pop album complimented beautiful by KRAUSE’s pure German tainted voice. Refusing to play live the marketing behind the album provided to low sales of the LP. 

Just a year later (1973) they returned to the studios to record their second album 'Casablanca Moon’ (which was to be later released as 'Acnalbasac Noom’). After the disappointing commercial success of 'Sort of’ Polydor continued to press the band for more pop orientated material and this is what they recorded. MOORE and BLEGVAD composed simple well crafted pop songs, entailing lush melodies and poetic lyrics. Still not impressed with their work Polydor refused to release the album. 

The band then left Polydor (for the better) and moved to London where they were quickly snapped up by the Virgin Records label who was looking for more than just another pop band, which fitted SLAPP HAPPY like a glove. Friends FAUST and HENRY COW had already signed deals. They went on to re-record and release 'Casablanca Moon’ in 1974 at the Virgin Manor Studios with the helping hand of session musicals. The approach was more designed at Moore and Blegvad true nature of compositional techniques, producing a more complex song design. Here we also see the lyrical themes tending towards the eccentric side of the spectrum, discounting their roots in the commercial pop realms. That year, SLAPP HAPPY went on to be one of Virgin’s biggest money earners. The album was originally release entitled simple 'Slapp Happy’ but was later changed to 'Casablanca Moon’ 

It was to be another 6 years (1980) before Recommended Records release the original 'Casablanca Moon’ (backed by FAUST), talking a play on words entitling it 'Acnalbasac Noom’. These two recordings were to become SLAPP HAPPY’s most love releases, with constant arguments between fans of which album triumphed over the other. During the time between these two releases Slapp Happy made confidences with label mates Henry Cow and in late 1974 recorded a split album 'Desperate Straights", which despite the variances in style turned out to be a success. Once again in 1975 the two bands joined forces, with Krause as vocalist for Henry Cow acclaimed 'In the Praise of Learning’ while Moore and Blegvad took on minor rolls. 

While KRAUSE reminded with HENRY COW for many more years, both MOORE and BLEGVAD couldn’t ignore the vast differences between the bands style and thus forced the split of SLAPP HAPPY. Both MOORE and BLEGVAD set out on separate solo careers of varying success. 

The band was to collaborate again twice during the nineties, producing both 'Ca Va’ and 'Camera’. Now coming into a more modern age the band made extensive use of layering and other studio effects. To some fans the lose of the signature 'acoustic sound’ was a disappointment, but relatively speaking both albums were solid efforts. 

SLAPP HAPPY crafts a unique style of Avant-garde pop; while remain sophisticated, they draw from pop subtleties, from playful moods to the airy voice of Dagmar KRAUSE. Recommend to those looking for a lighter taste of RIO/avant-prog. 

Following their Polydor debut Sort Of, Slapp Happy recorded a follow up which again featured backing from members of Faust. Unfortunately Polydor decided not to release it, and it languished in the vaults until Recommended gave it a much deserved release in 1980. Salvation appeared in the form of Virgin, flush with the profits from Tubular Bells, and this album was more or less a remake with the song Haiku replacing Charlie & Charlie from the Faust version. Debate rages to this day as to which is the better version; some dismiss the backing on this version as the work of session men, which is a tad unfair as the trio are backed by a stellar crew of players including cameos from Faust’s Jean Herve Peron and Henry Cow’s Geoff Leigh. 

Whichever version you pick, there’s no question that this album marked a significant progression from their fine debut album. Dagmar emerged here as the principal vocalist, with Blegvad getting just one lead vocal and a duet. Moore and Blegvad’s songwriting had matured considerably as well, with Blegvad’s erudite lyrics sharper and wittier and Moore’s skewed pop songwriting moving more towards a kind of pan European cabaret style, with a definite RIO twist. The arrangements are largely acoustic, and are mostly sympathetic to the songwriting, although in places the strings add an unnecessary saccharine touch. From the warped tango of the opening track it’s clear that this is no conventional rock album, and the first 6 tracks are infused with the kind of whimsy (described as 'sinister’ by Blegvad) found on albums by Kevin Ayers and Robert Wyatt. A particular highlight is Mr Rainbow, a tribute to the French poet Rimbuad with one of his poems sung by Dagmar, giving a foretaste of her acclaimed interpretations of Brecht songs, this being juxtaposed with a down and dirty rock interlude where Blegvad sings lead for the first time on the album. The following 2 songs opened the b side of the vinyl original and are closer to the acoustic soft rock of Carole King or James Taylor than to RIO - the Faust versions of The Secret and A Little Something are harder edged and the better for it. The album closes with 3 more strong songs, including Blegvad’s excellent Haiku. This is a kind of continuation of Heading for Kyoto from Sort Of, which was inspired by Basho’s classic The Narrow Road To The Deep North. Haiku is written as a series of elegantly phrased - you guessed it - haikus, and the lyrics show that Blegvad was deeply immersed in the work of Basho and his acolytes and his lyrics do justice to the form in a way that few non Japanese have ever achieved. The lines 'Systole, diastole/Dealing with the parts but feeling with the whole…’ have a triple inverted irony which crams more into a handful of syllables than many songwriters manage on entire albums….. progarchives…….. 

After this Slapp Happy would forge an alliance with another great avant prog outfit, Henry Cow, and would subsequently resurface once a decade or so to the delight of of their small but intensely loyal fanbase. This is an album which is full of hidden delights, and it was through hearing it that I became acquainted with Basho, visited the Rue St Jacques in Paris (during a near riot, with the French riot police on one side and some very mean looking protesters on the other), read Rimbaud and learned the meaning of the words 'systole’ and 'diastole’ (look them up. I had to). Recommended, but as you’ve probably guessed I’m not 100% objective here…by progarchives…….. 

Slapp Happy was an ambitious Art-Rock trio from the glory days of the genre, back in the 70’s, who were mostly remembered for their collaboration with Henry Cow. But before the Avant-Prog work with Henry Cow on the albumsDesperate Straights and In Praise Of Learning, there were those sentimental and complex arrangements of Casablanca Moon. 

There is a story surrounding the album involving Slapp Happy’s collaboration with the band Faust. The two collectives worked together on this album, but the project didn’t work out since Polydor rejected the final product. To tell you the truth, I wasn’t all that impressed with the few bit ofAcnalbasac Noom that I’ve listened to on YouTube. This meant that Slapp Happy had to re-record most of the material once they moved to Virgin Records. 

I’m actually rather surprised that this release wasn’t the huge hit that it deserved to be. The music arrangements are quite excellent, still it’s Dagmar Krause’s vocals that completely steal the show on practically every number. Everyone who has listened to Krause’s career in reverse, just like I did, will probably be surprised by the straightforward melodic approach that her voice undertakes here. Some might even criticize this vocal approach, dismissing it for relying too much on the influences from the music scene of its time, but too me Krause has a dominating presence here that can be compared to that of Nico of the first Velvet Underground record. 

Anthony Moore and Peter Blegvad do a great job behind the scenes, plus the vast list of guest appearances that are literally crammed on this 35 minute long record make their presence known. There are just so many great tunes that will grab any Art Rock lovers attention. Everything from the opening number’s flamenco styled rhythms, to quirky tracks like Michelangelo or the sugary A Little Something make it a highly versatile album experience. 

I feel like I’m repeating myself, but this is definitely worth repeating again and again — Slapp Happy'sCasablanca Moon is every Art Rock fan’s dear friend that they should grab on to and store in a safety vault. Still, a treasure of this caliber might not be for every progressive rock fan out there, which is why it has to be an excellent rating but with ++ added at the end!… .by progarchives…….. 

Slappy Happy’s self-titled album - called Casablanca Moon in some editions - was a rerecording of a harsher, rockier version of more or less the same material (with one song switched out) they’d prepared with the backing of Faust. Whilst I would be interested in hearing that version at some point along the line, at the same time I think the light, jazzy, soft approach taken on this version is interesting in itself, since it really teases out the beautiful, dreamy side side of these quirky, mutant progressive pop numbers. 

Prog purists who come to the band via their collaborations with Henry Cow may find this a bit accessible for their tastes, but I don’t think this rerecording is necessarily the case of “record company steamrollers artistic integrity” it’s made out to be; after all, even this version of the album is hardly slick and commercial, and it fits neatly into the precedent set by the earlier Sort Of - indeed, it represents a polishing and honing of the approach of that album into a bona fide masterpiece….. .by progarchives…….. 

Line-up / Musicians 

- Anthony Moore / keyboards 
- Peter Blegvad / second vocals 
- Dagmar Krause / lead vocals 

Guest musicians: 
- Marc Singer / drums 
- Dave Wintour / bass guitar 
- Graham Preskett / violin, mandolin 
- Roger Wootton / backing vocals 
- Eddie Sparrow / drums, congas, whistles 
- Jean Herré Peron / bass guitar 
- Clare Deniz / cello 
- Nick Worters / double bass 
- Jeremy Baines / sausage bassoon 
- Andy Leggett / jugs 
- Clem Cattini / drums 
- Henry Lowther / trumpet 
- Geoff Leigh / saxophones 
- Keshave Sathe / tablas, tamboura 

Songs / Tracks Listing 

1. Casablanca Moon (2:49) 
2. Me and Paravati (3:25) 
3. Half-Way There (3:18) 
4. Michaelangelo (2:36) 
5. Dawn (3:21) 
6. Mr. Rainbow (3:52) 
7. Secret (3:31) 
8. Little Something (4:35) 
9. Drum (3:35) 
10. Haiku (3:05) 
11. Slow Moon’s Rose (2:55)

johnkatsmc5, welcome music..







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