Thursday, June 25, 2015

Slapp Happy / Henry Cow - 1975 - Desperate Straights

Slapp Happy / Henry Cow
Desperate Straights

01. Some Questions About Hats (1:49)
02. The Owl (2:14)
03. A Worm Is At Work (1:52)
04. Bad Alchemy (3:06)
05. Europa (2:48)
06. Desperate Straights (4:14)
07. Riding Tigers (1:43)
08. Apes In Capes (2:14)
09. Strayed (1:53)
10. Giants (1:57)
11. Except From The Messiah (1:48)
12. In The Sickbay (2:08)
13. Caucasian Lullaby (8:20)

- Peter Blegvad / guitar, voice
- Mont Campbell / french horn
- Lindsay Cooper / oboe, bassoon
- Chris Cutler / drums
- Nick Evans / trombone
- Mongezi Fezza / trumpet
- Fred Frith / guitar, violin, xylophone
- John Greaves / bass guitar, piano (4)
- Anthony Moore / piano
- Tim Hodgkinson / clarinet, organ, piano (13)
- Dagmar Krause / voice, wurlitzer (12)
- Geoff Leigh / flute
- Pierre Moerlen / percussion (5)

Slapp Happy was formed in 1972 in Hamburg 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.

Shortly after recording 'Unrest', Henry Cow entered into a merger with label mates Slapp Happy. Slapp Happy comprised Dagmar, their German vocalist who would later win great acclaim for interpretations of Brecht, Peter Blegvad, American born but raised and educated in England, played guitar and wrote most of the lyrics and would later contribute the unique strip cartoon Leviathan to the Independent, and Anthony Moore, English pianist who wrote most of the music and who would later work with the post Waters Pink Floyd. Together they produced a kind of skewed pop awash with literary and artistic references. They had recorded 2 albums with Faust, the second of which was re-recorded with session players for Virgin. 2 albums would come from this merger; Desperate Straights (Slapp Happy with Henry Cow) and In Praise Of Learning (Henry Cow with Slapp Happy).

Desperate Straights was the first of the joint ventures to be recorded, and the union of Henry Cow's avant rock with Slapp Happy's warped pop was both challenging and accessible. The majority of the songs were built around a piano/bass/drums accompaniment, with other instruments adding extra colour where needed. Tim Hodgkinson's clarinet is deployed as an instrumental foil to Dagmar's unique voice to superb effect, particularly on the opening song Some Questions About Hats. Elsewhwere, The Owl features Dagmar accompanied solely by horns and Europa has some superb percussion from Pierre Moerlen - all the arrangements are highly original and well thought out. Peter Blegvad takes the lead vocal on Strayed and does a neat pastiche of Lou Reed's drawl. Excerpt From The Messiah is a snippet of Handel as though played by a 70s glam metal band like Slade. There are 2 instrumentals, the title track which is a short, off kilter foxtrot, and the closing track, a lengthy piano/clarinet piece which features the 2 instruments playing scales very slowly. Caucasian Lullaby isn't bad at all, and would have been a superb addition to one of Eno's Obscure label releases, but it is somewhat out of keeping with the rest of the album.

This release is more representative of Slapp Happy than Henry Cow. If you've ever wondered what a cabaret band from mars would sound like, this album is definitely for you.

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