Saturday, March 5, 2016

Slapp Happy - 1972 - Sort Of

Slapp Happy 
Sort Of

01. Just a Conversation (4:07)
02. Paradise Express (2:38)
03. I Got Evil (2:33)
04. Little Girls World (3:34)
05. Tutankhamun (2:15)
06. Mono Plane (6:52)
07. Blue Flower (5:21)
08. I'm All Alone (2:52)
09. Who's Gonna Help Me Now (2:28)
10. Small Hands of Stone (4:43)
11. Sort Of (2:21)
12. Heading for Kyoto (3:10)
13. Jumping Jonah (3:07)

- Anthony Moore / keyboards, vocals
- Gunther Wusthoff / saxophone
- Dagmar Krause / piano, vocals
- Peter Blegvad / clarinet, guitar, vocals
- Slapp Happy / main performer
- Werner Diermaier / drums

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.

Maybe due to the band's unwillingness to promote this album with live gigs and everything else one would assume goes hand in hand with a music career, - Slapp Happy remained somewhat obscure at the time of this release. It's kinda sad, especially when you start to listen to this riveting and unassuming debut album simply called Sort Of......Slapp Happy. The meaning behind the title escapes this listener, but what does shine through in the most charming way, is the feet thumping, psychedelic whiskey shooting straightforwardness of this thing. Sure, you probably saw the RIO avant sticker applied here on PA, and thought to yourself: "Ahhh it's one of those unlistenable albums with people playing drainpipes and castrated frogs.... Count me out!" - upon running screaming in the opposite direction. Such thinking is pure madness though, and if anybody out there is reading this review and maybe even feels on the fence about this sort of music - or just think they've pigeon-holed the entire genre by listening to a couple of albums from Zappa and Henry Cow, I urge you to take a chance with Sort Of. It could well be your introduction into a world of shiny things with teeth.

Having said that, you could be lead into thinking otherwise, as Sort Of sports a couple of big hitters inside the more experimental side of rock music. 3 members from Faust lend a helping hand in this recording - and you also meet a young Peter Blegvad who back then sounded far more occupied with dirty gritty hard rock, than what he later got associated with. Finally there's the tiny pixie named Dagmar Krause, who sings like a female version of David Surkamp. Allrighty then....

The thing is - this debut is far from being an avant garde release. It's only in the details you hear traces of what was to come. The Faust input feels strangely in line with the surrounding psychedelic blues rock n' folk style, and if I didn't know any better, I'd say it sounded like a quirkier Big Brother with Janis singing from the insides of a helium bubble.

The crunching spillonking guitar antics of Peter Blegvad are what's running things here. Often coming off as a distorted blues man, he propels this venture forward with a steadfast easy digestible Chuck Berry lick. Much of what you hear wouldn't feel out of place in a Woodstock setting, where the rhythm n' blues framework got stretched to fit whatever agenda put on the menu, whether that was the Latino spicings of Santana or the hippedi hop pop of Sha-na-na. On here, you are faced with the German lineage of the blues. What the Amon Duuls proposed to do with it - that underground gelatinous raw blues feel, even if you won't find much in the way of free-form composition or amazing LSD freak-outs on Sort Of. The sound is very much an echo of the psychedelic blues rock happening in the late 60s.

It's first when you dig a little deeper that you start to hear those quirky bits. The side of the record that screams for unorthodox measures and iron fisted koalas. Like I mentioned earlier, it is indeed a subtle shading to the proceedings, but it helps pull the album up from the everyday blubber of 1970s blues rock. It's in the spastic percussion touches that continue to embellish the music throughout the album. Something that Faust were masters at. Just hearing the drums on some of these tracks makes me think of the wilder side of Ginger Baker. Keeping a straight beat without implementing the high hat or snare drum like they were meant to is a very hard thing to do - especially when the track you're supposed to be backing is a rockabilly tune with a severe need of a 1 and 4. Yet on here it works, and does so beautifully and with refined subtlety. What? We're talking about Faust here - aren't we?!?!?!

This is what sets the album apart from other such psychedelic blues rock affairs of the time: unusual backing ornamentations like a twittering saxophone, bar-room piano, mumbling snuffling percussions, unorthodox drumming and the unique vocals of Madame Krause. For those of you who've heard horror stories about this woman's vocal chords, don't believe any of it! She's as charismatic and powerful as she is integral to this band's sound. The minuscule traces of German accent that lie at the tail-end of her phrasings are abnormally beautiful, and I honestly wouldn't have it any other way, and just so you know: I usually despise accented vocals. Furthermore, she doesn't even sing that much on this debut. Blegvad belts out his booming blues voice just as frequently, and the flip flopping effect of the Minnie Mouse tinged psychedelics of Krause and the big meaty elk booms from Blegvad match perfectly the music surrounding them.

Sort Of is far away from being representative of this band's future career, but it is a wonderful meeting between the States and Europe. This is where the blues fuelled psych rock dances with the quirkier side of the European avant garde eccentricities, yet without ever loosing it's natural heritage.

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