Slapp Happy was a German/English avant-pop group, formed in Germany in 1972. Their lineup consisted of Anthony Moore (keyboards), Peter Blegvad (guitar) and Dagmar Krause (vocals). The band members moved to England in 1974 where they merged with Henry Cow, but the merger ended soon afterwards and Slapp Happy split up. Slapp Happy's sound was characterised by Dagmar Krause's unique vocal style. From 1982 there have been brief reunions to create an opera called Camera, record the album Ça Va in 1998, and perform shows around the world.
Reunions: 1982, 1997, 2000, 2016–2017
|Labels||Polydor, Virgin, V2|
|Associated acts||Faust, Henry Cow|
|Past members||Peter Blegvad|
Slapp Happy was formed in 1972 in Hamburg, Germany by British experimental composer Anthony Moore. Moore had recorded two avant-garde/experimental solo LPs for Polydor Germany, but they rejected his third because it was not commercial enough. As a result of the rejection, he proposed a pop project with his girlfriend (and soon to be wife), Dagmar Krause from Hamburg, and a visiting American friend, Peter Blegvad. At the time, Krause couldn't sing because of problems with her voice, but when she heard Blegvad's singing she agreed to sing for the group.
With krautrock group Faust as a backing band, Slapp Happy recorded a debut album, Sort Of, for Polydor Germany in 1972. The songs were simple, primitive pop, a "naive rock" as Peter Blegvad put it. Commercially, the LP did not go very far, primarily because Slapp Happy refused to perform live.
In 1973 they returned to the studio (again with Faust as their backing band) to record their second album, Casablanca Moon. After the commercial failure of Sort Of, Polydor had demanded more pop-sounding material, and so Moore and Blegvad wrote "straight" pop songs, but Polydor was still not happy and refused to release it.
Slapp Happy then left Polydor Germany and moved to London where a record deal was signed a deal with the then emerging Virgin Records label, which was looking for experimental groups. Faust and Henry Cow had already signed up. At Virgin's Manor Studios in Oxfordshire, Slapp Happy re-recorded Casablanca Moon with the help of session musicians (under the direction of violinist Graham Preskett) and Virgin released it as Slapp Happy in 1974. It was not until 1980 that Recommended Records released the original Casablanca Moon (with Faust) as Acnalbasac Noom (the words of the original title written backwards). Comparison of the two releases revealed two very different musical arrangements. Acnalbasac Noom had a raw and unsophisticated feel about it, whereas Casablanca Moon tended to be more sentimental with more complex arrangements, including a string orchestra.
In June 1974, there were plans for a joint appearance by Slapp Happy and Virgin label mates Henry Cow and Robert Wyatt at a free concert in Hyde Park in London, but this was cancelled at the last minute. However, on 25 June Slapp Happy recorded a Top Gear session for the BBC, enlisting the help of former or current Cow members Geoff Leigh, Fred Frith and Lindsay Cooper, plus Robert Wyatt, who contributed guest vocals and percussion to a version of Blegvad's "A Little Something" from Casablanca Moon. Credited as "Slapp Happy & Friends", this was later released in 1994 on Wyatt's compilation album, Flotsam Jetsam.
The idea to collaborate with Henry Cow eventually materialised in November 1974 when Slapp Happy asked them to provide instrumental backing, much as Faust had done on the first two albums. The resulting Desperate Straights was released under the name "Slapp Happy/Henry Cow". The success of this collaboration surprised everyone, considering how dissimilar the two bands were, and the two bands merged. The music often had a Berlin Cabaret feel about it with a taste of avant-garde jazz.
The merged group returned to the studio in early 1975 to record Henry Cow's In Praise of Learning (as "Henry Cow/Slapp Happy"). The only real contribution from Slapp Happy (besides Dagmar's singing) was the Moore/Blegvad song "War", which blended in well with the album's political aggression. But differences in approach between the two groups had come to a head in April 1975 and Anthony Moore and Peter Blegvad quit, suggesting that Henry Cow's music was too serious (and political) for their liking. Dagmar Krause, however, elected to remain with Henry Cow, who needed a vocalist. This effectively spelt the end of Slapp Happy as a band. Slapp Happy did, however, record one more single, "Johnny's Dead", without Krause, which was released in July 1975.
Moore and Blegvad then both embarked on separate solo careers. In 1982 the trio reunited briefly to record a Slapp Happy single, "Everybody's Slimmin' (Even Men and Women)" on their own private label, Half-Cat Records. Here Krause sings rap-style to a rhythm box sound. They also performed live (for the first time ever) during the "Dial M For Music" festival, held at London's Institute of Contemporary Arts on 10 September 1982.
The three collaborated again in 1991 on a specially commissioned television opera "Camera", produced by After Image for Channel 4, based on an original idea by Krause, with words by Blegvad and music by Moore. Krause played the lead character "Melusina" and the opera was broadcast two years later on Channel 4 in the United Kingdom. The soundtrack Camera was released on CD in 2000, although under the names "Dagmar Krause, Anthony Moore and Peter Blegvad" and not "Slapp Happy".
In 1997, Slapp Happy reunited again to record a new studio album Ça Va on Richard Branson's new V2 label. It was Slapp Happy's first album since 1975 and the music picked up from where it had left off with literate and quirky pop songs. A departure from the past, however, was that they made the music themselves, playing all the instruments and using looped samples to produce a layered sound on many of the tracks.
Krause, Moore and Blegvad reformed Slapp Happy again in November 2016 to perform with Faust at the Week-End festival in Cologne, Germany. The two groups also played together on 10–11 February 2017 at Cafe Oto in London. On 24 February 2017 Slapp Happy, without Faust, performed at Mt. Rainer Hall, Shibuya in Tokyo. In September 2017, Slapp Happy and Faust played at the 10th Rock in Opposition festival in Carmaux, France. They made a final appearance in November 2017 in Brussels, Belgium.
Slapp Happy's music was eccentric pop with an "avant-garde" twist to it. It drew on a variety of musical idioms, including waltzes, bossa novas, French chansons and tangos. The songs' lyrics were literate and playful while the mood varied from "dreamy" to sinister. However, it was Dagmar Krause's unusual and eerie high-pitched voice that was the group's most arresting feature. Her German-inflected vocals ranged from a sweet melodious croon to the "love-it-or-hate-it" Armageddon style typified on In Praise of Learning.
- Anthony Moore – guitar, keyboards, percussion, programming, tape manipulation, toy theremin, melodica, harmonica, vocals
- Peter Blegvad – guitar, bass guitar, saxophone, clarinet, percussion, harmonica, vocals
- Dagmar Krause – vocals, piano, percussion, harmonica
Note: Dagmar Krause was credited as "Daggi" on Slapp Happy's first album, Sort Of (1972). On the next three albums, Slapp Happy (1974), Desperate Straights (1975) and In Praise of Learning (1975), she was credited as "Dagmar". From Acnalbasac Noom (1980) onwards Krause was credited with her full name.
The year below indicates the release date (not the recording date).
- Sort Of (1972, LP, Polydor Records, Germany)
- Slapp Happy (also known as Casablanca Moon) (1974, LP, Virgin Records, UK)
- Desperate Straights (with Henry Cow) (1975, LP, Virgin Records, UK)
- In Praise of Learning (with Henry Cow) (1975, LP, Virgin Records, UK)
- Acnalbasac Noom (1980, LP, Recommended Records, UK)
- Ça Va (1998, CD, V2 Records, UK)
- Camera (as "Dagmar Krause/Anthony Moore/Peter Blegvad") (2000, CD, Blueprint Records, UK)
- Live in Japan (2001, CD, FMN Records, Japan)
- "Just a Conversation" / "Jumpin' Jonah" (1972, 7", Polydor Records, Germany)
- "Casablanca Moon" / "Slow Moon's Rose" (1974, 7", Virgin Records, UK)
- "Johnny's Dead" / "Mr. Rainbow" (1975, 7", Virgin Records, UK) – credited to "Slapp Happy featuring Anthony Moore"
- "Alcohol" (1981, 7", Recommended Records, UK) – one-sided bonus single issued with RēR re-issue of Sort Of
- "Everybody's Slimmin' (Even Men and Women)" / "Blue-Eyed William" (1983, 7", Half-Cat Records, UK)
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