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PETER BLEGVAD RETROSPECTIVE

Blegvad on Blegvad
Hearsay #12 / 1996

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"People say, 'Oh that's too eclectic—the audience will be perplexed and dazzled.' Well, great! Perplexed and dazzled is a good thing to be!"

Slapp Happy — Casablanca Moon
Humour was an important part of the Slapp Happy ethos. We didn't take the first Slapp Happy album seriously at all, although we did work very hard. When Anthony [
Moore] and I were composing, one of our criteria was trying to make the other person laugh, or just go 'Oh God!' It still works today. We had a meeting just a few weeks ago because there's some interest in a Slapp Happy reunion record. We were looking to adapt a song that Anthony had written for Dagmar [Krause] to sing. It was a love song to 'Coralie', in that tradition where you put the babe's name in there and sing it over and over again. Dagmar wasn't gonna sing about Coralie, so we changed it to Timothy, and when we sang along ‘Tim-o-thee’ we were in stitches immediately and we thought 'Yup, that's Slapp Happy.'

Slapp Happy — Desperate Straights
After the disappointing results of the previous album it was a stroke of genius to hire Henry Cow as our backing band and it still sounds pretty fresh. I first saw them at the Commonwealth Institute with members of the band Faust; a joyful experience. Dagmar has since developed a formidable weapon in her voice, her range has changed considerably, and if we do make this reunion record it will be a sensitive point. The seeds of that Germanic, hectoring voice are in The Messiah on Desperate Straights. Back then, she was capable of singing in a very vulnerable, poppy, seductive voice. Nowadays she might not do that and think it somehow demeaning... I don't want to put words in her mouth—although I am the lyricist!—but I'd like the whole spectrum, she's surprisingly versatile. She's developed a very un-Slapp Happy character for herself.

Henry Cow — In Praise of Learning
Towards the end of my stay it was pretty fraught but I've maybe over-emphasised that due to some residual hurt at being fired, unceremoniously. The piece that got me kicked out was Living in the Heart of the Beast. I was assigned the task for the collective to come up with suitable verbals, and I wrote two verses about a woman throwing raisins at a pile of bones. It took me three weeks! Tim Hodgkinson said, 'I'm sorry, this is not at all what we want’, and he wrote reams of this political tirade. I admired his passion and application but it left me cold. I am to my bones a flippant individual. I don't know why I was created thus or what I'm trying to deny, but it clashed with the extreme seriousness. It made me giggle and that was wrong. People who take themselves very seriously make me giggle; it's a problem of mine. Of course, if they're pointing a weapon at me or my loved ones, I don't giggle. That's why I giggle when they're not, because I expect that's the sort of person who one day will. So before they're armed, I get my giggle in.

Peter Blegvad — The Naked Shakespeare
I didn't know Andy Partridge's work and I didn't know him before Virgin Records proposed that he produce my first solo record for them. It was a brilliant suggestion for which I'll always be indebted to them. His speed and creativity still astonish me, like the 6/8, off-kilter rhythmic backing and the symphonic keyboard part on First Blow Struck - he came up with all that. He just heard it in his head, sat down and played it. The auditory equivalent of eidetic vision. The Picasso of Pop! He should really have all the publishing. He's a fantastic drummer too—I've never heard anyone play a drum machine like him... I like my records to have contrast. People say, 'Oh that's too eclectic—the audience will be perplexed and dazzled.' Well, great! Perplexed and dazzled is a good thing to be! Have some atonal spoken word thing followed by a one-chord uptempo boogie followed by a string quartet—why not? I'd been worried at the time that it was overproduced, but it turned out just so. End of statement.

Peter Blegvad — Knights Like This
I can still wake up in the middle of the night covered in a cold film of sweat thinking about this one. Why didn't we just make another record with Andy Partridge? It was a very bad call and I'm partly responsible - I was young and foolish - but Virgin certainly did their bit. Because of its uncommercial predeces­sor it was a condition that it had to be groomed for AM radio - the dregs! I was very confident about the songs, for the first time I felt like a songwriter. 'I can do this. They can't ruin these songs! Let them do their worst!' Even though it was 10 years ago, it's still almost too painful to tell the story. My touring band: Anton Fier, John Greaves, my brother and Chris Stamey on guitar, were gonna make this roaring bluesy, live-feel rock'n'roll record with Carla Bley on
Hammond organ. She was on some macrobiotic diet and wanted an extra five pounds a day per diem to buy her special sandwiches. Virgin said, 'she can't have that - it's a very tight budget!' So she was out. Then Anton quit. There's always some problem with Anton. I wound up alone in the studio with David Lord, doing this bizarre Steven Spielberg mega-production, backing vocals stacked twenty deep. It quickly went over budget and took six months: we could've bought Carla Bley her own food factory. In the end we produced this absolutely bizarre record. The songs have a degree of interest in them but the production is bizarre—it's appalling, absolutely appalling. Hey, but the cover works!

Peter Blegvad — Downtime
But I still believe in those songs and it's been a mission to slowly exhume them since, although I daresay that's partly an excuse not to write new ones. In the Golden Palominos we brought out wonderful qualities in them, and just as Knights Like This was released when we were recording things like When The Work Was New for Downtime. Downtime was a reaction to Knights Like This and I can hear the relief in my perform­ance, I'm screaming with propulsive enthusiasm to just do anything I want. 'Where your true love laughed, now there's no-one there, where your best friend was, now there's no-one there.' That's become an AIDS song in my mind, in perform­ance: particularly in
New York where the ranks are so dramatically thinned. I think of it more like disease than romantic failure. I was playing Animated Doll in this very garden for my then wife-to-be: She was saying, 'I like it, but can't you say anything... nice?' I tried desperately hard to come up with a last verse that said something upbeat and positive, it's utterly hopeless. It clicks together, which is funny because for years it was an instrumental. My first band in New York with a very young Bill Laswell on bass, The Big Guns, used to play that instrumental and it was meant as a joke. This was in the punk era and everybody else was pogo-ing. Bill had a lot of dignity even then: 'I'll play this swishy club music, but I draw the line at wearing bow-ties.'

Peter Blegvad — King Strut and Other Stories
Chris Stamey, another producer of great clarity and focus. I like doing one take and pretending I'm Bob Dylan, so it was very irritating at the time being forced by a whip-wielding Sadist to do it again and again but the results justify the means. Working alone I don't have that discipline and don't expect to see it on any record of mine in the future. With the new record people in
America said, 'Hey, who prodooced this record?' They haven't seen a record in years without a production credit. 'No one produced it! We just played the music.' Strut has a discipline and focus and clarity to it. I think Swim is slightly overproduced: I remember Stamey saying, 'this will be our Strawberry Fields' and I thought, 'Oh, God.' It works better with just a twelve-string acoustic and a piano doing Jim Dickinson-isms. 'Ding - ding - ding.' I think Alex Chilton is a huge influence on Stamey the musician. Guy Barker, he's the trumpeter on Chicken, right? I'd forgotten his name, he plays with all sorts of people now. He's really come into his own since doing that Chicken track! I keep reading about him and think I know him—it's that guy from Chicken! Inspired choice. Clench your anal sphincter and blow for all you're worth and you'll hit that high A; that's true about so much in life isn't it?

Peter Blegvad, 1996


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