Slapp Happy
Acnalbasac Noom


In the course of their first two years in the business as a record company, UK Virgin Records had signed quality groups such as Gong, Henry Cow, Faust and Hatfield And The North. It was to be expected, then, that even those albums by artists who were totally unknown were destined to be greeted with a certain amount of sympathy. Such was the case with the first (English) album by a trio called Slapp Happy: an album of the same name (but also known as Casablanca Moon, from the title of the opening track) and a group that some in the press said to come from Germany. An important link was the presence on some tracks of Faust bass player Jean Hervé Peron. Upon listening, the album proved to be quite unique - and bizarre: Dagmar Krause vocal approach was original; Anthony Moore's keyboards were functional; while Peter Blegvad's instrumental contribution was on the "mysterious" side (I assumed that the album's guitar parts - not mentioned on the cover - had been played by him); but the element that made the album stand were the musical styles appearing on the album, which were absolutely out of step with what was common in those days (to put it briefly: glam simplicity on one hand, prog complexity on the other); instead, here one could find tangos and "light climates" from the 60s, "popular" and "folk" arias, even "la chanson". Rich arrangements with a lot of nice instrumental touches, and a varied instrumental ensemble, all made me think of this album as a classic release.

While knowing what came later had been easy, it was only in the early 80s that - thanks to two vinyl albums - I got to know the first chapters of the Slapp Happy history: Sort Of, recorded in the Faust studio using their engineer, their producer, their rhythm section and their record company (this was maybe the reason of the initial misunderstanding about the group's nationality); and the very strange Acnalbasac Noom, which at first appeared to me as being nothing more than a bunch of demos recorded for their Virgin album. But I soon understood that Acnalbasac Noom was in fact the never-released second album by Slapp Happy which, recorded using the same studio and personnel of Sort Of, had been rejected by Virgin.

There were those who immediately spoke of these slim, newly-released versions as those best representing the styles and intentions of the songs. I was not so convinced: it's true that sometimes I thought that, having been married to many beautiful instrumental parts for such a long time (and there were a lot: Graham Preskett's violin on Casablanca Moon, Andy Leggett's jugs on Michelangelo, Henry Lowther's trumpet on Dawn, Dave Wintour's bass on Mr. Rainbow, Peron's bass on The Secret, Geoff Leigh's saxophone on Side Two...) maybe I was not objective about these new/old versions. But I also though that on the other side of the fence a kind of anti-session men prejudice was maybe in action. Later, I bought the Slapp Happy album on CD (it was an edition that also featured Desperate Straights, the album the group had shared with Henry Cow: a proposition that was pretty hard to resist), but I never bought the digital edition of Acnalbasac Noom.

Now we have a new digital remastering of Acnalbasac Noom. The same added tracks: Everybody's Slimmin', a funny and rare A-side dating from the early 80s, plus three not-so-indispensable tracks. After all this time, it's now easy for me to consider the two editions as being different but parallel. Maybe Acnalbasac Noom's agile clothes will be easily welcomed by those attuned to lo-fi; while having the same rhythm section playing on all the tracks makes for a more coherent whole. Nice remastered sound (by Bob Drake) of the original album - I had to slightly attenuate the highs but, given the times, it's nothing serious. But I was not too happy with the harsh-sounding Everybody's Slimmin'.

Beppe Colli

© Beppe Colli 2005 | June 26, 2005