Perfect Sound Forever

ANTHONY MOORE


'Out' on his own- solo & Slapp Happy
Interview by Jason Gross
(December 2020)


There once was a Newcastle gent
To Germany, off he went
Kindred spirits he got
Slapp Happy the upshot
Then to a Cow and on his own he'd relent


Well, there's a bit more on Moore than that but it gives you kind of the gist of it (and shows how bad I am at limericks). Guitarist/keyboardist/songwriter/composer Anthony Moore did become a German transplant early on and did a trio of fascinating classical/minimal/experiment records for Polydor- Pieces From The Cloudland Ballroom (1971), Secrets of the Blue Bag (1972) and Reed, Whistle And Sticks (a wild piece of conceptual art which didn't actually see release until over a decade later). He also crossed paths and collaborated with kosmische legends Faust.

And then, along with singer Dagmar Krause and guitarist Peter Blegvad, he co-founded the remarkable pop/rock/cabaret combo Slapp Happy. Their initial early '70's run included two wonderfully strange, unique albums (which again featured the Faust crew): '72's Sort of and the self-titled '74 album, aka Casablanca Moon aka Acnalbasac Noom (depending on which version of it you're talking about). Slapp Happy would join forces with Henry Cow for two albums (In Praise of Learning, Desperate Straights, both '75) before detaching from each other.

As Moore struck out on his own, the first fruits of his labor was his next solo album, Out from '76. His previous benefactors at Virgin Records had shifting ideas about their label which didn't include Moore though and the record sadly languished- it is indeed a shame as it's a great continuation and expansion of his work with Slapp Happy. Luckily for us, Drag City just stepped in to put Out out again.

He'd go on to do several other intriguing solo albums (including the marvelous Flying Doesn't Help from '79), Slapp Happy reunions and interesting collaborations (included a 2010 album with techno composer ARP), soundtrack scores, sound installations and higher education positions at academies in Cologne. Oh, and for you classic rock fans, he co-wrote and played on a few albums by this other British band, Pink Floyd, on all of their post-Waters studio albums.

Here, Moore talks about his Out outing, his earlier solo records and the happy daze of first Slappy Happy records.





PSF: Out also has a lovely wistful sound/feel to it. Was that reflective of your mood then?

AM: Thanks for 'wistful' - I think you got it spot on. Recently set adrift, enjoying a certain absence of gravity, surrendering to what came naturally, the popstar lurking in me since '62. Yeah, wistful, you're right. By the time of Out, I had already been living on unfamiliar ground for many a year; a stint in a monastery on a Hebridean island, life in the last days of the avant garde in Hamburg, the stark landscape of post 1968 radicalisation. I was tired, man - happy, wistful and my guard was down...


PSF: For the album, were there any influences that you were drawing on? As I listened to it, John Cale came to mind a bit.

AM: When it comes to influences, it's always a real complex mix - I loved [Incredible String Band's] Hangman's Beautiful Daughter and Wee Tam and the Big Huge, knocked out by early Soft Machine, could listen to the Captain [Beefheart] & his Magic Band 'til the end of time, deeply moved by Bert Jansch, was blown away by Little Feat, overawed by the old maestro Jack Frost [ED NOTE: aka Dylan], from "Sad Eyed Lady..." to "Not Dark Yet" [from Dylan's Time Out of Mind] and on 'til today...

Then there were the American minimalists like Tony Conrad, La Monte Young, Terry Riley and yes, John Cale crops up too. Drones set me free, so I loved and still love Celtic music and Indian music and I suppose it all influenced me one way or another. I was still pretty young in '75 so maybe some influences were sticking out more than others, but I believe they all played a part.


PSF: You had an interesting group of collaborators for the album. What was it like working with Kevin Ayers, David Bedford and Andy Summers?

AM: Slapp Happy signed to Virgin Records in '72/3 I think, 2 or 3 years before I recorded OUT. The early days of Virgin Records were invaluable for opening up friendships with stable mates (label mates). Andy and Kevin had already become friends. All the musicians were friends or friends of friends. Kevin Ayers I knew quite well- we had known each other since the early 70s. Later, in 1977 I produced Kevin's Rainbow Takeaway. Andy Summers was a member of Zoot Money's Big Roll Band and worked with Kevin Coyne, who was signed to Virgin. Steve Thompson, the bass player, was also part Of Zoot Money's band and played with Kevin Coyne. I loved the light, sensitive touch of Barry de Souza's drumming on Lou Reed's Transformer. I had heard the drumming of Eddie Sparrow on Kevin Ayers' Bananamour and got on with him very well, so he ended up drumming on the tracks Barry didn't play on. Graham Preskett was just a fantastic player and very nice guy that I came across in earlier Slapp Happy days; as was Dave Wintour, who played bass on "Johnny's Dead." So did the Irish photographer and saxophonist Ruan O'Lochlain, another friend. Lol Coxhill was another artist sighed to Virgin at the time and we knew each other - yes, they are Lol's kids singing on "Johnny's Dead." They come in in the chorus just after Peter Blegvad's lyric "children bridled dolphins with harnesses of silk."

Peter Jenner, who produced the record, was my manager and music publisher along with Andrew King. Together they were Blackhill Enterprises and used to manage Pink Floyd and T. Rex. They put on the great free concerts in Hyde Park. Nice people to work with, that's for sure. Sound engineers have a special place for me and Phil MacDonald was great. I love the sound he got - so clear and transparent - on songs like "You Tickle." In 1973, he recorded The Madcap Laughs with Syd Barrett and Stormcock with Roy Harper, so I guess he was known to Peter Jenner. Phil also went on to record the Rolling Stones' Black and Blue LP. A great sound engineer, one of the best. Old school, yes!


PSF: You obviously maintained your collaborations with Peter Blegvad. Had that changed after you left the band?

AM: I never left Slapp Happy, it's just that the band went into deep hibernation when Dagmar joined Henry Cow. It was as if the band had ceased to exist but Peter and I have never lost touch with each other. We have a rare and profound friendship that spans over half a century and many magical projects. We speak regularly and have realised a lot of recordings and performances. Very little has changed between us since 1967.


PSF: Your previous two solo albums were more in the mode of classical music. Why did you decide to go into a more 'pop' direction with Out?

AM: I don't think the move into 'a more pop direction' was a conscious choice. Nothing was planned about the route I took from 'classical' as you put it, to experimental, to 'post-punk, new wave' or whatever you want to call it. I think Out is me simply trying to develop songwriting skills, techniques of using the recording studio, and working with other musicians. And what I realise, thanks to people like yourself showing interest in Out, and especially talking with Jon Dale, who writes for Uncut magazine, is that there is a recognisable, common thread to the way I approach music making from the songs of Out to my experimental work for underground movies, installations and records such as Pieces from The Cloudland Ballroom, Secrets of the Blue Bag and other works which continue up until today (see Arithmetic in the Dark on Touch or The Present is Missing on a-musik Cologne). I used to think the music I made for record companies like Virgin (Slapp Happy & Out), Quango (Flying Doesn't Help), Do-It (World Service) and Parlophone EMI (The Only Choice) belonged to a PARALLEL universe. NOT the one where I would immerse myself in the 'serious' work of composition and experiment. This was a naive mistake and I feel a bit foolish about it now. I see there is a deep connection between minimalism, repetition, working with tape and celluloid and forming the modules of a classic, three minute song. They are all 'media' which are handled in similar combinatoric and technical ways; whether it's verses and choruses or loops of magnetic tape. And they are all, equally, a lot of fun to actively engage in! So these days I'm just throwing everything into the same musical pot.


PSF: You had gotten the album together, signed to Virgin and then they weren't supportive. What happened?

AM: Good question! to which I have no answer... I have no idea what grounds they could possibly have had to cancel a project that was 95% complete. Obviously they had already put quite an effort into making the record. They even sent me to Hipgnosis (Pink Floyd covers) and finalised and printed a full colour cover which was sent to Japan as part of a licencing deal! Amazingly, the abandoned artwork in Tokyo was rescued by Yuzuru Agi, who kept it for 40 years before passing it on to my friend Satoru Higashiseto in Osaka. He scanned the decrepit remains and the brilliant Dan Osborn at Drag City restored it to its original glory. Thus the unreleased Out is coming out in the original sleeve which has spent its whole life entirely void of vinyl!

I think it's possible Virgin did me a favour by not releasing the record. Perhaps now is a better time for both me and OUT, and Drag City feels like the right place for both of us.


PSF: In the early pre-band days - when you met up with Peter Blegvad - what kind of bond did you two have and what kind of music were you creating together before Slapp Happy?

AM: We immediately formed a lasting friendship centered on drugs, trippy music and weird Celtic rituals. We were part of a late school/art college rock band and played extended, repetitious, self-penned, guitar-based numbers with titles such as "Your Hair is like a Swimmer's Nightmare" (Neil Murray, late of Whitesnake, was our bass player!). We dug early Beefheart (Mirror Man, the LP consisting of just 4 long pieces). Smoking dope and dropping acid was our favoured pastime - out in fields, under starlight, howling out Ginsberg & Kerouac. His (Peter) being American introduced powerful myths - [poet] Ed Dorn, the Blues and a geography of hugely distant horizons.


PSF: When you came to Germany, how did that change your outlook about composing and performing music?

AM: In those days, when years passed at the speed of decades, Germany was an entirely different trip. I had already met the film maker David Larcher and developed a love affair with magnetic tape and tape machines as instruments for exploring sound. He asked me to work on the soundtrack for his 3 hour movie Mare's Tail (1969) and I became deeply engaged with unfolding music using the haptic medium of iron oxide-coated ribbons of time. Germany (more specifically Hamburg) was a site of experimentation encouraged by a number of independent, underground movie makers asking me to contribute sound to their mostly non-narrative works. This brought me closer to working with longer durations lasting anything from 30 to 100 minutes.


PSF: Pieces From The Cloudland Ballroom had a lovely minimalist electronic feel to it. How did that come about for you?

AM: I was aware of American minimalism through recordings of the work of La Monte Young, Terry Riley and Tony Conrad and the great 'Folkways' collection of ethnic and lesser known works was quite an influence. However, I think that the combinatoric nature of PFTCB most likely arose from the medium of tape. I was interested in multiple loops of different lengths and listening to them catch up and overtake each other like a bunch of ill-disciplined bell-ringers.


PSF: Secrets of the Blue Bag seemed to have a chamber/classical feel to it. What made you explore that direction?

AM: I became interested in replacing machines with human beings - the unexpected is easier to conjure up - and I liked working with an ensemble of different instruments.


PSF: When you started working with Peter again, along with Dagmar, what did you have in mind for Slapp Happy in terms of the band's concept and music?

AM: I very much doubt we had anything in mind other than to enjoy ourselves. For Peter and I, it was a unique experience to work together in a recording studio. What came about more naturally than conceptually was the mix of subversive, sometimes dark and surreal lyrics set to innocuous waltzes and tangos sung by a chanteuse who sounded as if she had arisen somewhere in middle Europe and sounding like a cross between Diana Ross and Marlene Dietrich.



PSF: Sort Of was very unique and seemed to have little connection to pop and rock happening at that time otherwise. Were you conscious of that or did you see threads in other music and bands that informed that album's music?

AM: Honestly, I don't think we were conscious of anything much. I don't recall that we ever compared what we were doing with the music of others. We simply imagined we were making pop songs that might catch on and bring in a few deutschmarks.


PSF: For Sort Of, was producer Uwe your connection to Faust? How did you find working with them on that album?

AM: Uwe Nettelbeck was responsible for an important periodical called "Filmkritik." He saw a number of the movies I had done the soundtracks for. He proposed to get me a record deal with Polygram, which is how Pieces From The Cloudland Ballroom, Secrets of the Blue Bag and Reed, Whistle and Sticks came about. The last album was me dropping sticks on the floor (of course, a tad more complex than that), and was enough for Polygram to throw up their hands in despair. At that point, Uwe asked me if I couldn't possibly make something a little more 'listenable.' That was the birth of Slapp Happy.

During that time, Uwe had taken Faust under his wing, rented an old schoolhouse, installed an 8-track studio with an engineer and invited Faust to live there and record. Peter, Dagmar and myself were offered the use of the studio and as we were just a trio, it seemed a natural choice to ask Faust to become our rhythm section. Working with them was a pure joy! We even did a few gigs together 45 years later in Europe back in 2018- so, a lasting joy too.


PSF: There's two versions of the 2nd album (Slapp Happy aka Casablanca Moon) - could you talk about how each of them came about and do you have one version or another that you prefer? Also, what did you see as the difference in the recording and music of the first two Slapp Happy albums?

AM: I think the 2 questions above can best be answered together - and in reverse order. In my view, there was in fact no significant difference between Sort Of and Slapp Happy/Casablanca Moon. The 2nd LP was recorded with the same line-up at the same studio in Wumme with Faust as our rhythm section. So all boundary conditions were pretty much identical. As I recall, we had no particular plan for what became the LP Acnalbasac Noom other than to repeat what had gone before, but with new material.

What happened next was that Uwe took us away from Polygram, along with Faust, to sign a deal with the fledgling Virgin Records. The company signed us but decided to re-record the album in 'The Manor' studio which they owned and ran out of a country house near Oxford. It was an impressive studio and Virgin wanted to achieve a more commercial result. They brought in a producer and we set to work re-recording the songs. I'm not that interested in making a track by track comparison. Clearly the original is more quirky but I resist the view that it is in every sense 'better.' I also appreciate some of the sonic textures and especially some of the playing on the 2nd version.


Also see part II of our Anthony Moore interview


Learn more about Moore at the Reflections of Sound website.


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