Peter Blegvad with the Peter Blegvad Trio
performing at a RIO Festival in Southern France,
April 2007 (© Michael S. Eisenberg)
|Birth name||Peter Blegvad|
August 14, 1951 |
New York City, United States
|Occupations||Musician, Lyricist, Cartoonist, Illustrator|
|Associated acts||Slapp Happy, Henry Cow, The Lodge, John Greaves, Chris Cutler|
Peter Blegvad (born 14 August 1951) is an American musician, singer-songwriter, and cartoonist. He was a founding member of the avant-pop band Slapp Happy, which later merged briefly with Henry Cow, and has released many solo and collaborative albums. He is the son of Lenore and Erik Blegvad, who are respectively, a children's book author and illustrator.
Peter Blegvad's life began in America – he was born in New York City and originally raised in Connecticut. When he was 14, the Blegvad family moved to England in 1965, unhappy with the social climate of America following the assassination of John F. Kennedy and the threat posed by the Vietnam draft to Peter and his younger brother Kristoffer. Blegvad was educated at St Christopher School, Letchworth, a boarding school where he met his musical collaborator Anthony Moore. Moore and Blegvad played in various bands during their schooldays, alongside fellow musicians such as Neil Murray (then a drummer, later a well-known hard rock bass guitarist).
In 1972, Blegvad followed the itinerant Moore to Hamburg, Germany, where the two formed the avant-pop trio Slapp Happy with Dagmar Krause, Slapp Happy recorded two albums for Polydor Germany with krautrock group Faust as their backing band. Polydor released the first, Sort Of in 1972, but rejected the second, Casablanca Moon. This rejection prompted Slapp Happy to relocate to London where they signed up with Virgin Records and re-recorded Casablanca Moon, released in 1974 by Virgin as Slapp Happy. (The original Casablanca Moon was later released by Recommended Records as Acnalbasac Noom in 1980.) In 1974 Slapp Happy merged briefly with avant-rock group Henry Cow, recording two albums in 1975, Desperate Straights and In Praise of Learning.
Shortly after recording In Praise of Learning, first Moore and then Blegvad left Henry Cow due of incompatibilities with the other musicians in the group. Blegvad has confessed that the technical demands of Henry Cow's music were beyond him ("It was discovered – not to my surprise – that I actually couldn't play Henry Cow music. The chords and the time signatures were too complicated. And... just generally, Anthony and I felt kinda lost...") but it was also clear that there were crucial differences in artistic approach. Blegvad would later reveal (in an interview for the Hearsay fanzine) that "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. Tim Hodgkinson just 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. People who take themselves very seriously make me giggle, unless they're pointing a weapon at me or my loved ones". Due to Krause's decision to remain with Henry Cow, Slapp Happy dissolved and the three members went their separate ways (although the group would periodically reunite in 1982–1983, 1991, 1997 and 2000).
Blegvad returned to New York to work as a cartoonist, but maintained his interest in music. In 1977 he reunited with Henry Cow bass player John Greaves to collaborate on the album Kew. Rhone. – an unusual cross-genre release combining elements of minimalism, avant-garde jazz and progressive rock. The album was also notable for its personnel, which included celebrated New York jazz musicians Carla Bley, Michael Mantler, and Andrew Cyrille among the performers. As a musical document Kew. Rhone. remains both ambitious and unclassifiable; Blegvad's literate and playful lyrics are well-matched by Greaves' complex song structures. Blegvad would later continue his collaboration with Greaves in 1995 on Unearthed, a collection of spoken word pieces set to Greaves' music.
In the 1980s, Blegvad released a number of commercially unsuccessful albums on the Virgin Records label, including The Naked Shakespeare and Knights Like This, both of which show the influence of external producers. By contrast, Downtime, an independent release in the late 1980s features mainly very simple demos, often recorded cheaply in professional studios' "downtime". King Strut and Other Stories (Silvertone, 1990) is a collection of short stories set to simply arranged, professionally produced music played in many cases by noted session musicians. The album features XTC's Andy Partridge while Orpheus – The Lowdown (2003) is a whole album in collaboration with Partridge. Many of Blegvad's albums feature former members of Slapp Happy and Henry Cow.
Blegvad is a deft and literate lyricist whose lyrics frequently feature word games, literary references and complex and extended rhyme schemes. He can also claim credit for one of the world's longest grammatically correct palindromes (from Kew. Rhone.):
- Peel's foe not a set animal laminates a tone of sleep.
From 1992 to 1999, The Independent ran Blegvad's strangely surreal, comic strip, Leviathan, which received much critical praise for blending some of the most interesting elements of Krazy Kat with a coming-of-age-esque story akin to Calvin and Hobbes. Some of the strips have been collected in the 2001 volume The Book of Leviathan. Other comics and illustrations by Blegvad have appeared in The Ganzfeld and Ben Katchor's Picture Story 2.
He has also conducted two- and three-week writing courses at Warwick University, England, in association with the National Academy for Gifted and Talented Youth (NAGTY), and the new University of Warwick venture for gifted and creative children, International Gateway for Gifted Youth (IGGY).
In 2011, Atlas Publishing (trading as "The London Institute of 'Pataphysics") published Blegvad's The Bleaching Stream, described as an "interview format biography."
- The Naked Shakespeare (1983, LP, Virgin Records)
- Knights Like This (1985, LP, Virgin Records)
- Downtime (1988, LP, Recommended Records)
- King Strut & Other Stories (1990, LP/CT/CD, Silvertone Records)
- Just Woke Up (1995, CD, East Side Digital)
- Hangman's Hill (1998, CD, Recommended Records)
- Choices Under Pressure (2001, CD, Voiceprint Records)
Bands and projects 
- With Slapp Happy
- Sort Of (1972, LP, Polydor Records)
- Slapp Happy (1974, LP, Virgin Records)
- Desperate Straights (1975, LP, Virgin Records) as Slapp Happy/Henry Cow
- In Praise of Learning (1975, LP, Virgin Records) as Henry Cow/Slapp Happy
- Ça Va (1998, CD, V2 Records)
- Camera (2000, CD, Voiceprint Records) as Peter Blegvad, Dagmar Krause and Anthony Moore
- Live in Japan (2001, CD, F.M.N. Sound Factory)
- With John Greaves and Lisa Herman
- With National Health
- With John Zorn
- Locus Solus (1983, LP, Rift Records)
- With The Golden Palominos
- Blast of Silence (1986, LP, Celluloid Records)
- With The Lodge
- Smell of a Friend (1988, LP, Island Records)
- With Dr. Huelsenbecks Mentale Heilmethode
- Dada (1992, LP, Rough Trade Records)
- With John Greaves
- Unearthed (1995, CD, Sub Rosa)
- With Andy Partridge
- Orpheus – The Lowdown (2003, CD, Ape House)
- Gonwards (2012, CD, Ape House)
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to: Peter Blegvad|
- Peter Blegvad biography. The Canterbury Website.
- Peter Blegvad biography. Musician Biographies.
- Peter Blegvad at Allmusic.
- Peter Blegvad interview. Dream Magazine.
- Amateur Peter Blegvad's Amateur – a collection of his writing and art.
- Leviathan Archive
- Full Discography