Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music

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BLEGVAD, Peter

(b 14 Aug. '51, NYC) Singer, songwriter and illustrator. Lived in New York until the 'Swinging Sixties' when his parents took him to Britain. He established himself in groups such as Slapp Happy and Henry Cow; allegedly once dismissed for flippancy from Henry Cow, supposedly a Marxist-Leninist organization. With Slapp Happy he recorded Sort Of on Polydor '73, Acnalbasac Noom (as the now backwards titled album finally appeared on ReR/Recommended '80) '73 and Slapp Happy on Virgin '74. Henry Cow joined forces with Slapp Happy for Desperate Straits, a co-billing on Virgin '74. By the time of Henry Cow's In Praise Of Learning on Virgin '76, Blegvad was part of that group. (Henry Cow's Unrest, Legend and In Praise Of Learning were gathered together as Henry Cow: The Virgin Years by ESD in '91 as a boxed set with supporting literature and family tree.) Blegvad also worked with the German group Faust, contributing to their Faust IV on Virgin '73, and the Art Bears, appearing live and on the reformatted Hopes And Fears on ReR '92. During '70s--early '80s the European avant-garde or art-rock groups became a pool of sound palettes to bolster ideas, then extended to alliances with American musicians, then to Japan. Blegvad's work with John Zorn incl. collaboration on Locus Solus on Eva/Wave '83. Deciphering Blegvad's songs could be like cracking a cryptic crossword puzzle, only in his case tomorrow's solution never came, for many had no ascertainable meaning, being wordplays, dreamtalk or automatic writing. One line on 'One Footnote To (Kew, Rhone)' on his and John Greaves's Kew, Rhone on Virgin '77 ran 'Peel's foe, not a set animal, laminates a tone of sleep' which is a palindrome. Blegvad recorded under his own name: The Naked Shakespeare '83 produced by Andy Partridge of XTC and particularly Knights Like These '85 were stodgy fare, the latter over-produced but subsequently mined for material; as he quipped to Mojo '95, 'I've long had this project in mind of redeeming the songs on Knights Like These ... People cover your songs: I like to uncover mine because they've been buried.' He returned to New York and worked '85--7 as a member of ad hoc art-rock the Golden Palominos, an elastic outfit which during Blegvad's time incl. variously Carla Bley, Jack Bruce, T-Bone Burnett, Anton Fier, Lisa Herman, Michael Stipe and Syd Straw; Blegvad, for example, appeared on their Blast Of Silence on Celluloid '86. Worked on the Lodge's Smell Of A Friend on Antilles/Island '88, Michael Penn's March album and Syd Straw's Surprise '89.

These were followed by a genuine solo album, Downtime in '89 for the London-based ReR/(Recommended Records). King Strut And Other Stories on Silvertone '90 was a quirky, articulate collection incl. 'Gold', covered by Fairport Convention on their Five Seasons '90. He began work on an opera '90 with former Henry Cow members Anthony Moore and Dagmar Krause; commissioned by Channel 4 in Britain, it was called Camera (in this context the Italian for 'room'). Blegvad, long an able illustrator, began a weird weekly comic strip called Leviathan in the '90s in the British national Independent On Sunday. Blegvad's storytelling took a further step with his and John Greaves's Unearthed on Sub Rosa, recorded May '94; appearing early '95 it was a series of spoken word tracks scored with incidental music, mainly drawn from Blegvad's book of (illustrated) short stories entitled Headcheese published by London's Atlas Press '94. Just Woke Up on ReR/Recommended '95 with Greaves (bass and keyboards) and Chris Cutler (drums) did not quite match King Strut but still ranked as one of his best, a collection of wordplay, sly allusions, parodies and stolen moments waiting to be discovered, incl. 'That'll Be Him Now', 'Hell's Despite', 'Daughter' and 'Bee Dream' (sparked by reading toilet graffito saying 'Be all you dream to be'). 'Revisitin' ' and 'Incinerator' from Knights Like These also benefited immeasurably. Blegvad's songwriting, the unsingable in search of the recondite, has incl. tantalizing and stimulating work.