Dagmar Krause

The Voice



    It seems odd to consider the work of Dagmar Krause as specifically rock, mainly due to her superb talent singing non-rock popular music. It is because of her association with German progressive rockers Slapp Happy, and British avant-garde prog rockers Henry Cow and the Art Bears that Krause becomes a suitable subject for inclusion in guides to rock & roll. And, ultimately, that's a good thing, because talent as formidable as hers should not go unheard, nor should it be relegated to some arcane status ostensibly beyond the interests of the "average" rock fan. Simply, Dagmar Krause is a great singer, and you'd be wise to own some of her recordings. A native of Hamburg, Germany, Krause began her professional career at 14 as a nightclub singer in the Reeperbahn sex district (made infamous by the wanton exploits of the pre-fame Beatles). At the time, Hamburg, along with numerous sex joints and prostitution, had a thriving avant-garde arts scene that attracted numerous European musicians interested in pursuing aesthetic freedom and musical experimentation. It was here she met Anthony Moore and Peter Blegvad and formed Slapp Happy.


    Radical in both music and politics, the band relocated to London in the early '70s, eventually joining forces with progressives Henry Cow. After Cow's demise in 1980, Krause teamed up with former-bandmates guitarist Fred Frith and drummer Chris Cutler in the wonderfully anarchic Art Bears, who disbanded after three excellent records. Turning to solo work, Krause, in 1978, starred in a London production of the Bertolt Brecht/Kurt Weill play Mahagonny. As much as anything she'd sung up to this point, Krause's elegant alto was perfectly suited to the emotionally and politically charged music of Brecht and Weill. Embracing this German song tradition with gusto, Krause went on to record the most stunning work of her career, culminating in two extraordinary releases, Supply and Demand and Tank Battles (the latter the music of Hans Eisler), that are eloquent arguments for Krause's eminence as a singer in the German song tradition (something for which she doesn't receive enough credit).

    As a vocalist, Krause is arguably something of an acquired taste. Her husky, vibrato-laden alto can suddenly swoop into a breathtaking upper register with a power that belies her small, frail physique. Her English singing retains a heavy German accent, but whether she sings in German or English (which she often does on the same record), she retains her impeccable phrasing and ability to inject the most oft-heard lyric with almost palpable emotion. In fact, Dagmar Krause belongs in the pantheon of great contemporary European singers along with June Tabor and Anne Briggs. Unfortunately, Krause's last record, Tank Battles, was not released in the U.S. A sad state of affairs for such a talented vocalist. John Dougan


   Slapp Happy--SORT OF (1972, CD issue 1999) The first Slapp Happy album. Voiceprint (and I don't know HOW they did this!) got the rights to the record and is now re-issued, digitally remastered, on CD. "Sort Of" is a good title for this release, it has promise but lack of direction. It's not as clever and instantly ear-catching as Acnalbasac Noom, but Sort Of is still definitely worth hearing. Dagmar sings on about 3/4 of the cuts here, sounding wonderful on the thoughtful "Blue Flower" and adding a nice touch to the aptly titled "Just A Conversation," with its pleasant melody underlying mostly, heh, conversation. Really nifty on this is "Sort Of", a precursor to the wonderful song off Acnalbasac Noom, "Charlie 'n' Charlie" and two of the most beautiful Slapp Happy songs ever, "I'm All Alone" and "Small Hands Of Stone." The newly remastered CD contains a bonus track, "Jumpin' Jonah", the B-side to "Just A Conversation." It is worth the price alone. It's equal parts Slapp Happy and Faust, and even recalls their track "Why Don't You Eat Carrots?". Dagmar sings on it...it's unbelievable!

   Slapp Happy-ACNALBASAC NOOM (recorded 1974, CD issue 1990) This CD is absolutely sublime, with its Faust-ian sound (maybe due to the fact that Faust played on it and the producer for this disc was Faust producer Uwe Nettlebeck? Maybe.) and incredibly well-written songs. Tangoes, waltzes, and other strange forms for pop songs are evidenced here, along with the always incredible Dagmar vocals. Faves include "The Secret", "Michelangelo", "The Drum", "Dawn", "Charlie 'N' Charlie", and the ultra-cool bonus track "Everybody's Slimmin'".

   Slapp Happy--EVERYBODY'S SLIMMIN'/BLUE EYED WILLIAM (1983) This is WAY out of print. I assume VERY few of these were made, considering it was released by the band on their own label, Half-Cat. "Everybody's Slimmin'" is self-explanatory: A workout anthem with a damn catchy melody and Dagmar quasi-rapping about how "you can shed weight and still drink beer." The same charm is not evident, however, in "Blue-Eyed William". In my opinion, it's SH's worst song (and I mean that in the nicest way). Just doesn't catch my attention. Kind of muddy sound mix, folky melody (but FOLKY i say). I dunno...just a total mismatch with "Slimmin'". The above link will take you to the ACNALBASAC NOOM page, which at the bottom has sleeve and label scans, and more info on the record itself.

   Slapp Happy-CASABLANCA MOON/DESPERATE STRAIGHTS (1974/75, CD reissue 1993) 2 LP's on 1 CD...and WELL worth the money too! "Casablanca Moon" is essentially re-arranged and re-recorded songs from "Acnalbasac Noom". Some of these (not according to popular belief) are actually better than their predecessors. Witness "Me and Parvati", "Michelangelo", "Dawn", and "Half Way There". These versions are WONDERFULLY quirky, and I'm talking QUIRKY! Those kazoos, horns, synthesizers and exotic "world" instruments! Whew! Who could forget the kick-ass song "Haiku" with vocals by Peter Blegvad and Anthony Moore? Have a cup of tea! "Desperate Straights" is the first album by the collaboration of Slapp Happy and Henry Cow. I don't know which I like better, CM or DS. The songs sound like they are from a really surreal musical, or if Kurt Weill dropped some acid, bumped into Gilbert and Sullivan, and then ate large amounts of chocolate cake. Listen to "Europa" and "Some Questions About Hats" and you'll see what I mean. Great starting point.

   Slapp Happy--CA VA (1998) After 17 years without us hearing anything new, Slapp Happy released this gem of an album in April 1998. God, Dagmar sounds beautiful throughout, subdued but occasionally giving us that Dagmar wail (as in "Silent The Voice" and "King of Straw") Slapp Happy, always changing their sound, have adapted their aesthetic into modern pop music, experimenting with gamelan loops, samples, beats, and otber touchstones of today. Yes, a little more serious than their previous efforts, but is that such a bad thing? Nooooo! Songs such as "Moon Lovers" and "Working at the Ministry" would sound great on the radio (hint hint V2), and "Child Then" is destined to be a classic with its memorable chorus. Simply put, Slapp Happy have released one of the best pop albums in recent memory. Dig in!

   Henry Cow/Slapp Happy--IN PRAISE OF LEARNING (1975, CD reissue 1991) OK, so there are three good songs on this, and three OK songs on this. "War" is classic Slapp Happy, with a good amount of Cow thrown in. "Living In The Heart Of The Beast" is a Cow tune, with lovely vocals by Dagmar, sounding ultra-armageddonish at the end ("Now is the time to begin to go forward, advance from despair..") This song absolutely rocks once you get used to the always-changing melodies and sometimes clashing chords. "Beautiful As The Moon--Terrible As An Army With Banners" goes without saying, it is best described by its title, beautiful and "terrible", all at once. I love this song. It may be my fave HC song ever. Dagmar is at your judgment day. The remaining three are seemingly improvised pieces that are very pleasing to the ear. Trying, but rewarding.[

   Henry Cow--CONCERTS (1976, CD reissue 1995) This is 2 CD's worth of live, studio, and improvised material. The first disc consists of a powerful 22-minute medley (this was a John Peel Session) with Dagmar giving it her all on a version of "Beautiful As The Moon"...and the other Cows grazing beautifully through their material esp. "Nirvana For Mice". This CD (Disc 1) also has a great duet between Dagmar and Robert Wyatt on "Bad Alchemy" (from Desperate Straights) seguing into the ultra-prog rock and ultra-cool "Little Red Riding Hood Hits The Road". The rest of the recording is Henry Cow doing their improvisational jazz-rock and it is simply amazing. Good place to start if you want to introduce yourself to Henry Cow. It's got a little bit of everything of theirs on it.

   Art Bears--HOPES AND FEARS (1978, CD reissue 1992) When Henry Cow broke up in 1978, drummer Chris Cutler, guitarist Fred Frith and Dagmar formed Art Bears, a trio more song-based than Cow, but whose work was just as if not more dense and unnerving. This is an amazing CD, the armageddon voice matured to its pure majestic quality. The instrumentation here is top quality, with tape loops, backwards tape, violin, guitar, battering drums, and various effects prevailing (as well as Dagmar!) Unfortunately, I really can't describe the music myself, somewhere I read "Brecht in space", which is, I suppose, a good overall look. But truthfully, Art Bears are so stunningly original that words cannot describe it. Not for the squeamish, but if given time, utterly rewarding.

   Art Bears--WINTER SONGS/THE WORLD AS IT IS TODAY (1980/81, CD reissue 1988) Oh yeah! This CD kicks so much it can't be said how much. Two Art Bears albums on one CD...uhhhhh! And to top it off, these are the best ones that they've done! If you want to introduce yourself to Dagmar and Art Bears all at once this is the place to start. The music matches Cutler's incredible poems/lyrics to the T. And best off, the music here is maybe some of the best I've heard in my life! (NOT KIDDING!) An cornucopia of styles take over these songs, everything from showtune-ish to straight-ahead rock (heh) to frenetic dance songs to folk tunes to...well, you get the idea. The best of the post Henry Cow work.

   News From Babel--WORK RESUMED ON THE TOWER/LETTERS HOME (1984/85, CD reissue 199?) News From Babel was formed by HC bassoonist Lindsay Cooper with Chris Cutler and Dagmar. Cooper composed the music for this CD, so it has more of a "commercial" sound to it than Art Bears, but don't jump to the conclusion that it sounds like No Doubt. The instrumentation here is harp, horns, drums, bass, and Dagmar. That alone should explain it, but hey I'll go on. This music is easy to describe I guess...sounds kind of like Kurt Weill with a little more "alternative" thrown in. The melodies here are exquisitely delicate and powerful as well. A very good CD. You'll love it if you like horns and harps. Listen to "Klein's Bottle", "Black Gold", "Victory", and "Heart Of Stone" for the best NFB experience.

   Michael Nyman--THE KISS AND OTHER MOVEMENTS (1985, CD reissue 1990) An absolutely beautiful disc! Nyman composes in the same minimal vein as Philip Glass/Steve Reich/Terry Riley with a little more melodic structure (which is a good thing.) His compositions here are short, yet powerful enough to knock you to the floor in their compact durations. Dagmar is featured on one track here, "The Kiss", her voice subdued a bit but done effectively, singing some really gorgeous lyrics. The rest of the disc is a treat to listen to, with its horn-and-violin-laced music developing ever so carefully, rhythmically shifting patterns overtaking and then reaching rousing conclusions.

   Dagmar Krause--SUPPLY & DEMAND (1986) This CD, recently re-issued by Voiceprint, contains songs by the great German composers, Kurt Weill and Hanns Eisler, all sung in a grandiose Dagmar style. Let's just say it starts and ends with a bang and gunpowder explodes throughout the entire disc. I've never heard "Der Song Von Mandelay" and "Matrosen-Tango" sung with such fire and passion, not even (dare I say it) Lotte Lenya can top these. WOW! That's all I can really say. No explanation needed. Dagmar belts these out like a dragon spitting hot coals onto a crepe-paper world...Like "Tank Battles", essential Dagmar. NOTE ON THE LP VERSION: This being the British Hannibal english-language release....there is an English version of the "Matrosen-Tango", unavailable on any cd. Why is this? And why didn't Voiceprint tack it on the end of their reissue? We will never know. But get the vinyl if you can...worth it for this alone.

   Lindsay Cooper--MUSIC FOR OTHER OCCASIONS (1986, CD reissue 1991) People have been bugging me to put this on the page since its birth (bugging meant in the nicest way possible), and when I saw it in Other Music, I bought it! I'm really glad I did! Lindsay's composing is startling and captivating all at once (most of you know this from the 2nd side of HC's "Western Culture" and any News From Babel) To make it short, the music sounds like News From Babel, with some really interesting vocal work. Dagmar's songs are incredibly beautful, especially "Torn Away", which definitely recalls "In The Sickbay" off Desperate Straights, with its arpeggiating electric piano lines. This one also has some great harpwork by Zeena Parkins. "The Number 8 Bus" is an uppity number with an almost out-of-tune piano bopping along with Dagmar's smooth vocals (I hate to bring up past work, but it DOES sound like NfB)...AH HA! Dagmar's other contribution, "No Missiles" does NOT sound like NfB!!! It's strictly Dagmar and her many selves, I mean overdubbed voices. Hearing a chorus of Dagmars is very enlightening...

   Dagmar Krause--TANK BATTLES: THE SONGS OF HANNS EISLER (1989, reissue 1993) OK...if it wasn't enough to have an entire disc of Dagmar to get excited about, it has to be chock full of the great Hanns Eisler's songs! Her voice sounds impeccably crisp, cutting, and straight to the point, and so do the arrangements of the songs. You can't help but feel the power of "The Song of the Whitewash" and "Bankenlied", as well as understand the sentiment of "Mother's Hands"...all thanks to the interpretation of Dagmar. The music is very theatre-like, very Weill-ish (of course so, they were both German composers existing at around the same time!)...and very GOOD! This is essential Dagmar owning.

   Various Artists--RER QUARTERLY VOL. 1 SELECTIONS (1991) On this wonderful compilation of selections from ReR's "sound magazine" is a track from Duck and Cover, which features Dagmar, Tom Cora, Chris Cutler, Fred Frith, Heiner Goebbels, Alfred Harth and George Lewis. Baby, you haven't heard anything until you've heard this. 28 minutes of pure improvised ecstasy (well, save the integrated live versions of "Rats and Monkeys", "Berlin 1919", "The Song of Investment Capital Overseas" and "And I Shall Never See Again")...Dagmar screeches and wails over the energetic and startling backgrounds, and also of note: Chris Cutler's amazing drumming and Goebbels' interesting synthesizer manipulations. Akin to the most improvisational/progressive of Henry Cow's work.

   Chris Cutler/Lutz Glandien--DOMESTIC STORIES (1992) Call it Art Bears with MIDI if you want, or don't call it that. Whatever you call it, just don't call it dull. With music done by Lutz Glandien, this CD certainly keeps your attention way after it has ended. The destructive energy of "The Same River" and "Seven Veils" gets you all worked up and full of angst (ERRRRGH, you say while Dagmar shouts "ON FIRE!"), whereas "Up to our Elbows" gives me chills everytime I hear it, maybe for the unnerving ending, I dunno. Dagmar (after softening her voice for NFB) is BACK and singing HARSH!!! Oh yeah! Also cool about this CD is the contrast between the odd electronic noises and acoustic instruments...especially evident on "Still Asleep (Prelude)" and "Red, Black, Gold".

   Tim Hodgkinson--EACH IN OUR OWN THOUGHTS (1994) The Cow's keyboardist's solo CD. I've always liked Hodgkinson's compositions written for Henry Cow, so this CD does not disappoint me in the least! It's like listening to some lost sessions, of course with instruments brought up to date (Hodgkinson using MIDI sequencers and more advanced keyboards), but nonetheless very familiar. Dagmar's voice (here on three cuts) is certainly less raw than in her Art Bears days, but like any great vocalist, it gets better with age. Most interesting here are a String Quartet, a sort of "Henry Cow Reunited" track called "Hold to the Zero Burn, Imagine" with Chris Cutler, Lindsay Cooper, Hodgkinson and Dagmar, and "Numinous Pools for Mental Orchestra", which is best described as Wendy Carlos orchestrating the Cow. Neat.

   Dirk Raulf Orchestra--FRIEDRICH HOLLAENDER OR THE LAUGHTER OF LONELINESS (1996) I FINALLY found this one after lots of looking!!! It is available (at least where I've looked) ONLY through this German mail-order company called GMX. It's cheap and worth it! This is the long-talked about Dagmar/Hollaender release, and baby it's amazing! Hollaender's songs definitely harken back to Weill and Gershwin, with lyrics by Kurt Tucholsky, who wrote text for Eisler, Dr. Seuss, Frank Loesser and others. This CD runs sort of like Coyne's Babble, with songs alternating between Krause and vocalist Joerg Ritzenhoff, whose voice recalls the man who played Herr Peachum on the CBS recording of "Die Dreigroschenoper". He's very swank, as is Dagmar, although I am disappointed that Mr. Ritzenhoff got more of the "fun" songs. Standouts on this include "Because We're Kids", the Dr. Seuss-texted romp, with Dagmar wailing in fine form during the middle sections, and singing the verses with grace and conviction (not to mention it's HIGHLY danceable), and "Jonny", with some very characteristic vocalizations by Krause, who repeats a simple lyric but improves on its delivery each time around.

   Dagmar Krause & Marie Goyette--A SCIENTIFIC DREAM AND A FRENCH KISS (1998) I have never heard anything like this, really. But it is amazing! Dagmar does most of the vocal duties here, with Marie Goyette manipulating samplers and speaking at certain areas. The result is quasi-theatre-ish stuff, with some rather amusing spoken word passages thrown in for good measure (note: "Through My Satellite" and "Bologna: Dear You", a narrative in 'letter form' between Krause and Goyette). There is much humor in the music as well, as Goyette samples various sections of the Tank Battles CD on the track "Seven", and also utilizes sections of Peter and the Wolf on the title song. All of the music here, by the way, is sampled as far as I can tell...You will also recognize some words right away, for the lyrics of Slapp Happy's "Moon Lovers" and "Is It You?" are used here on "Wake Up, Angel" and "Your Star", respectively. I am still amazed at this recording even after many many listens. If I only saw them live...

   I.D. Company--I.D. COMPANY (1970) Let me first say THANK YOU to Other Music in NYC for carrying this CD in the first place, let alone it is very out of print...One of the first recordings Dagmar was featured on, I.D. Company is basically Dagmar and another German songstress, Inga Rumpf (Frumpy, City Preachers). The first "side" consists of songs Inga wrote, and the 2nd...well you get the idea (it's Dagmar :-) I don't know how I feel about this CD, Inga has a very deep, husky voice that sounds very androgynous (I'll have to play that City Preachers LP again...) and it's very difficult to get used to, but she does sound pretty cool in "Bhagavad-Gita" when she says 'So hold tight, and listen to what I have to say." Dagmar is pretty prominently featured as a background vocalist on this song, aside from the part where Inga goes on a hippie-utopian tirade about people being stoned and smelling flowers. Her music is pretty much very ground in the German late 60's early 70's sound, think City Preachers. Dagmar's songs are very, um, different...so different they are extremely difficult to listen to, they don't seem to have any sense of time (which in some cases is good, but it is difficult here :-P. My weak German tells me that her idea was to write a sort of ballet for electronics. It's pretty much true, she sings in this wild style I've never heard from her lips before, and her voice is processed heavily in some parts. This is probably the most bizarre vocals she's ever committed to record. I may feel ambivalent or disillusioned by it now, but I keep listening to it. Over and over. So I'll end up probably loving it...

   Kevin Coyne/Dagmar Krause--BABBLE (1979, CD reissue 1990) I don't know if this is in print or not, but I've checked out reliable sources who say it's not so...anyway. This recording is worth scoping out, infact I wouldn't hesitate to call it a must. The album is not a bunch of duets, as you may think, but instead one takes over a song, and vice versa, as the songs are supposed to represent correspondence between two lovers. The Kevin Coyne songs (his vocal) are all right, though his voice is a little grating. (some would say the same about Dagmar...) but the Dagmar leads are AMAZING!!! Coyne does have an incredible songwriting ability, and the songs fit her voice "like a glove". God, her voice sounds good here! Nice 'pop' songs with neat lyrics. "Lonely Man" and "Sweetheart" are must-hears for any Dagmar fan.

   Dagmar Krause--VOICEPRINT RADIO SESSION (1993) Recorded live at various venues during the mid-1980's, "Voiceprint Radio Session" captures Dagmar at her finest...live!! Most of the material here is taken from "Tank Battles" but also included here are two tracks not on any CD, "Blumengarten" and "On The World's Kindness", and the classic "Supply and Demand". If you are lucky enough to find a copy of this, do not hesitate to get it. It features some of Dagmar's best vocal performances, including the far-more-brooding-and-intense-than-the-album "Berlin 1919" and "Bettellied".