As a Robert Wyatt aficionado this is a delightful piece of news. If you do not know about Robert Wyatt then you can investigate many different stages of his career as a drummer, innovator, singer and a political voice. As part of the Canterbury scene (I recently picked up The Wilde Flowers vinyl release) along with Caravan and Kevin Ayers, Wyatt developed into an art, jazz, progressive musician with wait for it, the sweetest voice you’ve ever heard. An angel behind a noisy drum kit. Weird time signatures and a massive influence on the sixties underground scene, Wyatt and his band flourished as contemporaries of Pink Floyd and the arty types of the era. Touring with Hendrix in the US Wyatt recorded these tracks in downtime (when the studio was not being used). I’ve only heard the one track so far as the record is not out on time of writing, but he ticks all the boxes – interesting, weird, progressive, catchy and Hendrix playing bass on one track. What more could you want?
In 1970 he released his first solo album The End Of An Ear and subsequently left Soft Machine. He formed the inscrutable Matching Mole. (Matching Mole is a witty word play… Machine Molle is French for Soft Machine). Two albums ensued, Matching Mole (1972) and later the same year Little Red Record. Both albums featured complex jazzy progressive jams alongside Wyatt’s totally unique mellifluous singing – in a cockney accent (although he was born in Bristol?). It was here on the first album that Wyatt sang one of my favourite ever songs, one of my desert Island discs, Oh Caroline. It was also released as a single the same year. Hear it here:
At some point after this and before a planned third Matching Mole album, tragedy struck when he fell out of a 3rd floor window at a party and became paralysed from the waist down. His first album after this terrible accident was the powerful Rock Bottom (1974), An art rock classic (produced by Nick Mason) that instead of being harrowing is uplifting, fascinating, deep, complex and beautiful.
At some point after this Wyatt had a surprise hit when a cover of The Monkees I’m A Believer was released as a single shortly after the album came out. The producer for Top Of The Pops wouldn’t agree at first to let Robert Wyatt perform the song from his wheelchair saying that it wasn’t appropriate for a family show. In the end he was allowed to but the attitude certainly added insult to injury.
With Nick Mason From Pink Floyd on drums, Any Summers before he joined The Police on acoustic guitar, Richard Sinclair form Caravan and Hatfield And The North on bass, Fred Frith from Henry Cow on guitar and Dave McCrae from Nucleus, Matching Mole and various interesting jazz ensembles including Buddy Rich, Chet Baker and Gil Evans to name but a few.
And so began Wyatt’s solo career that has inspired an intriguing collection of original LP’s and singles. Ruth Is Stranger Than Richard (1975) is another play on words (Truth Is Stranger Than Fiction). It was an album of interpretations in Wyatt’s inimitable style and featured art rock luminaries such as Fred Frith from Henry Cow and Phil Manzanera from Roxy Music, Eno and members of Matching Mole with other co writers and musicians throughout the album. The album is a fascinating blend of African music, Jazz and on Song For Che a mournful drunken funeral march. In any case these things mixed with an English explorers arty spirit makes an album of twists and turns, surprises and heartwarming melancholia.
For the next 10 years Wyatt guested on the records of his old friends and a few new ones and released a slew of politically charged singles. Wyatt had become a member of the Communist Party and released the single Stalin wasn’t Stallin’ with a reading of a poem Stalingrad by Peter Blackman on the B side. His single At last I Am Free is also one of my favourite ever songs, a song perhaps about death, again exquisitely sung. Shipbuilding, the Elvis Costello/Clive Langer song was released by Wyatt in 1982 and became a top 40 hit. Wyatt collected all these songs together and released the album Nothing Can Stop Us in the same year (Shipbuilding only on the Australian release). The album also featured the Lewis Allen classic, Strange Fruit made famous by Billie Holiday. He made one more record in the ’80s Old Rottenhat, and then Dondestan (1991). Haunting and humorous, (a catch phrase that quite typifies Wyatt’s music), the album was released twice, once with an unapproved mix after it ran over budget and then again as a revisited version. His later albums Shleep (1997) Cuckooland (2003) Comic Opera (2007) are art for art’s sake meanderings and melodies, serious and playful excavations of a soul so down to earth that his music floats in the clouds like angels.
Shipbuilding From The Old Grey Whistle Test 1983:
At Last I am Free from the Nothing Can Stop Us Album:
Robert Wyatt Website:
“After a half a dozen listens I am convinced this is of the very best archival releases EVER.
The creativity was pouring out of RW at that time and the freedom he had doing these demos reveal a sense of freshness that is really exciting – also there is a feeling of warm intimacy like we get to be the fly on RW’s studio wall in 1968 – the interview is amazing too. Do not miss this.”
–Udi Koomram, engineer.
“Some have called this – the complete set of Robert Wyatt’s solo recordings made in the US in late 1968 – the ultimate Holy Grail. Half of the material here is not only previously unreleased – it had never been heard, even by the most dedicated collectors of Wyatt rarities.”
–Aymeric Leroy, author and historian of the ‘Canterbury Scene’.
“A stunning archival release that sheds new light on early Soft Machine. A must-have for Softs fans”–Sid Smith, journalist
Go here to the Cuneform records site for an overview of what this release is all about: