30/1/16 – Robert Wyatt – Shipbuilding – 1982 / Happy Birthday Robert Wyatt – 70 This Month – 2016 / Stanley Spencer – 1891 – 1959

Song Of The Day

Life & Death

Robert Wyatt with trumpetAfter all this death I’m just so relieved that one of my favourite artists is still alive – Robert Wyatt was 70 on January 28th. I could gladly post a different Robert Wyatt track every day and oddly his songs of dissent only make me happy. That is, I find them inspiring, it’s not like Elvis Costello’s Shipbuilding lyric has me dancing in the street, more Wyatt’s interpretation makes me appreciate the poignancy of the message.

Clive Langer from Liverpool group Deaf School, turned producer pairing with Alan Winstanley, wrote the music especially for Wyatt, who in turn wrote a lyric that he wasn’t happy with. So Langer played the song to Elvis Costello who wrote the words to Shipbuilding in 1982, around the time of the Falkland’s war. It deals with the dilemma that the livelihood of shipping industry workers and their families would  benefit as a result of the death of sailors and soldiers and the loss of ships in a pointless war. A side note to this: I called one of my Studios Cammell Laird’s Song Building Yards. Cammell Lairds Shipbuilding yards was situated in Birkenhead on the River Mersey across from Liverpool. It was one of the shipyards that struggled to survive, a dying industry nationalised in 1977 and then returning back to private ownership in 1986 and thriving again against all odds.

Robert Wyatt Shipbuilding Cover Art 1982The cover art for the single was released in five different versions. The artwork comes from two of eight panels from Stanley Spencer’s Shipbuilding On The Clyde painted in the ’40s. The remarkable Stanley Spencer was born in 1891 and spent most of his life in Cookham in Berkshire, he died of cancer aged 68 in 1959.  This from wikipedia: ”The value of Spencer’s paintings soared after a retrospective exhibition at the Royal Academy in 1980. The Resurrection; waking up fetched £770,000 at Christie’s early in 1990, and in May of that year his Crucifixion (1958) fetched £1,320,000. “It was an all-time record for a modern British painting, and would have astounded Stanley, who was poor for so long.” By 2011, Sunflower and Dog Worship sold for £5.4m, beating a record of £4.7m set a few minutes earlier for Workmen in the House”.

The picture is of Stanley Spencer and his daughter Unity in 1933.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stanley_SpencerStanley Spencer and daughter Unity 1933

Shipbuilding was released twice, first in 1982 and again in 1983, initially failing to chart it made it to No.35 in the UK in 1983, Rough Trade’s first Top 40 single. The band was Wyatt, Elvis Costello on backing vocals, Steve Nieve on piano, Martin Hughes on drums and Madness bass player Mark Bedford on double bass. It wasn’t Wyatt’s first solo hit: incredibly in 1974 only months after falling from a window at Lady June’s Maida Vale fourth floor flat that left him a paraplegic, Wyatt released his own version of Monkee’s hit, I’m A Believer with Andy Summers on guitar, Fred Frith on violin and Nick Mason on drums. The song reached No.29 on the UK chart.

I love Robert Wyatt, his voice, the mood of his music. I have some friends that know him and also love him, the last information I heard about him was that he has retired. Thank you Robert for everything you have given us.





Is it worth it?
A new winter coat and shoes for the wife
And a bicycle on the boy’s birthday
It’s just a rumor that was spread around town
By the women and children
Soon we’ll be shipbuilding…
Well I ask you
The boy said “Dad they’re going to take me to task, but I’ll be back by Christmas”
It’s just a rumor that was spread around town
Somebody said that someone got filled in
For saying that people get killed in
The result of this shipbuilding
With all the will in the world
Diving for dear life
When we could be diving for pearls
It’s just a rumor that was spread around town
A telegram or a picture postcard
Within weeks they’ll be re-opening the shipyards
And notifying the next of kin
Once again
It’s all we’re skilled in
We will be shipbuilding…

With all the will in the world
Diving for dear life
When we could be diving for pearls.

Theses are links from previous Robert Wyatt musings on the In Deep Music Archive site:




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