Monday, 30 September 2013

Robert Wyatt - re-jigged, re-written, re-posted.


Photo from internet manipulated by Russell Duffy

If I were to try and capture the essence of Robert Wyatt then it would be in these few lines...He has a vulnerable voice cast adrift in a world of square holes; a duck billed platypus in a field of Daleks. He is as much an aural painter as musician for he allows the influence of colour to shape his music with often muted and at the same time vibrant shades. Influenced by jazz and pop and by various world musics his sound forms its own niche.

I first came across Robert Wyatt when he was playing drums in The Soft Machine, a support act in those days for The Pink Floyd  and was pretty unimpressed by the band (Soft Machine not Floyd). Not my cuppa tea at all or so it seemed but as time moved on and as I began to mature musically, especially liking King Crimson, Van Der Graaf Generator and (Oh the double irony of it) Matching Mole. I fell in love with, and still love to this day Robert's song, 'Caroline' that was featured on the first Matching Mole album. It was the voice of the man that I liked, that flat estuary accent that sounds so like my own..



Robert has an unhurried approach to making music. He does it at a pace that suits him even if the likes of his selfish fans, myself included, wish he would work a little faster. At the end of the day though, what we are lucky to get is always remarkable.The man never fails to impress. 


Doing the obvious is not Wyatt's style. He is a multi-faceted, complex character with a musical sound that reflects his personality well. It isn't unique but it is distinctive.

Robert Wyatt was born Robert Wyatt-Ellidge in Bristol on January 28th 1945. He spent his teenage years living in his parents fourteen-room Georgian guest house in Lydden near Canterbury. A passionate lover of music and especially of Miles Davis he became interested in the drums and was taught by visiting jazz drummer George Niedorf. In 1962 the pair went to Majorca where they stayed with the poet Robert Graves. Perhaps this time with such a man laid foundations for his future passion for words?

In 1963 Wyatt returned to England where he joined the Daevid Allen Trio with Daevid and Hugh Hopper. Just after this Allen moved to France and together, Wyatt and Hopper formed the Wilde Flowers along with Richard Sinclair and Kevin Ayers. Wyatt remained as the groups drummer until Ayers (lead vocalist) left and then Robert took on the roll of the groups singer.

1966 saw the band break up and Wyatt went onto join the underground scene with Soft Machine. This meant him again collaborating with Kevin Ayers and Daevid Allen along with Mike Ratledge. With this group Wyatt not only sang but also played the drums which, even to this day, is not a common thing to see having a drummer as lead vocalist.

Together Soft Machine produced three very 'alternative' albums. Listening to them again now, some forty years on, I realise how groundbreaking and brave a band they were. Also how long lasting when so much of that period faded to pretentious twaddle.

By 1970, having spent several manic years touring and recording, Wyatt went onto record his first solo album The End of an Ear. It is an album Wyatt now dismisses as juvenile and not part of his oeuvre but it was the start of something rather grand.  A year after that, 1971, Soft Machine split and Wyatt went on to form Matching Mole. It was at the time of Prog Rock and so the mutton heads termed it as such even if only three years prior it had been called 'underground.'

In 1973,whilst drunk at a party hosted by Pink Floyd, Wyatt fell from a third floor window and broke his back rendering him paraplegic and unable to play drums properly again. The hours, weeks and months spent lying in a hospital bed may have driven most men mad. Oddly the accident galvanised Robert. This injury led him to leave Matching Mole and re-think his next career move. Undeterred by this enormous setback, Wyatt went solo and started working with a string of notable, like minded musicians and poets. Mike Oldfield, Ivor Cutler, Fred Firth and Brian Eno among them.

He released an album entitled Rock Bottom, a bold work of imaginative songs and arrangements before putting out a marvelous cover version of the Monkees 'I'm a Believer' which reached number 29 in the UK singles chart. A fantastic and very alternative take on the original.

In 1983 Robert Wyatt received a call from Elvis Costello. Costello had written a song for Wyatt entitled "Shipbuilding". A glorious song about the facts, as seen by Costello and shared by Wyatt, of the Falklands campaign and the folly of war. A classic in its own right and a chart single success.

Throughout his rather splendid, if understated career, he has managed to maintain a very 'British' quality to his work along with a razor edge desire to always try things that are very much left of field.

He is a man of his own making, a voice that speaks volumes with a whisper.

Robert Wyatt - a true original.



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 Russell Cuts the Corn From The Brewers Whiskers.

2 comments:

LeeKwo said...

Great read on Robert Wyatt/I sort of lost track of him after Soft Machine so its great to what he ended up doing/Thanks for the post/LeeKwo

Russell C.J. Duffy said...

Lee>>>Thanks. One of my favorite artists.