Robert Wyatt’s Shipbuilding is a song familiar to most who are acquainted with the Canterbury scene, but the song also has an interesting history fewer may be aware of.
Clive Langer wrote the tune for Robert Wyatt during the Falklands War in 1982, but was not happy about his own lyrics for the song. At a party hosted by Nick Lowe, Langer played the song for Elvis Costello who came to Langer with new lyrics only a few days later.
Costello’s lyrics is an anti-war song about the contradiction of how the dying traditional trade of shipbuilding on England’s coast is temporarily revived by a need to replace ships sunk during the Falklands war by builders who send off their own children to go to war, risking their lives on the boats they build. The first line of the song is “is it worth it?”, asking if the fruits of the temporarily revived shipbuilding trade such as “a new winter coat and shoes for the wife – and a bike cycle on a boy’s birthday” is worth the human costs of that labor.
A studio version of the song was recorded and released as a single in 1982 with Robert Wyatt on vocals, Clive Langer on organ, Steve Nieve (piano), Mark Bedford (double bass), Martin Hughes (drums) and Elvis Costello (backing vocals). A video was also made for the song and it reached #36 on the UK Charts in May the following year.
The song was also included on the Robert Wyatt compilation album Nothing Can Stop Us! released the same year which containing mostly cover songs. Elvis Costello also recorded his own version with his band The Attractions on their album Punch the Clock which was released in 1983. Costello’s recording also includes a performance by the legendary jazz trumpeteer Chet Baker.
Today, it is 66 years ago since the late Elton Dean, esteemed english jazz musician, was born in Nottingham in 1945.
Elton Dean, most famous for playing the saxella and alto saxophone, got his first saxophone at the age of 18. A few years later, he was already a professional playing London clubs. In the later half of the 60s, Elton played with several bands including John Baldry’s band Bluesology which also included Reggie Dwight who would borrow names from Dean and Baldry to create his own stage name Elton John. He also joined the Keith Tippett Sixtet which played in various clubs and recorded two albums.
Elton Dean entered the Canterbury scene in 1969 when he joined the Soft Machine and brought his instantly recognizable style to the albums Third (1970), Fourth (1971) and 5 (1972). Dean then left the band to work on other projects like his solo material and his nine-piece band Ninesense, but would come back to the scene and play with acts like National Health, In Cahoots and supergroups/spinoff groups like Soft Heap, Soft Head, Soft Works, Soft Bounds and Soft Machine Legacy. Sadly, heart and liver problems resulted in several hospital stays during 2005 and an untimely death in February 2006 when Elton was 60 years old.
Although Dean lended his saxophone to highly compositional pieces such as National Health’s Portrait of a Shrinking Man, most know him for his brilliantly energetic and melodic improvisations. Today, we celebrate his birth and the genius of his music. So, write a comment and let us know what your favourite songs are!
Mark Hewins who played guitar in bands like The Polite Force, Soft Heap, Caravan of Dreams and more, has honoured us with his presence and also brought a couple of goodies to share in the form of a couple of links. One of them is for his flickr page which contains pictures of Mark and other Canterburyans from the scene, such as the picture above. The other is for his page on Soundcloud containing Hewins own unrelased Canterbury pieces. In other words some real treats for us fans of the scene.
Matthew Watkins’ episode 12 of his Canterbury Soundwaves podcast was released on the 9th of October. For those who don’t know it, it’s a podcast radio exploring the Canterbury Sound which features the music we love and of course a wealth of rarities and even interviews. Here’s a quick description of October’s episode :
Strange encounters with punk, funk, new wave and disco, as typified by Daevid Allen’s late 70’s New York Gong project. Also, Soft Machine experiencing technical difficulties (but ultimately triumphing) at the 1970 BBC Proms, Hatfield Mark II (with Dave Sinclair on keyboards, and Robert Wyatt on guest vocals), a freaky Gong jam from ’72 with mystery trumpet player, some Canterbury sounds from early 70’s Holland, thirty-seven seconds of unparalleled brilliance from Henry Cow (twice), the last vocalist you’d ever expect to hear on Canterbury Soundwaves and the winning entry in our recent haiku competition…