Happy belated birthday to Robert Wyatt who turned 67 last Saturday. I was skiing up in the mountains at the time so this message comes a couple of days late.
As one of England’s most distinct and distinguished solo artists, I will assume Robert Wyatt needs no introduction, particularly not on a website dedicated to the Canterbury Scene. Instead, I’d simply like to ask – have you enjoyed any of Wyatt’s lately? As I’m writing this, I’m listening to a lovely version of At Last I Am Free from the 2010 collaboration album For The Ghosts Within by Robert Wyatt, Gilad Atzmon and Ross Stephen. Fans who have yet to listen to it should check it out
Someone on youtube has used one of the songs from the album to make a sort of Wyatt tribute and I’ll repost that here. So, here’s the beautiful Lush Life from For the Ghosts Within.
Regular readers will know that I often write little birthday greetings or tributes to Canterbury artists on their birthdays. It’s a simple and effective way of making a fan post a little more meaningful. Still, I’ve realized that once you start writing these, it’s a bit rude when you leave someone out. It feels like it’s the sort of thing where the principle should be all or nothing. Unfortunately, I’ve been quite busy since my last post on site and having been away the last four days made me miss not just one or two, but four birthdays.
Pye Hastings had his birthday on Saturday the 21st of January. Phil Miller and Didier Malherbe had theirs on Sunday and John Greaves had his on Monday, yesterday. They are, respectively, 65, 63, 69 and 62 years old.
Today is the 74th birthday of the cosmic resonator and legendary artist Daevid Allen, most famous for being the frontman of the psychedelic rock band Gong. Long time fans of the Canterbury scene will already be familiar with Daevid, but for newcomers, here’s a brief explanation of how this aussie became one of the most influential musicians of the Canterbury scene.
74 years ago today, on January 13th 1938, Christopher David Allen was born in Melbourne, Australia. Twenty-something years later, he would move to Paris and then to England in 1961 where he ended up lodging with the Wyatts. There he became a friend of Robert Wyatt and his school friends like Hugh Hopper, Mike Ratledge and Kevin Ayers who were teenagers at the time. The influence of the older, worldly, artistic and open minded Daevid Allen on the young Canterburyans must have been tremendous and he introduced his younger friends to things like jazz and poetry. Perhaps other things as well because he was asked by his landlord to leave after a year as they thought he was a negative influence on the boys!
The friendship continued, though, and in 1963, The Daevid Allen Trio was playing gigs in London with Robert Wyatt on drums, Hugh Hopper on bass and Mike Ratledge occasionally playing the piano. Amazingly, recordings from their gigs exist today and are available on the album Live 1963. In 1966, Daevid would form Soft Machine along with Ratledge and Kevin Ayers. In 1967, Daevid was denied re-entry into England after a trip to the European mainland and so decided to stay in France where he and Gilli Smyth would start playing with musical projects that would eventually evolve into the band Gong. Gong was a strange mix of cosmic and hippy influences; psychedelic and space rock pioneering with bottomless energy and imagination. Ever since, the band and its various incarnations has been one of the (if not the) most popular of the Canterbury bands, always inspired and always energetic.
In addition to Gong and related projects, Daevid also has a solo career. Here’s one of his more popular songs, Why Do We Treat Ourselves Like We Do? from Now Is The Happiest Time Of Your Life from 1977.
Dan Burke posted his postcards from Robert Wyatt on What’s Rattlin’ and has graciously allowed me to publish them here on politeforce. So, these are three postcards from Robert Wyatt to Dan who was a fan (rhymes!), the last one from Dec. 1973. Dan has scanned them and also taken the time to transcribe them for those of us who don’t understand handwriting.
I just uploaded scans of 3 postcards I received from Robert when I was writing to him as a “Volume II”-obsessed fan in junior high school.
Each “card” posted here is actually two pictures, first a small picture also showing the front of the card and the side with the writing. Then a larger picture underneath showing only the written bit.
Hello Dan, Didy passed on your letter. On Vol II I hired a small Rogers kit with tiny bass drum and a couple of enormous Avedis cymbals bu I can’t remember particulars except that I use 2 and 3S street musicians sticks which are like logs at first but I find worth the patience if you don’t mind your arms aching a bit for a few weeks! As for 1984 Hugh doesn’t like to repeat himself so I don’t suppose he uses fuzz distortion like he used to, but I may be wrong. Dave Sinclair has been playing with Phil Miller, Richard Sinclair and Pip Pyle. I’m on my own for awhile. Best wishes, Robert Wyatt.
Hello Dan. Thank you for your letter. I hope you like brown ink. I’d love to go on recording sequels to End of An Ear, but record companies don’t let nobodies record unless the’re a) hit parading b) in a group on the road. I chose b) but you just can’t tell other people what to play (at least I can’t) and I don’ know any musicians who are really working in the same territory, so I play drums for friends and do my own little bits when I get the chance (mainly home-made tapes unreleased of course) Thanks again for your interest, drop in if you ever come to London (what a solemn little card never mind) How can we complain about American Imperialism when we pay this woman . . . (illegible)
Boink! Even already Did I answer? I wonder um. 1) No drums (I shan’t missem mutch) 2) Yes I’ve been in correspondence with Hugh Hopper and he’s made some beautiful tapes and I’m hoping to record with him again. He’s one of the only composers I really take seriously or whatever. no more space so just thanks for writing when I was in hospital. Best wishes and Happy Christmas. Robert Wyatt (Dec. 1973)
Matthew Watkins podcast continues into 2012 with this episode of Canterbury Soundwaves, a show which explores the many corners of the Canterbury sound, including the nichey, rare and dusty. Regarding this month’s episode, Mathew has the following to say.
No particular theme this time, but a lot of tracks featuring the wind playing of Pye Hastings’ brother Jimmy (so a lot of Caravan, but also some Hatfield and National Health, as well as something entriely unexpected from 2001). Also, Ollie Halsall at his finest, Hugh Hopper and Robert Wyatt (still) experimenting with tape loops in the late 90’s, a Malian woman singing Wyatt’s “Alifib”, obscure hiphop beats based on loops of Canterbury material, and a drunk-but-functioning Whole World playing up a storm in London’s Hyde Park, summer 1970.
Fans of Hatfield and the North may recognize the post title as the title of one of the musical themes that make up the bands 20-minute long epic song Mumps from their second album The Rotters’ Club. That musical bit at the start and ending with that stunningly catchy riff. The title seems to be a reference to a Monty Python’s Flying Circus skit and seems to come from the Oscar Wilde sketch from the final episode of season three called Grandstand. In the sketch, Oscar Wilde tells the Prince of Wales “your Majesty is like a big jam doughnut with cream on top”.
As mentioned, the musical piece by Hatfield and the North is a part of their epic track Mumps from their second album. However, Your Majesty Is Like A Cream Donut has also made other appearances on record. In 1975, the song appeared on the Virgin sampler record V from 1975 alongside tracks by Robert Wyatt, Henry Cow, Slapp Happy and Steve Hillage among others. On that record, Your Majesty… segues seamlessly into Oh What A Lonely Lifetime, another beautiful song which appears in a few places outside the bands studio albums, such as version from John Peel’s show in 1974 which can be found on the archive release Hatwise Choice where it is named The Lonely Bubbling Song.
Anyways, before I digress too much, while this V sampler album may be hard to find today, that version of Your Majesty Is Like A Cream Donut incorporating Oh What A Lonely Lifetime can now be found on what I believe is still the latest rerelease of Hatfield and the North’s debut, a version from 2009 by Esoteric Recordings. This rerelease also contains the band’s Let’s Eat (Real Soon) single featuring Let’s Eat and a fine version of Fitter Stoke Has A Bath.
I consider Your Majesty Is Like A Cream Donut to be one of the more pleasing things the band ever put out and, while it is beautiful in Mumps, it works very well alongside the gorgeous Oh What A Lonely Lifetime. Very well indeed! If you’d like to hear it for yourself, someone on youtube has already uploaded the piece. So, for your listening pleasure, I give you ..
Fans of Dave Stewart and Barbara Gaskins can consider themselves a little more musically gifted in 2012 as Dave’s deconstructed their song Star Blind from the 1991 album Spin which was re-released last year. In order to help you figure out how it goes, there are helpful descriptions and even sheet music to help you along. Anyone with the know-how who would like a peek inside Dave Stewart’s highly composed mind should check it out.
PS! My Chrome browser has a problem with properly displaying the media content on the site and so you might want to opt for a different browser.
In case anyone (else) missed it at the time of it’s release, the December episode of Matthew Watkins’ podcast Canterbury Soundwaves was released on Dec. 8th.
An exploration of Canterbury connections with Syd Barrett and Pink Floyd (mostly Soft Machine related, but not all), including some remarkable Floyd recordings you’ve probably never heard. Also, some very free jazz from Lol and Didier, more incredible autumn ’67 Soft Machine from French telly, Kev and Daev reunited, Matching Mole live, a beautiful two-part cover of “O Caroline”… and Caravan playing with an orchestra and getting away with it (arguably).