Somewhere in 2014 Robert wyatt, with over 40 years in music has decided to officially withdraw from its creation. Maybe he was just tired. Perhaps it was his poor health. Maybe both. He said himself that it was his age and his greatest interest in politics. “There is a pride in stopping, I don’t want the music to go off.”
But, whatever the reason, he leaves behind a musical legacy that seems to have the strongest impression on the musicians themselves, especially in his native Britain. Even considering he didn’t have a lot of singles in the UK charts. Maybe it was exactly his leftist politics and his very direct presentation of political opinions, through music or otherwise.
He leaves behind a musical legacy which seems to have the strongest impression on the musicians themselves.
Yet the legacy is there, and its influence on music creators who do not see the usefulness of genre boundaries or suppressing their views on social and political issues is undeniable. So much so that in January 2015, the biography of Wyatt Different every time was billed as BBC Radio 4’s Book of the Week, shortened by Katrin Williams and read by Julian Rhind-Tutt.
So what’s the story of Robert Wyatt? A man many consider “a key player in the formative years of British jazz fusion, psychedelia and progressive rock”. A man who created music that has crossed countless borders and which a music journalist has dubbed “the saddest voice in modern music?” “
Can you have a “soft machine?” “
For fans of progressive rock, the term “Canterbury stage” has an almost mythical meaning. Some of the early and later, some of the best progressive artists hail from this English university town. Canterbury Sound actually became a universal term describing a specific sound broadcast even by artists who in fact had no formal connection to the city itself. In fact, Canterbury was exactly where Wyatt started his musical career and was one of the artists who heavily influenced the so-called Canterbury sound.
He started out playing the drums, supervised by a visiting American drummer. George Neidorf. He spent time with Neidorf in Mallorca, Spain (1962), but decided to return to England to join a group formed by Daevid Allen, who later became a progressive rock legend for his solo work and Gong, one of the seminal prog bands.
When Allen left for France to train Gong, Wyatt and Hugh hopper (one of the members of his group) formed a “true psychedelic” group, Wild flowers, where they were joined by another duo of later prominent prog artists – Kevin Ayers and Richard sinclair (the leader of the Canterbury sound group archetype Caravan).
This was short lived, however, as Ayers quickly left and Wilde Flowers quickly split into two groups: Caravan (Sinclair) and Soft machine (Wyatt and Hopper). Soft Machine’s initial lineup included both Kevin Ayers and Daevid Allen and was joined by the keyboardist Mike Ratledge, whose fuzz-infused organ sound became one of the earliest psych / prog signatures.
Wyatt provided his very distinct jazz style drums, but also initially shared the vocals with Ayers.
Ayers left after Soft Machine’s debut album (1968), considered one of the most influential of the period, leaving Wyatt as the band’s sole vocalist.
Soft Machine turns into a Soft Machine
It was possible that Wyatt’s voice was what made Soft Machine’s sound so special. But it was also possible that those voices, and Wyatt’s take on music and what it should be expressing in general, were what started to drive the wedge between him and the rest of the band.
Ratledge, Hopper, and saxophonist Elton Dean who joined the band along the way, were supporters of complex instrumental music, really serious stuff. Wyatt, on the other hand, has always believed that complexity isn’t the only part that makes music sound great. He never hesitated to dance and his words were full of humor, even sarcasm. He was also one of the initiators of the inclusion of nursery rhymes, even absurd lyrics, which became a favorite among British bands of the time.
He never hesitated to dance and his lyrics were full of humor.
The split within the band widened, and on the third and fourth albums his involvement in the band’s sound became increasingly minimal with Wyatt’s departure after Fourth. In fact, Wyatt’s disagreements with the group had another personal undercurrent. He was becoming a real alcoholic, something sped up by his friendship with Keith Moon, the late drummer of The Who, whose alcoholism is one of the most recorded in rock history.
After leaving the group, Wyatt participated in a number of prog-oriented projects like Centipede and recorded his first solo release, The end of an ear. It was a particularly eccentric outing, consisting mostly of Wyatt’s vocals and tape effects. Wyatt then decides to form his own group, Matching taupe. In typical Wyatt sardonic fashion, the band’s name was a sound piece on the French version of Soft Machine, soft machine. The two albums recorded by the band were a double product. On the one hand, they were typical of the progressive instrumental trends of the time. On the other hand, Wyatt began to express his leftist political views more and more.
A serious accident that saved a life
After Matching Mole’s two albums, the band began to split up and Wyatt began preparing material for their second solo album. But in early June 1973, he suffered an accident that changed his life.
Attended a party, severely drunk, he fell through a window on the fourth floor. He became paralyzed from the waist down and has been using a wheelchair ever since. According to Wyatt himself, this serious accident and becoming a paraplegic actually saved his life, as he had to stop drinking forever.
The high esteem Wyatt enjoyed among other British musicians and artistic figures later became evident. Pink floyd, Soft Machine and legendary radio host John peel organized two concerts in honor of Wyatt and raised a substantial sum of money intended to recover his health. Later, Wyatt and his wife Alfreda Bergé (a full lyricist) were also financially and materially supported by the model Jean Shrimpton and actress Julie christie.
The drama of life, on the other hand, prompted Wyatt to rethink his music in general. He had to completely change his style of drumming as he could no longer use his feet, but he began to master other instruments, raising them to a level of excellence.
The changes were already evident from his first post-crash solo album Rock bottom – obviously an auto-jab at newly raised circumstances. Shortly after, one of the first singles for Virgin Records while fresh on the scene, Wyatt released his version of the Neil Diamond / The Monkees press “I am a believer”. Produced by Pink Floyd’s Nick mason, the single quickly reached No. 29 on the UK charts. However, when Wyatt was scheduled to appear on the Top of The Pops TV show, the show’s producer thought his use of a wheelchair “was unsuitable for family viewing” and wanted him to appear on a TV show. normal chair. Wyatt refused and appeared in a wheelchair anyway.
From guest appearances to serious solo work
In the 1970s, Wyatt released only one album under his name, Ruth is stranger than Richard (1975). Another album with a very telling title. An album where Wyatt showed his penchant for free jazz forms and the tastes of Ornette Coleman and Cecil Taylor. But even then, it was Wyatt’s distinct voices that led the way.
Also throughout the decade, Wyatt has participated in and lent his voice to a number of projects by other musicians, from Nick Mason’s debut solo album to Mike mantlerthe avant-garde jazz project of Jazz Composers Orchestra.
From the 80s, Wyatt began to focus on creating solo albums that grew in musical diversity, but also in political and social engagement. The stars are exactly what the name implies, and include albums like Old Rottenhat (1985), Sheep (1997), cuckoo country (2003), and Comicopera (2007). Throughout, Wyatt has always showcased his brilliant penchant for covers, including Elvis Costello‘s “Shipbuilding” (actually written specifically for Wyatt to interpret) and Nil Rogers“Finally, I am free. “
And it’s always that voice …
With all his musical knowledge and intelligence, personal literacy and social engagement, it is always Robert Wyatt’s voice that stands out with unknown and enchanting properties.
The best description of Wyatt’s voice probably came from the poet and translator. Michael hofmann in his article on Wyatt in The Baffle:
“It seems strange to me that a band with the infinitely melodious bass-baritone crooner Kevin Ayers had to have someone else sing along (and Ayers wrote most of the songs as well). But Wyatt was both drumming and singing. Her voice – like nothing or anyone else, unable to disguise themselves, anyone who heard her knows her instantly, but how do you describe her? A fiery, painful, ardent sound. Not trained, and probably not a lot of range. In German, “eine Kopfstimme”, a “head voice”, not the body. Moving in his weakness, not powerful. If a voice can be high-pitched and hoarse at the same time, then this is it. A sort of high-pitched gruff. Often holding a note after its expiration date. Maybe Wyatt’s underwater aura came from there. Not only shipbuilding, but also freediving. Also, a distinctly English voice with its banal and corrupt English vowels.
Robert Wyatt may have retired from creating music, but the legacy he left is as strong as any.