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Robert Wyatt: an extract from biography Different Every Time

September 2014

Ahead of his appearance at our Off The Page literary festival for sound and music in Bristol on 26 September, read an extract from Marcus O'Dair's biography Different Every Time: The Authorised Biography Of Robert Wyatt (published by Serpent's Tail). This chapter traces Wyatt's teenage years, beginning just after his first suicide attempt as a teenager, tracing his development through the tutelage of Ramón Farrán at the writer Robert Graves's Mallorca home, the emergence of a so-called Canterbury scene, to the birth of his first son

Robert left the Langton school at the start of 1962 and enrolled at the local art college. It could have been a fertile environment. Painting and sculpture had been keen interests since childhood, with the Swiss painter Paul Klee a particular favourite, and for a period Robert saw a future in fine art as more probable than in music.

As a kind of a parallel education system for adolescent non-conformists, art schools offered a path into music too, one followed by numerous contemporaries, such as John Lennon, Keith Richards, Eric Clapton, Ray Davies, Syd Barrett and Pete Townshend. Robert’s stint at art school, however, proved little more successful than his time at the Langton: "I think it was while I was there: he reflects, "that I realised I was more interested in music, funnily enough."

He left after a single term. For some alumni of the Langton, especially those bright young things of the 'u stream', the subsequent years were straightforward: first sixth form, then university and employment. For Wyatt, it was instead a rudderless time, driven by a kind of existential recklessness. "I had the youth ideology. I didn’t expect to live long. I didn’t even learn to do anything properly. I couldn’t see the point, since I had no intention of living long enough to need to know anything very much. The 1960s were a vertiginously steep learning curve for me, and I didn’t get anything right." The drifting began with a journey to Mallorca to stay with Robert Graves, who had remained a family friend since the 1930s; Robert believes he was actually named in the poet’s honour. Yet as he and companion George Neidorf made their pilgrimage through olive trees and lemon orchards to Canellufi, Graves’s home in the rural village of Deià, Robert found himself increasingly troubled by his namesake’s formidable reputation. Graves had first emerged as a First World War poet, a contemporary of Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon. By the early 1960s, he had written the historical novel I, Claudius; the autobiographical Goodbye To All That; The White Goddess, a pioneering study of mythology; and various translations of Latin and Greek texts. And he was Professor of Poetry at Oxford.

Robert needn’t have felt daunted. Graves, he laughs, "was very relieved that I was virtually illiterate and hadn’t read any of his stuff". Although born in the reign of Queen Victoria, the puckish poet represented a walking, talking rejection of social and moral restraint. Known for his passionate relationships with muses such as Laura Riding, Graves was not averse to occasional marijuana use and dabbled in hallucinogens. He also retained a physical grace unusual for a man in his late sixties. "I was completely knocked out by him," says Wyatt. "Quite awestruck. A magnificent bloke, bit of a giant. Fantastically handsome. I remember him leaping down the side of the mountain, like a goat, when everyone else was clambering. I thought he was absolutely fantastic. He really, quite obviously, was your proper great man." Bebop deities aside, Wyatt may consider himself an atheist. But he couldn’t fail to be seduced by Graves’s idiosyncratic take on spirituality. With its tapestry of folklore, mythology, religion and the muse responsible for poetry of passion, The White Goddess, the poet’s 1948 "historical grammar of poetic myth", would enchant everyone from Ted Hughes to Thomas Pynchon. "It gave me a sense of the world," Robert recalls, "not just as a geographical place but as an endless story of amazing myths, and different states of mind."

The classical scholar was also a fan of avant-garde jazz and had embraced Cecil Taylor, no less, at a gig in New York. Graves encouraged Robert as a drummer, soon giving him the nickname Batty from the Spanish word bateria, meaning drumkit. Robert even had a few lessons from Graves’s future son-in-law, the young Catalan drummer Ramón Farrán." Ramón was a young jazz musician," remembers Robert, "and both he and George Neidorf taught me things. That was very valuable. In fact, some of my first live gigs ever were at Canellufi. Robert used to get people to do things. There were always lots of people around, and everybody had to do something at these meals. It was terrifying; you had to sing a song or something. I used to do vocal percussion duets with Ramón Farrán." The Deià lifestyle of sangria and beach barbecues was later compared by Graves’s son William to the hedonism of Federico Fellini’s La Dolce Vita. Wyatt recalls paradisiacal afternoons playing conga drums in the open air with Mati Klarwein, whose artwork would later grace Miles Davis and Santana album covers, as the Mediterranean nibbled at fishermen’s huts below. It’s hard to imagine a more healing environment for the teenage Wyatt to convalescence from an attempted suicide. After five months in this Eden, however, George Neidorf announced that he was moving on: his girlfriend was pregnant, and they were heading to Greece for the birth. Robert too realised it was time to leave and took the ferry to mainland Spain. The journey home brought him back to reality with a jolt. "I was sleeping on benches in Barcelona because I couldn’t afford to go in anywhere," he explains. "I came back and had to go to the doctor with malnutrition."

Back home at Wellington House in late 1962, Robert took a job with the Forestry Commission in Kent’s Lyminge Forest. The working day began at five in the morning; Canellufi could hardly have felt more distant. "It was a very cold winter," recollects Wyatt. "They said, “Oh, he’s been to a grammar school, he won’t stick it out. It’s too tough." So I did stick it out until the weather got better, just to prove that I could." As soon as he had done enough to defend his reputation, however, Robert left the job and moved to London. Sharing his flat in Belsize Park were Kevin Ayers, Hugh Hopper and Ted Bing, a schoolfriend who later worked as a Soft Machine roadie. "There were four of us in one room," Robert remembers. "It was quite a big room, with a permanent smell of hot curry coming up the staircase and a pregnant prostitute in a little room next door. She used to come and dance for us in her leotard."

Daevid Allen had also moved to London and soon enlisted Robert and Hugh as the rhythm section of his new group. Inspired by Beat Generation writers of the previous decade, the Daevid Allen Trio set out to combine poetry with avant-garde jazz. Using Daevid’s contacts, the trio secured a four-night booking at the Establishment Club in Soho.

The focal point of the early 1960s satire boom, the Establishment Club was co-owned by Peter Cook and hosted jazz gigs by the likes of Dudley Moore: a fine pianist as well as Cook’s comedy partner. Yet Robert’s first Soho gig did not go well: "We played there for a night," he recalls, "and they said “God, no!” and threw us out. They just wanted foot-tapping jazz, which Dudley Moore was very good at, very good indeed. I completely agree with them, in retrospect."

The trio’s ejection clearly still rankled with Allen the following month, when the trio performed at the Marquee Club on London’s Oxford Street. With poor syntax but righteous indignation, Allen introduced Song Of The Jazzman as "Something we got fired from the Establishment Club because of". "We had a contract for three months supposedly," he continued, hipster drawl captured on the album Live 1963, recorded at the Marquee Club (and released four decades later). "However, because we did some poetry and some rather strange things there, I’m afraid they gave us the big shove – with a very carefully gloved, immaculate hand."

Although of interest as his first recording, Live 1963 offers little insight into Wyatt as a musician, since the trio was dominated by Allen’s wry, rambling poems. As a rhythm section, however, Robert and Hugh were already sufficiently robust to withstand Daevid’s unorthodox guitar style, which he himself describes with glee as a cross between jazz guitarist Charlie Christian and ukulele comedian George Formby. And in its line-up, at least, this was a proto-Soft Machine, with the trio augmented on a couple of numbers on piano by Mike Ratledge, then studying Psychology and Philosophy at Oxford.

The Marquee show, organised by poet Michael Horowitz, introduced the Daevid Allen Trio to an audience much more sympathetic to its mix of poetry and jazz. Through Horovitz, they also landed a gig at London’s Institute of Contemporary Arts, alongside jazz pianist Stan Tracey and Beat Generation novelist William Burroughs – whose novel The Soft Machine would provide inspiration for a later Wyatt band. Despite such prestigious company, however, the ICA show would mark the end of the line for the Daevid Allen Trio. In the liner notes for Live 1963, Hugh Hopper attributed the group’s failure to the fact that "as well as being pretty damned challenging, we probably did sound pretty damned awful".

Daevid soon moved on to Paris, where he took a room in the Beat Hotel recently vacated by Allen Ginsberg and Peter Orlovsky; Brion Gysin was in the room next door. Robert and Hugh, meanwhile, stayed on in London. It was there, in a Kensington attic flat, that the eighteen year old Wyatt received devastating news from his half brother Julian. Since he had left home, Robert’s parents had sold Wellington House and set off for a new life in southern Italy. The warmer climate, they explained, might ease George’s MS – although Wyatt now believes his father simply wanted to die in the country with which, during his time in the army, he had become so besotted. Driven by a friend, George and Honor took the best part of a month to reach their destination, making plenty of stops on the way. "They’d got right the way down to the town where they were going to live," says Robert. "Ariano, near Naples. They were camping, mostly, on the way down, and they got to the very hilltop overlooking the town. He died the night before they went down there." According to the autopsy, George had died from cardiac failure, the result of an enlarged heart brought on by the strain of his illness. But since multiple sclerosis is not in itself fatal, Robert had had no sense that his dad was approaching death. Apart from grief at the early loss of the father he had known for just a decade, the news brought with it a crushing sense of guilt. The temporary rupture in Robert’s relationship with his father, brought on by academic difficulties at the Langton, had become suddenly, wretchedly permanent. "My dad had been to three universities," says Robert, "got various degrees from Cambridge, Liverpool and Oxford. He’d become a psychologist and he assumed that at last we’d got to a point where university attendance was assumed. And then I’m out there swanning about, working in a forest and hanging about on other people’s kitchen floors abroad. Completely gone as far as he was concerned. He didn’t get it at all. I realised, when he died, that I’d let him down."

The pity is that George Ellidge, who had taken his son to the opera and played him records by Duke Ellington and Fats Waller, would never see the musical career he helped inspire. Three decades later, Robert would dedicate his compilation album Flotsam Jetsam to "George Hargreaves Ellidge, musician, soldier, psychologist and complete nutcase. I miss him more than I know how to say." The knowledge that his father died disappointed in him gives Robert nightmares even half a century on.

Had his father lived, Wyatt would perhaps have bowed to pressure to find regular employment, if not to attend university. Instead, bereaved and bandless, he found himself adrift. Hugh Hopper’s return to Canterbury only increased the sense of isolation. "I hadn’t got anywhere to live," he sighs. "I just stayed in different places with a big suitcase with my belongings. It wasn’t much: toothbrush, change of clothes, and Porgy And Bess by Miles Davis and Gil Evans." A pause. A laugh. "I don’t see what else anybody needs, to this day, actually." One unexpected source of solace was a job washing up at the London School of Economics. Founded by Fabian Society members including George Bernard Shaw, the LSE fitted snugly within the left wing world Wyatt had known since childhood. Yet the stint in the canteen also helped inspire his slow drift towards a politics in which anti-racism was the fundamental principle. "There was a staff of about 80," he recalls, "of whom 79 were black women from Brixton. And they were the most wonderful hosts to me. Whereas the people who hired us – who were, of course, white – were very snappy, school ma’am-ish and bossy. But my fellow staff used to tease me something rotten, and I loved it. And they used to take me to their homes at weekends."

Wyatt insists washing up at the LSE was "one of my great experiences. I was a lost child in London and they were the ones who made me feel at home. Later on, I thought: “What a paradox". People talk about these aliens in our midst but to me, the aliens were the people I was working for. I had nothing against the LSE students and their professors, but to me, they were alien. They were all the people that my dad had wanted me to be, these university people going off to rule the world. It’s not inverted snobbery, I was really happier amongst the kitchen staff."

Robert also made two continental forays. In spring 1964, he headed to Paris to visit Daevid Allen, who was now living on a houseboat on the Seine and hanging out with William Burroughs and American composer Terry Riley. Already developing tape loop techniques inspired by the mesmeric drones of Indian music, Riley would shortly earn himself a position, alongside La Monte Young, Steve Reich and Philip Glass, as one of the four pillars of minimalism. Riley’s sense of music as a vast, open landscape, evident on compositions such as In C, would influence Robert both as a member of The Soft Machine and as a solo artist. "One day Daevid brought this young man to my house on Rue Boissonnade," the composer recalls. "It turned out to be Robert Wyatt. He had a trumpet with him with a turned-up bell, like the one Dizzy Gillespie played. I had a little spinet piano there and as I remember the three of us spent the afternoon jamming – music and poetry. I felt Robert had an extraordinary, mature, inspired quality that seemed unusual for someone so young."

After returning briefly to England, Robert set off to Mallorca for a second summer with Robert Graves, this time joined by the sun-worshipping Kevin Ayers. The pair stayed in a fisherman’s hut. "It was very primitive," recollects Wyatt. "There were no taps; just this stone hall with a well in the middle. That was where you got your water, pulled up in a bucket. No electricity."

Graves’s son in law Ramón Farrán was now running the Indigo jazz club in Palma, and Robert played at the venue on a few occasions. A more prestigious performer at the Indigo was Ronnie Scott, a talented saxophonist better known for his world-famous Soho club – and not, perhaps, the sort of person one expected to meet through Robert Graves. "You couldn’t imagine more difference," laughs Wyatt. "This East End Jewish wise guy, really funny and hip, and this patrician classical scholar. But they got on absolutely like a house on fire." As both punter and performer, Robert would become a regular at Scott’s venue. He and Ronnie happened to share a birthday, and their joint birthday celebration would become an annual club tradition. To this day, Robert still defines his ethnic group as "Soho".

Daevid Allen soon joined Robert and Kevin in Deià, and they began to play together: it was at this point, according to Ayers, that the music really began to gel. Ramón Farrán sometimes joined them, but recalls that Kevin and Daevid were living "a different lifestyle". "Actually," says Farrán, "Deià is a bit dangerous for a person who hasn’t got a strong personality. It’s really easy to lose yourself in doing nothing, in just having parties, smoking pot and things like that. I used to put them in the right place: “If you want me to work, I’ll work. But I don’t want nonsense. Work is work and nonsense is nonsense." I was a very strict person." Thanks to a peculiarly English embarrassment at breaking the rules, Robert would never get into illegal drugs. "I was a very provincial grammar-school boy," he admits, "in the sense that I was terrified of breaking the law – which is, of course, contemptible in artistic circles. I didn’t like dope culture. I wasn’t the slightest bit interested in LSD."

Robert’s moderation was perhaps the result of his liberal upbringing: he might have turned his school jacket inside out, but the genuinely wild behaviour at Wellington House had been largely confined to friends unused to the relaxed regime. Also keeping Robert from lotus-eating was his passion for music. He might have shirked schoolwork, but even the exacting Farrán, who provided formal lessons on this second visit to Mallorca, recalls Batty as a joy to teach. Whatever had gone wrong with those early violin and trumpet lessons, Robert clearly lacked neither musical ability nor willingness to learn.

By the time Robert returned from Mallorca, Britain was in the grip of full blown Beatlemania, as too was America, with the British Invasion spearheaded by the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Animals and Dusty Springfield. By April 1965, the editor of Vogue magazine would declare London the most swinging city in the world.

In Canterbury, 70 miles south-east of London, Hugh and Brian Hopper did what teenagers all over the UK were doing: they started a band. Brian contributed guitar and saxophone, while Hugh played bass. Kevin and Robert, upon their return from Mallorca, were installed on vocals and drums respectively. Completing the line-up was rhythm guitarist Richard Sinclair. The cousin of Simon Langton schoolmate Dave Sinclair, he would later make his name as a bassist, vocalist and songwriter with bands such as Caravan and Hatfield And The North.

The young musicians rehearsing at the Hopper family home, known as Tanglewood, called themselves The Wild Flowers but soon added an E in tribute to Oscar Wilde. They made the local paper even before their first performance, having been ejected from a local pub on the grounds that their hair was too long. In Canterbury, at least, the 1960s were not yet fully swinging.

Robert and Hugh Hopper might have been common to both acts, but The Wilde Flowers were a very different proposition to the Daevid Allen Trio: while the trio had been inspired by Ornette Coleman and Beat poet Gregory Corso, The Wilde Flowers were more in the mould of Chuck Berry. They did play Herbie Hancock and Nat Adderley numbers, but also songs made famous by Wilson Pickett and James Brown – even a couple of Kinks and Small Faces tunes. With the focus firmly on the dancefloor, it was a very different role for Wyatt, who was called upon to provide steady sturdy beats when he had previously been trying, with Daevid Allen, to emulate the free jazz drummer Sonny Murray. Then and now, Wyatt’s ears were as open as his countenance: playing for dancers, he insists, is as noble a profession as is available.

Richard Sinclair describes early Wilde Flowers gigs as: "Kevin on BBC-shape microphone. Robert on drums, with hat and sometimes shirt. Hugh on flowery-painted Hofner bass guitar. Brian on Rapier maroon guitar, horribly out of tune but with fantastic guitar-hero endeavour. And myself, with limited imagination and large Billy J Kramer quiff, on beautifully in tune, but very out of place, rhythm guitar. All through the same amp: in those days, we had one amp and a very small PA. But we did have new band shirts, made by Mrs Hopper." Sinclair also recalls "many sexy art school girls" at Wilde Flowers gigs. One such was Pam Howard, blonde and beautiful and by now Wyatt’s girlfriend. That half mile walk to catch Robert’s bus had been worth it. "I suppose I might have been seventeen when I left school and went to art college," she recalls, "and it was round about then that I started to go out with Robert. He had just come back from Deià, and he had nowhere to live because his mum had moved to Italy, so I used to let him stay in my bedroom. I’d sleep on the sofa and put a note on the door. My father wasn’t very happy about all that, using the place as a hotel, so I left home. I’d just started art college, I’d done the first year. I left home to get a flat so that Robert would have somewhere to live, basically."

Robert moved into Pam’s new flat, in the seaside town of Herne Bay, although they soon moved into Canterbury itself. With only a negligible income from gigs, he took on odd jobs such as hop picking and life modelling. Rather conveniently, however, he was barred from conventional employment due to the length of his hair. In order to pay the rent, Pam dropped out of art college and took a job running guided tours of Canterbury Cathedral. "I was a mouse, I was so in awe," she admits. "I must have been bonkers."

In the late summer of 1965, Pam became pregnant. Suffering morning sickness, she recalls a daily routine of running naked out of the front door to vomit in the front garden, screened from passing pedestrians by only a thin hedge. But she continued to attend Wilde Flowers gigs, Robert improvising a maternity dress by cutting away a circle of fabric to expose her bulging stomach.

Although The Wilde Flowers never signed a record deal, they have, over the years, become celebrated as the Rosetta Stone of what became known as the Canterbury Scene. The phrase is used most often in relation to The Soft Machine and Caravan, as well as Soft Machine progeny – Wyatt’s subsequent band Matching Mole and the solo work of Kevin Ayers and Daevid Allen. Other associated bands include Hatfield And The North, Delivery, Gilgamesh, Khan, Egg and National Health. Wyatt isn’t keen on the term. No musician likes to be pigeonholed, and he is not the only one to find something claustrophobic in former schoolfriends forever reenacting the bonds of the past. Robert also makes the point that Canterbury was not a kind of English Haight-Ashbury, but a fairly conventional English cathedral town. In fact, there did exist a small group of musicians in and around the city whose sound had – perhaps more as the years went on – some shared sense of the English phantasmagoric, slipping between centuries to borrow from folk, modern classical and even church music, as well as contemporary jazz and pop. Caravan are the epitome. At the time, however, it was too small to be properly a scene – in Daevid Allen’s words, it was just "a bunch of middle class kids from Canterbury grammar, smoking Woodbines and hanging out in front rooms". And, in any case, Wyatt regards his own output as outside its parameters.

"There were people who lived in Canterbury," he explains. "The Hopper brothers, the Sinclairs, Pye Hastings, Richard Coughlan. I can see a connection amongst those people. Obviously, the Caravan thing, a very distinctive sound. But I don’t think me or Kevin or Daevid were ever really part of that. I went to school in Canterbury, but I’d get the school bus home at 4:30pm. I didn’t hang around in the evenings with them. I wasn’t with them at weekends."

Maybe it’s the term itself that is at fault. Robert has spent far less time in Canterbury than in Lydden, London or Louth – and it was in London, and in Europe, that The Soft Machine made their name. Yet the various acts of the so-called Canterbury Scene did share something specific, which went beyond mere geography. The term has come to represent a style of jazz-tinged, pastoral and very English psychedelic rock: slightly surreal, sometimes slightly silly, and as warm and whimsical as a stoned summer afternoon. Such a description would certainly not encompass Wyatt’s entire output, but his music has, at times, shared some Canterbury characteristics. There’s the jazz influence; the complex time signatures; a preference for keyboards over guitars; and a singing voice that, while contemporaries were posing as Delta bluesmen, remained unapologetically rooted in East Kent.

Though they sit right at the root of the Canterbury Scene family tree, The Wilde Flowers were very much a part time concern. Robert was also performing with singer and pianist Norman Hale, the original keyboard player in The Tornadoes – although he somehow managed to leave the band just before they reached number one with the instrumental Telstar. With a certain logic, the new duo went by the name of Norman And Robert. "It sounds extraordinary," laughs Wyatt, "like the most effete little thing. But that was good. He was from Liverpool, and we played rock’n’roll. He was a working rock’n’roll pianist in that tradition: not so much Jerry Lee Lewis as Little Richard. He was a very good pianist."

Wyatt was merely moonlighting, but Kevin Ayers would soon leave The Wilde Flowers for good, rejoining the similarly itinerant Daevid Allen in Mallorca. It was the first example of Kevin’s tendency to disappear at unexpected – and, in career terms, often unsuitable – moments. Kevin was temporarily replaced as singer by his roommate, Graham Flight, although Robert also sang the occasional number from behind the kit. When Graham himself left in the summer of 1965, Robert moved to the front of the stage. For nine months, Wyatt would be, for the only time in his life, a frontman in the traditional sense.

Richard Coughlan, by odd coincidence Pam Howard’s step uncle, was brought in to replace him on drums. "I was very much in awe of Robert, really," admitted the man who would himself go on to a successful career with Caravan. "He was a good drummer – much better than I was." Even then, Robert was a deeply musical drummer, playing the song rather than merely the beat, while his drummer’s sense of rhythm helped to develop his apparently casual vocal phrasing. He was also a promising frontman: charismatic, boyishly handsome and, for all his self deprecating humour, not lacking in self confidence. "He was quite good-looking in his own way," adds Brian Hopper, who recalls that industry figures at Wilde Flowers gigs would take a particular interest in Robert, "and he was lively, too. He didn’t mind doing a bit of chatting. He didn’t hog the mic but he didn’t mind saying a few things." A publicity photo taken at the time, featuring one of the large sewer pipes then being installed near the Hopper family home, supports Wyatt’s frontman credentials. Hugh Hopper is leather-jacketed, bespectacled, slightly gawky; Coughlan politely polo-necked; Brian Hopper in suit and tie and neatly trimmed beard. Robert, impressively cheeky for a man sitting inside a sewer pipe, is by some distance the most colourful and least coltish figure, clad in hat and loud floral tie. While the other three look dutifully into the lens, his own gaze is impishly askance.

While his confidence and charisma might have made him a natural frontman, however, Wyatt was no shoo-in as lead singer. His vocals were mournful and high in pitch: "Jimmy Somerville on valium," as he himself has joked. Robert’s voice is as reedy as a soprano saxophone but tremendously affecting despite – or because of – these idiosyncrasies. Knots and grain exposed, it is imbued with the same vulnerable, ingenuous quality he has as a human being: "Like a poor innocent cast into a complicated world," as friend and collaborator Brian Eno has put it.

Wyatt’s first significant vocal on record is "Memories", a Hugh Hopper composition recorded in the spring of 1966. His singing is resolute and resilient as well as frail and fragile. Already, at the age of twenty one, Wyatt’s voice was a curious combination of choirboy and old man, simultaneously world weary and innocent as grass.

"Memories" would be perhaps the most durable of all Wilde Flowers tracks. Later covered by both Wyatt and Daevid Allen, it would also show up on 1982’s One Down album by Bill Laswell’s Material, sung by a then unknown Whitney Houston and featuring a sax solo by one of Wyatt’s heroes, the free jazz firebrand Archie Shepp. Another Hugh Hopper number recorded at the spring 1966 session was the equally impressive "Impotence". Wyatt contributed lyrics as well as lead vocal – the subject matter, like the high, hard-won delivery, flying in the face of macho rock’n’roll stereotype. It was such original compositions – primarily by Hugh Hopper and Kevin Ayers – that distinguished The Wilde Flowers from other bands on the dancehall circuit.

Meantime, Pam Howard was waiting around at a Wilde Flowers rehearsal when her waters broke. Sam Ellidge was born on 23 May 1966 in Canterbury hospital.

Marcus O'Dair's Different Every Time: The Authorised Biography Of Robert Wyatt is published by Serpent's Tail. The Wire's Off The Page literary festival for sound and music takes place at Bristol's Arnolfini 26–28 September.

Comments

thank you for Robert's autobiography, I believe it's the first in depth writing about Robert since "wrong movements".

Good to discover the Robert Graves connection. It explains a bit of where the furnace of experience came from. Graves idiosyncrasies live on in Wyatt et al.

Although I am heavy into Soft Machine and some of mister Wyatt's albums under his own name I think this book is a (well written)hagiography to a sometimes annoying extend. Calling Rock Bottom an album which is superior to every album of his former band Soft Machine is preposterous. Wyatt never topped imho his masterpiece The moon in june which was after all made under the Soft Machine moniker. Also a remark from one of the members of the disgustingly commercial group Scritti Politti that Robert, compared to the great Billy Cobham, was by far the superior drummer should have at least raised some eyebrows from the writer. But what really is annoying is the way his wrong and unjustified admirance for some of the most disgusting dictators of the 20th century is been defended. Stalin was as terrible as Hitler and when you, up to this day, still defend what also rightfully has been called red fascism only because the Russian army also contributed to the liberation of Europe (and a lot of them behaved extremely bad to especially German women when they approached Berlin) then why criticize America? They also did some great things for Europe, didn't they?.Brian Eno admires the unfashionable standpoint of Robert to be still a communist but could you not say the same thing about Eric Clapton's support to Enoch Powell then? And Wyatt's argument to defend commercial succesfull popmusic, also motivated by communist motives because its the masses who support this crap, is not a standpoint he always seems to support - The dismissal of a lot of other music which reached quite a lot of people (other Prog-Rock groups and Jazz- Rock - how can Billy Cobham be a worse drummer than Wyatt? Cobham sold so many more albums and therefore reached so many more people.....would Robert agree on this?) and when the communist Robert Wyatt so worhips the taste of the so called common people why protesting against bad animal treatment? The masses like to eat meat and don't give a damn about how animals are treated. I would have loved to see some more critical writing on those kind of contradictory standpoints and behaviour of this man. And can anyone explain to me why his complex playing with all the different time signatures is less self-indulgent and less Proggy than what all the other Prog afficianados did and who have always been "slaughtered" for this reason (also by The Wire)? I am convinced that someone like Bill Bruford, and so many others Progmusicians, are as sincere in their musicmaking and behaviour (minus thank goodness the wrong political choice of the man who probably lived the decadent Rock'n Roll live more than let's say Carl Palmer or the aforementioned Bill Bruford). I think mister Wyatt felt guilty about his upperclass bourgeois upbringing but on the other hand his tastes, which are absolute for the big part very elitist tastes, are coming directly from that samebackground and the "common" people despise and are probably not even aware of the existence of avantgarde music, poetry, film or pathaphysics......and there is absolutely nothing wrong with those tastes.

In response to bert bagging scritti politti as disgustingly commercial, there first album songs to remember still sounds like perfect complicated pop, I agree they became more commercial later but still a long way short of disgusting, I give you wet wet wet.

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