The UK singer reveals the story behind his collaboration with the Russian underground legend
Just months after announcing his retirement from music, Robert Wyatt has turned up guesting on a new track by Boris Grebenshikov, the 61 year old veteran of Russia’s rock underground. The track, titled “Stella Maris”, features Wyatt playing cornet and tenor horn alongside Grebenshikov’s group, a string quartet and a choir.
The Wire contacted Wyatt to ask how his involvement in the track came about.
“We met Anton [Adasinsky] of the wonderful mystical/surrealist Russian theatre/dance group Derevo at the Edinburgh festival a few years ago. Alfie [Benge, Wyatt’s partner] had already seen them and wanted me to see them too. More recently Anton wrote me that his friend Boris Grebenshikov had asked to contact us, which he did.
“Last autumn Boris sent us several examples of what he'd been up to recently, and wondered if I’d like to add some trumpet on a new track. I was too distracted to take it on at the time – well, too anxious to give Boris the attention he deserved. Later, Boris sent me the track, done without me. The song he'd written was so perfect for me, I could've wept with remorse at having missed the opportunity: remorse and shame.
“Remembering the revolutionary cry, ‘Don’t mourn, mobilise!’, I decided to at least ask if I could possibly add something with a remix. Boris brought the unmixed recording for Alfie to pick up on his next trip to London. Phil Manzanera gave us some time to record [in his studio], and Jamie Johnson came to my rescue for the engineering. I just wanted to join in somehow, and I did that on cornet and tenor horn. That's it. We have no particular plans for it, it was simply for Boris.”
Initially inspired by The Beatles and Bob Dylan, Grebenshikov, better known as BG, formed his group Aquarium in the early 1970s. During the Soviet era Aquarium were one of the most popular and influential underground groups in Russia, even though they didn’t officially exist, as they weren’t recognised by the state bureaucracy, and had to perform mostly at unofficial clubs and private gatherings. One such gathering, in Leningrad in 1985, was described by Howard Mandel in an Epiphanies column which first appeared in The Wire 169 and is now included in the anthology Epiphanies: Life Changing Encounters With Music. The anthology also includes Robert Wyatt discussing Ray Charles.
Following the dissolution of the Soviet Union in the early 90s, Grebenshikov began performing and recording extensively in the West, with the likes of Dave Stewart and members of The Band among others, and today remains one of the most iconic figures in Russian music.
Of his contribution to “Stella Maris”, Robert Wyatt says: “If I never did anything again, I’m just so happy to have made this connection with a beautiful and brave man.”
“Stella Maris” is available via iTunes and Amazon.