About Robert Wyatt
Robert Wyatt, born Robert Ellidge in Bristol on January 28, 1945, is an English musician, and a former member of the influential Canterbury scene band Soft Machine. As a teenager, he lived with his parents in a fourteen-room Georgian guest-house, Wellington House, in Lydden near Canterbury. Here he was taught the drums by visiting American jazz drummer George Niedorf.
In 1962, Wyatt and Niedorf moved to Majorca where they stayed with the poet Robert Graves. The following year, Wyatt returned to England and joined the Daevid Allen Trio with Daevid Allen and Hugh Hopper. Allen subsequently left for France, and Wyatt and Hopper formed the Wilde Flowers with Richard Sinclair, Kevin Ayers and Brian Hopper. Wyatt was initially the drummer in the Wilde Flowers, but following the departure of Ayers, he became lead singer.
In 1966, the Wilde Flowers disintegrated, and Wyatt and Mike Ratledge formed the Soft Machine with Ayers and Allen. Here Wyatt both drummed and sang, an unusual combination for a stage rock band.
In 1970, after chaotic touring, three albums and increasing internal conflicts in Soft Machine, Wyatt released his first solo album The End of An Ear which combined his vocal and multi-instrumental talents with tape effects. A year later, Wyatt left Soft Machine and formed his own band Matching Mole (a pun on “machine molle”, the French for Soft Machine), a largely instrumental outfit. After two albums and a split, Matching Mole were about to embark on a third record when, on June 1st, 1973, during a drunken party, Wyatt fell from a third floor window. He was subsequently paralysed from the waist down.
The injury led Wyatt to abandon the Matching Mole project, and his drumming. He promptly embarked on a solo-career, and with a collective of session musicians (including the poet Ivor Cutler, Mike Oldfield and Henry Cow guitarist Fred Frith), he released his acclaimed solo-album Rock Bottom. Later that same year he put out a single, a cover version of “I’m a Believer”, which hit number 29 in the UK chart. There were strong arguments with the producer of Top of the Pops surrounding his performance of “I’m a Believer,” on the grounds that his wheelchair-bound appearance ‘was not suitable for Family Viewing’, the producer wanting Wyatt to appear on a normal chair. Wyatt won the day and ‘lost his rag but not the wheel chair’, but gave a performance that could be described as disgruntled.
Wyatt’s next album, Ruth is Stranger than Richard, was more jazz-led, with free jazz influences and nods to African music. Throughout the rest of the 1970s, Wyatt guested with various acts, working with the likes of Henry Cow (documented on their Henry Cow Concerts album), Hatfield & The North and Carla Bley. His solo work during the early 1980s was increasingly politicised, and Wyatt became an outspoken member and supporter of the British Communist Party. In 1983, his interpretation of Elvis Costello’s anti-Falklands War song “Shipbuilding”, the last in a series of political cover-versions, reached number 35 in the UK singles chart. In the late 1980s, after collaborations with other ex-Canterbury acts such as News from Babel, he and his wife Alfreda Benge spent a sabbatical in Spain, before returning in 1991 with a comeback album Dondestan, considered by many to be his best work since Rock Bottom. His 1997 album Shleep was also highly acclaimed.
In 2001, Wyatt was curator of the Meltdown festival, and in 2003 he put out his latest album Cuckooland. In 2004, Wyatt colaborated with Bjork on the song Submarine which was released on her fifth album Medlla.
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