Friday, April 19, 2024


An interesting piece at the Quietus by Keith Kahn-Harris about Silverfish as a great lost band from a great lost mini-era.

I remember them fondly as a band that was great onstage but never really caught it on record. 

Like maybe they should have put out a video instead of a record - capture the cartoony kineticism. 

At Melody Maker, we were quite taken by Silverfish. Quite as in "fairly" rather than quite as in "very".

Then, they seemed like a UK response to recent American noisenik stuff - Pussy Galore and that kind of thing -  but thinking back, maybe the comparison should have been more local: World Domination Enterprises. "Noise you can dance to" as one of Silverfish puts in the mini-interview below. Jive to.  

Stubbs brings up World Dom actually in this measured assessment 

Saturday, April 6, 2024

in honour of the reissue of their debut FUSE - Cranes interview from 1989

Yesterday the first ever release by Cranes - 1986's cassette-only FUSE - was reissued on vinyl, CD, and digital, complete with previously unheard track "New Liberty" 

Here's my Melody Maker interview with Alison ShawJim Shaw from 1989


Melody Maker, November 11 1989

by Simon Reynolds

The Cranes are one of the precious few truly unusual
groups to emerge during '89's protracted creative drought.
Unusual in that their sound owes next to nothing either to
last year's formations or this year's recapitualation
of same.

Their debut album Self-Non-Self confounds the critic's
impulse to categorise. Imagine a sound and a feel somewhere
between Joy Division's stark staring space and the
prostration of Black Flag's Damaged. Between Skinny
Puppy's sonic abbattoir and the ruinous catharsis of
Einsturzende. And then imagine that combined with a
disconcerting female voice, that's been likened by their
publicist to "Sinead O' Connor's foetus"; a voice that
stretches from a secretive, sickly whisper to a banshee wail
of uterine anguish.

There's definitely something regressive about The
Cranes. It's as though the 'everyday' woes that inspire the
lyrics have triggered a disproportionate amount of distress,
because they've somehow echoed earlier traumas that can never
be healed. Songs like "Focus Breathe" and "Fuse" have
treadmill rhythms that drag you along endless cloisters of
dread. "Beach Mover" is unusual for them because it's
static: it's an enormous dungeon of sound, all scabrous
death-rattles and chain-gang clinks. It sounds like the
dustbowl that could conceivably have been left after the
inferno of the Birthday Party's Junkyard.

When I run through the list of all the things they
vaguely remind me of - European electro-trance, American
hardcore, Black Sabbath - Alison and Jim Shaw (brother and
sister, and creative core of The Cranes) look puzzled. When I
mention the word "Gothic", Alison frowns.

"We don't like all that spooky stuff, though...

Jim adds: "We're happy people!"

It's my turn to look puzzled. Cranes music is oppressive, surely. Claustrophic.

"Oppressive, yeah, but always with a way out, a light at
the end... It's not doomladen."

Self-Non-Self, it seems, was born of a predicament so
extreme that Alison and Jim thought they'd never disentangle

"It started when we got our loan. It was the beginning
and the end of us, cos we got into a lot of trouble with this
debt, but it enabled us to do everything that we're doing
now. We took out a loan to buy an eight track studio. We
thought that we'd have written so much great material that
the world would flock to our door, and we wouldn't have to
pay off this three thousand quid we'd borrowed, when we were
both on the dole. Then we had another loan on top of that,
for the extra gear we didn't buy the first time. We didn't
ever miss a payment, but we missed out on everything else."

Alison: "We got into a terrible state. The real starving
artist syndrome. We had to sell everthing, absolutely
everthing: television, records, clothes... And then starve."

They hooked up with local Portsmouth label Biteback,
recorded Self-Non-Self, and immediately received another
self-inflicted blow when they accidentally wiped half of the
master tape, by recording over it at a gig.

"When we re-recorded the erased songs, the tape recorder
broke down so we couldn't mix the album. And we were
completely stuck for months on end, cos we couldn't afford to
get it repaired. It was a nasty time, and we reacted to it by
going further and further into the music. We just did nothing
else. At that point, that was all there was. We used to have
this little shed, with no heating. And we used wrap our legs
with blankets to keep warm and sit there and record and
record. We lived on potatoes for months. Jim's got this
great recipe for the needy..."

Jim: "Get a spud, boil it. Get some Bisto gravy granules,
mix up a cupful, tip the gravy on it... and then pretend
it's the end of a meal. It don't half work, I tell you!"

Alison: "I used to have 90p a week left after I'd payed
my debts and my rent. All I could get was potatoes and a pint
of milk. So for months all I had was potatoes and salt. When
I was sick of them, the only thing to do was not eat anything
at all for three days until the thought of a lovely potato
was really great."

Hence the album's feel of being trapped...

"It brought everything we were writing about into focus,
intensified it... But we never wanted to wallow in it and
stay there."

What were you trying to get at with the title Self-Non-

"You could take it as the idea that there's various parts
of yourself that you can project at different times, but
they're all you. They're very different, but they're all
one. Not so much the split between the unconscious and
conscious, but between the emotional self and the everyday
self. But what we do is a real thing, not a spooky thing,
it's not about ghosts, and the uncanny..."

Are you talking about the way having an identity
necessarily entails suppressing all these other potentials,
all these other selves? In many ways, an identity is just a
collection of scars, possibilities that have been closed off,
dead ends that have been reached...

"Some things are suppressed, some are unnaturally
focused on and developed... I think you could say we've been
over-developed in certain aspects. Certain things like
personal lives have gone out the window for the music."

Self-Non-Self makes me think of the way schizophrenics
turn elements of their personality they can't deal with into
into voices or demons...

Alison: "No... No ... I'm not invaded by anything.
We're shaped by normal experience, and we turn it into sound,
I suppose..."

So why does it come out in such a dramatic way? After
all, a lot of people write confessionally, but in a prosaic,
kitchen sink sort of way, to the accompaniment of a strummed
acoustic guitar... Your songs are abstract, heightened not

"Maybe some of our experiences have been ... a bit
more disturbing than other people's."

That's as far as Alison will go tonight in opening up
her wounds to the public. She's very wary of claiming to have
undergone anything special. But clearly the pair are driven
to make music. Why else would they have landed themselves in
penury, why else persevered through years of subsisting on a
standard of living lower than even a Rumanian peasant?

Perhaps a clue lies in their fraught childhood. Their
mother and father split up after five years of "hellish war"
when they were ten or so... Each of them lived with a
different parents as teenagers, and got back together only
much later.

Jim: "But then just about everyone I know in music comes
from a discordant background... It's a real factor behind

Certainly, early exposure to conflict and a sense of the
irreconcilable, can endow you with a tragic sensibility, a
natural predisposition towards morbidity or poignancy.

I try a different tack. A lot of people have commented on
the childlike quality of Alison's voice. But if it's
innocent, it's an innocence that's marred, damaged in some

"I thought the child-like thing is just my stupid,
squeaky voice... I just don't know how far I want to go into
talking about specific things."

Do you know what specific songs are about? How about
"Starblood" (the Cranes' outstanding unrecorded song, a
bloodcurdling staccato dirge that's mostly voice and drums).

"You could take it on a lot of levels. I do know that the
day I wrote the words Jim and I had had the most screaming
row... I can remember the mood I was in when I wrote it, but
not why that word came into my mind."

I thought it might be about stars, about how pop and
film stars live out their dreams for us, and how they can
sometimes almost get crucified in the process. Or that it
might be a star bleeding might be an ultimate image of pain,
in the way that the 'Black Sun' has been for centuries this
ultimate image of melancholy. Alison shakes her head softly.

How about "Joy Lies Within", then?

"I don't know exactly. But one of the things that was
happening at the time was my mum was in hospital, in the
intensive neurological section, having an operation done to
her spine. And all the other people in that ward, it was like
hell. People dying from road accidents. People having
epileptic fits. Every time we visited our mum, someone else
had died. What I think I was trying to say was ... well,
when I wrote it, I was looking at a really beautiful sunny
sky... Oh, I don't know, it's just impossible to explain. I
probably could if I was more clever. Or together."

We struggle for a while with other songs, Alison
trailing away in half-sentences, then agonised half-words.
By the end, she has her face buried in her hands, as though
contemplating a future of endless interrogation and self-
exegesis. "We know, but we can't say", she offers, finally.

And that's what you feel when you listen. You're in the
presence of something that's appallingly intimate, but alien.
You understand, without being able to articulate it.

"If you're a human being, a voice is a really small
thing. But it's all you've got. And if you can make it into
the sound of your existence, it can be very powerful. Just
speaking something can be a a way of getting over it. And
unless you make a sound, no one will know you're there."

It certainly seems to have worked for The Cranes. Only a
few months after Jonathan Selzer's trumpeting of their name,
The Cranes find themselves being hotly pursued by several of
the bigger indies. 1990 could very well be their year.


Bonus bits

Jonathan Selzer's live rave from September 1989

Me on Cranes live in a paired review with Chris Roberts on Young Gods - May 5 1990

At the risk of demystifying, Cranes get technical in Melody Maker's musicians-only Control Zone section

Oh I didn't realise they remade "Fuse" for the later Wings of Joy, which I reviewed for Spin in December 91

Tuesday, March 26, 2024

The Future


The Golden Hour of the Future
(Black Melody)

Uncut, 2002

by Simon Reynolds

It began with musical vomit in the meatwhistle. 

That sounds gross, and possibly perverse: let me elaborate. 

Musical Vomit, a noise/Dada/proto-punk ensemble, was Ian Craig Marsh's first group, and it was spawned and nurtured at  Sheffield's Meatwhistle, a  Council-funded arts laboratory/performance space for bright teenagers. Post-Vomit, Marsh teamed up with fellow electronics enthusiast Martyn Ware as The Future. Then, with a haircut called Philip Oakey displacing original singer Adi 'Clock DVA' Newton, the Future evolved into The  Human League: the first post-punk group to loudly talk up Pop as a Better Way, only to spend three years of thwarted agony as an, ugh, "cult band" (a dirty word in League lingo), all the while watching synthpop peers like Numan and OMD and even John bloody Foxx beat them to the charts. In the face of internal acrimony and creative deadlock, it took an inspired management suggestion (by Bob Last, whose Fast Product label had released the debut single "Being Boiled") to transform one quasi-pop failure into two massive, fully bona fide pop successes: the Human League of "Don't You Want Me", the Heaven 17 of "Temptation".

These 1977 basement tapes, dating from before Marsh/Ware/Oakey even had a record deal, are fascinating because they show how post-punk was in large part simply the resumption of progressive and art-rock, after the brief back-to-basics blip of ramalalama three-chord rock that was punk. It's not insignificant that the League were signed by Virgin (alongside Charisma and Harvest one of the premier prog-rock imprints,  home of Henry Cow and Tangerine Dream).  By 1979 Virgin had smoothly repositioned itself as a premier label for  "modern": basically, prog with better hair, streamlined sonic aesthetics,  and a  less-is-more attitude to musical chops. So the title of one tune on this CD, "New Pink Floyd", isn't entirely ironic.

What decisively shifted them pop-wards was hearing Giorgio Moroder. Opening track "Dance Like A Star" resembles a homespun "I Feel Love", cobbled together in a garden shed.  "This is a song for all you bigheads who think disco music is lower than the irrelevant musical gibberish and tired platitudes that you try to impress your parents with", announces Oakey, "We're the Human League, we're much cleverer than you." His sneer makes plain the streak of hipster one-upmanship behind pro-pop proselytizing: basically, highbrows aligning themselves with lowbrow pulp and against middlebrow student notions of "cool" and profundity. Driven by an idea of pop, The Human League only reached it when they found their own Moroder in Martin Rushent.

In these spindly song-sketches and buzzing lo-fi instrumentals from 1977---half-a-decade before "Love Action" and "Fascist Groove Thang"---what you hear is a group that has as much  in common with Faust and Heldon as with Abba and Chic (the reference points circa Dare and Penthouse and Pavement). Much of Golden Hour is brilliant; the remainder is either charming or, at bare minimum, interesting. Standouts include the early Cabaret Voltaire-like pulse-maze of "Daz";  the doomy, tenebrous 23rd Century Gothick of "Future Religion"; an instrumental version of the Four Tops "Reach Out (I'll Be There)" that's like Joe Meek at his  most ethereal;  "Blank Clocks", an experiment in automatic lyric-writing, in which a restricted number of nouns ("blank", "time", "heart", "face",  "clock", "talk", etc) and qualifiers ("my", "your", "the", "a") reshuffle in endless combinations. 

Best of all is the closing "Last Man on Earth": ten minutes of cold electronic beauty that fully lives up to the poignancy and desolation of its title. Overall, Golden Hour shows how under-rated both Human League and Heaven 17 (just check Side Two of Penthouse, essentially an extension of Reproduction/Travelogue) have been as electronic pioneers. "We are the Human League, there are no guitars…"

Tuesday, March 12, 2024

Libération Q et A


What is the first record  you bought in your youth with your own money ?

Ian Dury and the Blockheads, Do It Yourself, 1979

Your favorite way for listening to music ? (MP3, CD, vinyl, radio for example) ?

Radio – London pirate stations in the 1990s,  listening to rap or classic rock in the car in Los Angeles today.

The last record you bought?

Last vinyl was Some British Accents and Dialects (BBC, 1971) [listen here and here]. 

Last digital was Beatriz Ferreyra, Echos+ (Room40, 2020). 

Where do you prefer to be when you are listening to music?

 I like to be doing something that occupies me physically but leaves me mentally open to the music – in the kitchen, cooking, is ideal.

A mascot/favorite record to start the day with ?

Sacred, “Do It Together (London Massive)”, 1992

Do you need music for work or do you prefer silence ?

Usually I’m listening to what I’m writing about, but for pure acceleration as the deadline approaches, hardcore rave and jungle tapes that I made off pirate radio in the early Nineties maintain my pace and sustain my spirits.  

The song you feel a bit ashamed to listen to with pleasure ?

I don’t feel shame about liking anything, because – through solipsistic logic – I conclude that if I like it, it must be good. But if pushed, I would admit that enjoying “Rock You Like A Hurricane” by the Scorpions feels slightly embarrassing.

The record that everybody likes and that you despise ?

I can’t think of a record that everybody likes – there’s always a contrarian these days who’ll say “this is overrated”. I’m actually struggling to think of a record I despise. Panic! At The Disco’s “High Hopes” is fairly horrific, but I’m sure many would actually agree with me.

The records you need to survive on desert island ?

I made it records plural because it’s too hard to pick just one. Miles Davis, In A Silent Way. Joni Mitchell, The Hissing of Summer Lawns. John Martyn, Solid Air.

 What cover art would you frame at home like a piece of art ?

Electronic Panorama, a Prospective 21e Siecle series box set released by Philips in 1970. I don’t have it framed but the silver metallic box is displayed on a shelf in our living room.

Your best memory of a concert ?

Daft Punk making their US debut at the Even Furthur rave in the wilds of Wisconsin, 1996.

Do you go in a club to dance, listen to music on a big sound system, to chat up… Or you never go in the clubs ?

I used to go to clubs and raves all the time. But now hardly ever. When I went, it was to dance and to do certain other things people at raves do. But also increasingly I went as a participant-observer, the use the anthropologist’s term. To read the living text of the crowd, decode the rituals.  

What is the record you share with your significant other in your live ?

Too many, but among the core shared favorites are Pixies, Cocteau Twins, Aphex Twin, A.R. Kane, Fleetwood Mac, Saint Etienne, Omni Trio, Orbital, Ultramarine.

The track that makes you mad with rage ?

I cannot think of one at the moment. There are tracks that make me rage with madness, in a good way, i.e. Dionysian frenzy – The Stooges’s “TV Eye”, Beltram’s “Energy Flash”, Future’s “Fuck Up These Commas”.

The last record you listened to over and over again ?

Thin Lizzy, “My Sarah”.

The band you wish you have joined ?

Often the bands that do great things that I’d have been thrilled to be involved in creating also have nasty internal struggles and a long periods of misery and decline. So I will say the Wilson Sisters, a very short-lived conceptual outfit started by friends of mine, with whom I did the Oxford pop journal Monitor. But I had moved to London so missed their one and only  recording session.

The piece of music that makes you cry ?

The Smiths, “There Is A Light That Never Goes Out”. Runner up: Kraftwerk, “Neon Lights”.

Do you know what drone metal is ?

Sunn O))) ?

Quote the lyrics of a song you know by heart ?

The whole lyric? I’m not sure I know every last word in this, but I know most of it. This is just one bit:  “Why in the world are we here? Surely not to live in pain and fear. Why on earth are you there? When you're everywhere, come and get your share. But we all shine on, Like the moon and the stars and the sun, And we all shine on. On and on and on and on.” (“Instant Karma”, John Lennon)

Name three of your favorite songs ? 

Sly and the Family Stone “Everyday People”, Foul Play “Open Your Mind (Foul Play Remix)”, The Sweet “Ballroom Blitz”.

Monday, February 5, 2024

Cruel World 2023: Siouxsie, Iggy Pop, Human League, Billy Idol, Gang of Four, Gary Numan, Love and Rockets


director's cut, Los Angeles Times, May 22, 2023

by Simon Reynolds

The day before Cruel World, the promoters tweeted out a weather advisory: “mostly sunny, high of 79, 100% chance of angst and despair. See you there.” 

In the event, the weather had other ideas. 

But on Saturday a horde of mope-rockers and Goths clad in sun-absorbing black descended upon Brookside at the Rosebowl, Pasadena. 

Quite possibly this was the densest concentration of fishnet in human history.

For many, the main draw was headliner Siouxsie, the Godmother of Goth, playing her first American concert in fifteen years. Indeed, Siouxsie merch was completely sold out by 4pm.  Other attractions for the dark-clad and doom-minded included Love and Rockets, an offshoot of Bauhaus (Goth godfathers and a highlight of 2022’s inaugural Cruel World) and Echo and the Bunnymen, who were originally lined up to play last year.

Cruel World has fun with the idea of misery as a shared alt-rock worldview. The festival’s three stages are named Outsiders, Sad Girls, and Lost Boys. There’s also a dance area, deejayed by someone called Club Doom Dave. Then there’s the name itself, derived from the suicidal kiss-off  “goodbye, cruel world”.

In Goth, the cruelty of the world doesn’t have a political dimension: it’s not a reference to economic inequality or the literally hateful policies being enacted all around this country. “Cruel” is a more timeless existentialist accusation about a sadness inherent to life itself. 

The connection between the bands and their fans was forged during adolescence, that time when sensitive souls start having deep thoughts. Yet most of this largely middle-aged crowd must surely now be well-adjusted and comfortable in their skin (not to mention comfortably off, given ticket prices that range from $159 to $799). Many even brought morose, awkward teenagers of their own.

The key to Goth’s transgenerational appeal is its odd blend of glum and glam. Before the term Goth settled into place, the emerging movement was briefly known as “positive punk.” That might seem an odd adjective given the dark worldview, but the positive part is the element of dress-up and cos-play, the sheer effort that goes into self-beautification. 

It’s a perennially seductive style whose sepulchral glamor appeals as an alternative to mainstream ideals of blondeness and tanned health—especially in SoCal.  The leather caps and steel chains, the heavy black eyeliner and whiteface make-up, the holey fishnets and ratted hair – these also serve as a beacon to fellow misfits, a way off finding your tribe while scaring off the normals. It’s a forbidding look that also suggests the forbidden –  a taste for sin and kink, with a hint of demonic cruelty. 

Yet despite the ungodly appearance, it’s probably the most gentle of youth subcultures: visually, a kick in the eye, but in truth, it’s Goths and their emo descendants who are often victims of violence rather than the other way round.

 Ironically, my favorite garment at Cruel World was a simple T-shirt bearing the slogan “No, I Don’t Want To Hear the New Stuff.” The wearer told me he’d printed it up in a special edition-of-one.

The T-shirt speaks to the expectations of the fans who attends festivals like these that are full of legacy acts.  Our beloved artists like to believe they’ve only got better with age and still have new things to say. But we just want to hear the favorites that remind us of our youth.

Gary Numan didn’t seem to have gotten the memo. Despite making his name with doomy dystopian electropop, he stubbornly treated the audience to a heaping portion of late period stuff: grinding industrial rock from a phase when he appeared to be following the lead of Nine Inch Nails and Marilyn Manson. Ironically, his earliest work as Tubeway Army featured much better guitar riffs. Numan did play his classic “Cars.” And you have to appreciate the effort he’s putting into looking the same as he did in his heavy-rotation MTV days. 

Not everyone attending Cruel World was a Goth and angst wasn’t the only thing on the menu. Squeeze (a last minute replacement for Adam Ant) sounded as cheery and ebullient as ever. Still boyish-looking at 65, Glenn Tilbrook sang the group’s post-Beatles classics like “Pulling Mussels From A Shell” with ageless sweetness.

Billy Idol is looking a little craggy these days and the rebel-sneer lip doesn’t curl up like it used to. But he was in fine voice and roused the second-stage crowd with hits like “Dancing By Myself” and “Rebel Yell,” interspersed with consummate showman patter. 

ABC and The Human League also come from that early MTV moment of the Second British Invasion, what people in the UK called New Pop: postpunk artists who glossed up and crossed over. Both hail from Sheffield in the north east of England,  an original bastion of Goth, but have no truck with miserabilism, writing songs  (“Tears Are Not Enough” and “Blind Youth” respectively) that are militantly optimistic. 

Then there’s Gang of Four, whose bleakness, inspired by the ravages of capitalism, is quite different from Goth’s, and who offset it with a grim resoluteness. They were as powerful a live band as ever, with singer Jon King exerting himself so vigorously he had to sit on the monitor at the front of stage between songs to catch his breath.

Drifting nearer the dark side, Echo and the Bunnymen have songs about death (“The Cutter”) and despair (“All My Colours”). But they are delivered with such drive and dazzle, the effect is uplifting. On songs like “Rescue,” Ian McCulloch’s sonorous baritone recalls Jim Morrison at his most majestic. Most of the Bunnymen’s songs traffic in windswept romanticism full of elemental imagery (titles like “Seven Seas” and  “The Killing Moon” – the latter prefaced with typical McCulloch swagger as “the greatest song ever written”). But politics figured briefly with “Never Stop,” a song of defiance originally released as a single at the height of Thatcherism. At Cruel World, this was prefaced by caustic comments from McCulloch about the late Conservative Prime Minister and her heartless proposal of a policy of “managed decline” for his once bustling hometown of Liverpool.  The Bunnymen didn’t go in much for stage craft:  there were some thin wisps of dry ice but the video screens were off and there were no back projections;  McCulloch stood stock still throughout. But the songs and the singing were more than enough.

Among the songs the Bunnymen played  was “Lips Like Sugar”, the nearest the band ever came to a hit in America. It’s always struck me as a killer chorus looking for a verse and pre-chorus.  Love and Rockets likewise similarly feel like a great guitarist looking for a matching rhythm section and some decent tunes.  As at last year’s Cruel World Bauhaus performance, Daniel Ash’s gnarly but intricately textured racket was a highlight.  But singers Ash and bassist Daniel J, lack the commanding presence of Peter Murphy. Their T.Rex  aping MTV hit “So Alive” retains its slight charm,  but the cover of  The Temptations’s “Ball of Confusion” remains perplexingly surplus to requirements.  

And then came the promised angst and despair – Cruel Nature struck. Midway through a taut and joyous set by The Human League on one stage and Iggy Pop’s middle-schooler grandson doing a funny little dance during “The Passenger” on another, the show came to an abrupt halt. The audience was instructed to leave the festival site and seek shelter because of an approaching lightning storm. Those nearest the main exit dispersed in orderly fashion and relative good humor, but for those deeper into the Brookside grounds, getting out was a more frustrating and protracted process.

And then the even crueler twist: the threatened bolts of lightning, the thunder, rain and pea-sized hailstones, never reached Pasadena.

To their and the artists's credit, Cruel World managed to reschedule the performances of Iggy Pop and Siouxsie for the following night. But this was scant consolation for those already flying or driving long distance journeys back to their hometowns across the country. Indeed, the fact that Siouxsie and Iggy would now be able to play longer sets arguably just added salt to the wound.

 “Déjà vu, baby!”  Iggy’s dazed-and-amazed greeting to the crowd acknowledged the Groundhog Day vibe of us all reassembling at the same place the next day.   

I first saw Iggy live in 1988 and he seemed venerable even then, a rock’n’roll survivor, albeit with implausibly limitless reserves of energy.  35 years later, he’s still ridiculously dynamic for a 76-year-old. Bounding around the stage with a disconcerting lope that suggests something’s off with his hip, he simultaneously owns his ancientness and defies it. His shirtless physique is fascinating in its combination of muscle and wrinkle. The skin looks like a topographical map of the Rockies. It’s like Iggy’s been carved into rock’s equivalent of Rushmore – and then broke loose to keep on marauding stages across the world.  

It’s clear that he’s not doing it for the money, but for the sheer joy of it. Iggy also understands the strength of his own material, sticking largely to Stooges and early solo highpoints.  

He can’t quite summon the lung-power for the cyclone-howl that splits apart the original “TV Eye”, so during that section sticks the microphone into his waistband where it pokes out suggestively. 

But for the most part, ably supported by his band, Iggy powers through deathless classics like “Raw Power,”  “Gimme Danger” , “Sick of You”, “I Wanna Be Your Dog”, “Search and Destroy”.   Clearly, a man determined to rock until he drops.

Dusk descends and finally the Goddess of Goth takes the stage. Siouxsie relives the trauma of the previous night,  joking that she told the fire department that the lightning was “just part of our fuckin’ light show.” 

Initially cloaked in a Medieval-looking hood, she’s wearing a silver jump-suit that shimmers in the light. Her voice has grown deeper with the decades but this lends her singing even more baleful authority, evoking some kind of vengeful spirit of matriarchy. 

 The set starts with “Nightshift” and “Arabian Knights”, both from Juju, the 1981 album that is Goth’s Rosetta Stone.  Two further Juju songs, “Sin In My Heart”, for which Siouxsie straps on a guitar, and “Spellbound”, are played later, underscoring the genre-foundational nature of the record. 

It’s Siouxsie without the Banshees – guitarist John McGeoch is dead, drummer Budgie is now Siouxsie’s ex-spouse, and who knows if bassist and band co-founder Steve Severin was invited or consulted? But the Banshees-surrogates onstage do a fine job duplicating the glassy guitar, the pummel-drone of the bass, and the tumbly-tribal rhythms. 

But then Siouxsie repeats the Numan Error. Instead of using her extended set time to disinter classics from A Kiss in the Dreamhouse or play the Goth National Anthem “Fireworks,” she plays no less than four songs from the solo album Mantaray. There’s a tune off the Batman Returns soundtrack and a pair of duds from 1986’s sparkless Tinderbox. 

One unusual choice that entrances is “But Not Them” from her percussion-and-voice side project The Creatures.  It’s noticeable that the video projections oscillate in quality and imagination in parallel with the tunes – “Christine” comes with a mesmerizing psychedelic kaleidoscope, whereas Batman tune “Face To Face” clunkily deploys cat’s eyes. 

Siouxsie’s return was a qualified triumph: there was a touch too much turgid dirge in the setlist, and as her energy levels flagged, the voice grew unwieldy and the enchantress-style arm movements started to seem perfunctory. 

But with a glorious rendition of of “Happy House” and the stunning encores “Spellbound” and “Israel”, the idol earned her ovation.     

Tuesday, January 30, 2024

happy birthday Robert Wyatt

Robert Wyatt

Going Back A Bit - A Little History of Robert Wyatt (Virgin)

Melody Maker, 1994

by Simon Reynolds

At last, a long-overdue anthology of stuff and nonsense by one of the great eccentrics of English art-rock, Robert Wyatt. A miscellany of bits and bobs from solo albums and the shortlived outfit Matching Mole, its main selling-point, O punter, is that it makes available again, CD-sharp, 5/6 of his all-time 1974 classic Rock Bottom. But infuriatingly, not only is the album's original sequence jumbled up, for no apparent reason, but one track is shunted onto the second disc, so that you can't even reprogram it into the correct sequence. And one of the best is left off altogether.

With most albums this wouldn't matter a jot, but Rock Bottom is structured around a compelling emotional/musical narrative – it's a complex allegory of Wyatt's disablement (he tumbled out of a window during a wild party), his subsequent emotional regression, and his slow recovery. Even in the wrong order, Rock Bottom dazzles: it's a masterpiece of oceanic rock to rival Buckley's Starsailor, A.R. Kane's 69, maybe even Davis' In A Silent Way. On 'Last Straw', aqueous keyboards, refractory guitars and imagery like "seaweed tangled in a home from home" conjure up a poignant vision of the amniotic heaven of the briny deep. 'Sea Song' begins as an eerie serenade to a mermaid, then Wyatt spirals off into soul-harrowing scat-falsetto aquabatics.

'Alifib' is Wyatt at his lowest ebb, gasping out tiny breaths of anguish amidst a lachrymal sound-web of harmonium, while 'Alifie' sees him reduced to baby-talk drivel as his dependence on his wife Alfie deepens. "I can't forsake you or forsqueak you, Alifie, my larder", dribbles Wyatt; eventually she puts her foot down – 'I'm NOT your larder'. This is the turning point, the first step on the road to recovery, and the (original) album ends with the wonderful eco-terrorist ditty 'Little Red Riding Hood', with Ivor Cutler ranting about how he lies down in the road to stop the cars: "yeah me and the hedgehog busting tyres all day long".

Wyatt emerged, via the Soft Machine, from the late '60s/early '70s Canterbury scene, along with Caravan, Gong, Kevin Ayers, Egg etc. As well as an interest in bending rock form in all manner of jazzy-folky-weirdy ways, what these groups shared was a very English whimsy – at once their charm and their liability. And so on the 13 minute 'Moon In June', Wyatt extemporises about the joys of doing a session for the Beeb, while 'Soup Song' is sung from the point of view of one of its reluctant ingredients, a slice of bacon. Even Wyatt's lovesongs are skewered by irony. In the wonderfully sentimental 'O Caroline', Wyatt warns his sweetheart "if you call this sentimental crap you'll make me mad", while 'Calyx' is full of oddly phrased praise: "close inspection reveals you're in perfect nick".

Wyatt's wonderful voice is why he gets away with it whereas, say, Kevin Ayers mostly grates: he always sounds simultaneously wry and earnest, ironic and heart-felt. Damp, lugubrious, resolutely colloquial, totally unrock'n'roll (like a cross between Peter Skellern and Roland Kirk), Wyatt's voice could be the closest thing to an authentic "English soul" this nation's produced.

Robert Wyatt & Friends

Theatre Royal Drury Lane 8th September 1974
Observer Music Monthly, November 20th 2005

by Simon Reynolds

Long bootlegged, this glorious live album documents an intriguing moment in UK rock history, when the rock mainstream and the outer-limits vanguard were in bed together.  Three decades on, it’s hard to imagine a contemporary equivalent to the supergroup that Wyatt convened in September 1974: multiplatinum-selling musos Mike Oldfield and Pink Floyd’s Nick Mason rubbed shoulders with out-jazz players Julie Tippetts  and Mongezi Feza, and with avant-proggers such as Henry Cow’s Fred Frith, Hatfield and the North’s Dave Stewart, and Soft Machine alumnus Hugh Hopper. There’s also a cameo appearance from Ivor Cutler,  John Peel’s favorite comic eccentric. Peelie himself features as the show’s compere, informing the long-haired, afghan-wearing audience that the musicians will be uncharacteristically sober tonight, because the door to the Theatre Royal bar has been locked for fire-and-safety reasons.  

The wondrously woozy music played that evening must have been intoxication enough, surely, for performer and listener alike. After the Dada-esque sound-daubings of “Dedicated To You But You Weren’t Listening”, the bulk of the set consists of a run-through of Rock Bottom, the Wyatt album released earlier that summer, a crushingly poignant masterpiece shadowed by the singer’s paralysis following his fourth-floor tumble during a wild party. “Sea Song”,  as mysterious and beautiful an oceanic love ballad as Tim Buckley’s “Song To the Siren,” opens up into a fabulous extended improvisation, a malevolent meander of fuzz-bass and glittering keyboards that’s something like an Anglicized Bitches Brew. Wyatt’s falsetto spirals up into ecstastic scat arabesques, as though his spirit is trying to escape his shattered body.  “Little Red Riding Hood Hit The Road” --its title a whimsy-cloaked allusion to the accident--is equally stunning. Feza’s trumpet again channels Miles, while Wyatt’s delirium of anguish is only slightly softened by the English bathos of lines like “oh dearie me, what in heaven’s name..”  The singer actually miauows at the start of “Alifib,” a gorgeous quilt of shimmering keys and glistening guitar (courtesy of Oldfield, then regularly voted the top instrumentalist in the UK by music paper readers). The feline thread is picked up with “Instant Pussy,” originally recorded by Wyatt’s short-lived band Matching Mole and featuring yet more gorgeous abstract vocalese from the wheelchair-bound bound singer. “Calyx”, a different sort of love song, features killer lines like “close inspection reveals you’re in perfect nick”, and the set ends with a rampant, edge-of-chaos take on  “I’m A Believer,” the Monkees cover that took Wyatt into the UK hit parade. 

Alarming but true: the best record released in 2005 is a time capsule from 31 years ago.

unpublished piece owing to miscommunication across Guardian departments, fuckers

by Simon Reynolds

“I could hardly recognise him at first,” says Kevin Ayers. ”But there, under that great beard, was Robert and he hadn't changed a bit.” The singer is recalling his reunion after over thirty years separation, with Robert Wyatt, his former band mate in The Soft Machine. “As wonderful as it was odd”, the meeting took place in the summer of 2006 while Ayers was recording his comeback album, The Unfairground, his first record since 1992. In odd, wonderful synchrony. it came out last month only weeks before Wyatt’s own Comicopera.

Intense friendships always seem like they’ll last forever, but time and the way of the world wears them away. Suddenly, decades have passed since you last saw that inseparable soul-mate. Wyatt and Ayers were co-founders of The Soft Machine, in their heyday second only to Pink Floyd as a psychedelic trip band at the swirling kaleidoscopic heart of Swinging’ London. But after their debut album and a gruelling tour of America supporting the Jimi Hendrix Experience, Ayers went off to start a solo career. Many thought he was set to be a big star, his tousled blonde mane and debonair charm making him the missing link between Syd Barrett and Bryan Ferry. “I think Kevin got waylaid by us nutters,” says Wyatt, meaning The Soft Machine and its anarcho-surrealist mish-mash of jazz and acid rock. “There was a window there, a moment when Kevin, with his songs, could have been up there in the charts, as a Donovan type figure.” Ayers is bemused by this notion that he was diverted from his true destiny. “Donovan? Good heavens. I am glad that I ended up as Kevin Ayers! And the people from Soft Machine were a big part of that.”

Wyatt and Ayers originally met in 1961. “Someone had told Kevin, ‘oh there’s one other bloke in East Kent with long hair,” says Wyatt. “You’d get on.” They did. “Robert is an incredibly important figure in my life,” says Ayers. “He got me started. I liked him and he was doing music so I wanted to do music too. Robert was extraordinary, full of ideas and able to talk about art and books. I had never been in that sort of atmosphere.” Daevid Allen, a wandering Australian beatnik, was lodging with Robert’s mother--the infinitely tolerant and artistically supportive Honor Wyatt, a journalist. He befriended the teenagers, precociously turning them on the hippie values of drugs, sex and free spirited nomadism. He whisked Ayers off to Balearic bohemian paradise of Ibiza, where “one could get by with absolutely no money.” Recalls Ayers, “we hitchhiked down there and lived off fruit from the trees and fish we would catch.”

Allen, Ayers, and Wyatt formed The Soft Machine with Mike Ratledge, a keyboard-playing prefect Wyatt had known at school in Canterbury. One of the great myths of The Soft Machine is that they were the product of a progressive school favored by Canterbury’s artists and intellectuals. “Actually, the Simon Langton School is a totally respectable, conservative grammar school,” says Wyatt, who remembers struggling academically and getting regular canings. He left at sixteen with no qualifications, having swallowed a whole bottle of his father’s multiple sclerosis pills because he was “terrified of having to go back to school”. Still it is true that the Soft Machine came from highbrow, arty backgrounds. “Robert was very lucky to have had parents who were interested in ideas and very open, you could talk with them about anything and they would listen,” recalls Ayers, describing the Wyatt household in Lydden as “an absolute refuge.”. Later, after Wyatt’s father died, his mother bought a small semi-detached house in West Dulwich and the entire band--plus girlfriends--lived there. “It was when the group were starting out,” recalls Wyatt. “I don’t how we all fitted in there. But we did and we made our racket and my mum was fine about it.” Says Ayers, “There were plenty of dishes piling up in the sinks and unmade beds. But everyone was being creative in one way or another, or being intellectual or questioning and this came out in various forms such as poetry or art, but most of all music. Soft Machine was the only family I felt I ever had. We were a group of middle class boys from literate backgrounds, into jazz and beat writers, and we went off together on this incredible ride.”

The Soft Machine weren’t the first scions of the haute bourgeoisie to enter the rock world. But crucially, they were the first not to conceal their education or their accents. Indeed, alongside the equally well brought up Syd Barrett, Ayers was the first English rock vocalist not to sing in an American accent. Wyatt, who sang as well as drummed, followed suit on the group’s second album. “At first I was all, “waaugh, bab-eee,” he says, mimicking a standard American rock voice. But then Wyatt developed his own idiosyncratic style of falsetto singing, a wondrous blend of frailty and agility, melancholy and whimsy. “It sounded like me talking, only with notes.”

The Soft Machine immediately became central figures on the London psychedelic scene. Yet in many ways their orientation was always jazz rather than rock. Wyatt even describes himself as a Fifties person who felt “bemused because the ‘rich flowering of culture’ in the Sixties was really just the mainstreaming of all these things that had been underground in the Fifties, like drugs.” Beyond specific ideas to do with harmony, rhythm and improvisation, what they derived from jazz was “a kind of recklessness”, a spirit of discovery captured in Miles Davis’s instruction to his musicians: “play beyond what you know”. This freeform approach, combined with rock-derived but unheard-of-in-proper-jazz techniques like distortion and effects, made The Soft Machine ideal for the sensory overload aesthetic of clubs like UFO, where they played seemingly every other week in 1966-67.

But Ayers’s pop sensibility was increasingly at odds with where The Soft Machine’s music was going, which was long, abstract pieces. ““Kevin had bravely soldiered on as bass guitarist in what had become really an instrumental band,” says Wyatt. “He’d accumulated this stash of songs, but there really wasn’t room for them in the band anymore.” The tour of America with Hendrix divided the band further: Wyatt enjoyed going on the piss and the pull with Mitch and Noel of the Experience, Ayers found the whole rampage of buses, booze and birds a gruelling affront to his sensibilities. The group split up on its return. When they reformed, they invited Hugh Hopper, another alumnus of Simon Langton, to be the bass player. Wyatt enjoyed drumming in a wild, freeform style unsuitable for backing pop songs and happily went along with the jazz-rock direction. But after three more albums, he too was squeezed out as the Soft Machine became an increasingly uptight fusion outfit with little room for playfulness.

As important as The Soft Machine was to their development, few would disagree that Wyatt and Ayers came into their own as solo artists. Initially, Wyatt formed his own Softs in the form of Matching Mole, but after a drunken tumble from a high window left him paralysed below the waist, he had to give up drumming and the gang mindset of the performing band, and reinvent himself as a studio-bound artist. Started before the accident but finished and informed by that shattering trauma, 1973’s Rock Bottom is Wyatt’s masterpiece. From “Sea Song” (an oblique portrait of his new love and lifelong partner-to-be Alfreda Benge, a.k.a Alfie ) to “Little Red Riding Hood Hit the Road” (which exorcised his post-paralysis anguish via bathos-laden turns of phrase like “oh dearie me”), the album combines experimentation, emotion and melody with an exquisite delicacy.

Meanwhile, starting with 1969’s Joy of A Toy, Ayers launched an equally enthralling career, his output ranging from light-hearted ditties like “Clarence In Wonderland” to nihilistic noise-scapes like “Song from the Bottom of A Well”. Another highpoint was “Decadence”, a rippling, rhapsodic paean to his friend and fellow-traveler in hedonism, Nico, an ice queen “suffering from wear and tear” who perpetually slips back into “liquid night” despite the out-stretched arms of her lovers. “I never kiss and tell,” he says tartly when asked if he and Nico were ever involved.

Ayers and Wyatt belonged to a milieu of English mavericks who recorded for “progressive” labels like Harvest, Island, Charisma, and Virgin. Sharing a similar sensibility of gentle humour and genteel experimentalism, this was an incestuous scene, the musicians frequently collaborating or guesting on each other’s albums. The labels, similarly, exuded a longhaired, we’re-only-playing-at-being-a-record-company vibe. Virgin seemed more like an arts council for weirdos than the Industry. “It wasn’t really that idealistic,” says Wyatt. It’s just that “the Railway Enthusiast”--his nickname for Branson--“had noticed there was a market for bands who could sell albums without hit singles, based around the college gig circuit.” Ironically, Virgin would later maneuver Wyatt into recording a single--a cover of the Monkees’ “I’m A Believer”--which actually did become a hit and got the wheelchair-bound singer onto Top of the Pops.

Ayers, who’d left the laidback Harvest, was facing similar pressures. His new label Island were convinced they could turn him into a big star. “It really messed me up and I lost complete confidence in what I was doing.” It was the start of an unhappy period of desultory recordings and feeling disconnected from the music scene, with Ayers alternating between his houseboat in Maida Vale and long sojourns abroad.

When punk arrived, the progressive scene was deemed the domain of “boring old farts”. The new dogma declared that rock had been enfeebled by its attempts at maturity and sophistication. It was time for a rejuvenating jolt of teenage proletarian energy. The Fall’s Mark E. Smith singled out the Canterbury Scene--The Soft Machine and all the welter of bands and solo artists it spawned--when he declared “rock was ruined when the students took it over”. Wyatt sympathizes with this attitude, which with typical kindliness he interprets as “a sincere attempt to reassert that rock music was a music whose vitality came from the bottom up in terms of social power structures”. Still, there was a moment there in 1976-77 when the mellow meandering of a whole generation of artists--everyone from Brian Eno to John Martyn--was deemed irrelevant.

A few years later, the middle class cadres within punk stopped worrying so much about maintaining their fake-prole accents and hiding their Hatfield and the North albums. Punk turned into postpunk and the students took over again (had they ever really been dislodged?). Many of the new bands looked back to the music they’d been listening to before The Ramones and “Anarchy in the UK”. These groups, such as Scritti Politti (whose vocalist Green was hugely indebted to Wyatt’s “English soul”), wanted to move beyond straightahead punk, beyond rock itself, and the Canterbury Sound was a suggestive example of a concerted attempt to un-rock rock. Wyatt was coaxed back into recording by Geoff Travis, the boss of Rough Trade (home to Scritti). “Virgin were cross and said I couldn’t do albums for another label, so we decided to do a series of singles, cover versions.”

During his period of disengagement from music, Wyatt had become politically engaged: he started tuning into foreign radio stations, including Radio Moscow, and reading the Morning Star. Eventually he joined the Communist Party because its internationalism fit his own “xenophilia”. He explains, “if anybody starts to build up a heat against Johnny Foreigner, sort that chap out, my instincts are to take sides with Johnny Foreigner. They used to call it being a traitor but actually I’m just a xenophile.” The Rough Trade singles included versions of Latin American revolutionary songs, a pro-Stalin ditty from 1940s America, a tune called “Trade Union” by a Bengali group based in Brick Lane, and most famously, Elvis Costello and Clive Langer’s anti-Falklands War ballad “Shipbuilding”.

Ayers is a xenophile if anybody is. He spent his early childhood in Malaysia, “running around a beach and completely lost in my own world “. When his family returned to Herne Bay, the twin culture shock of England’s grey-skied, grey-faced repression and being plunged into boarding school aged 12 was a massive trauma. Ironically, for an artist who is regarded as quintessentially English, Ayers has spent most of his life since that “homecoming” trying to escape England, traveling all over the world and eventually settling in France. “Sunnier climes have always been more compatible to me--people there are so much more relaxed and have time for the good things in life like good food and wine.”

* * *

In 1992 Ayers declared, “Between the ages of 17 and 40 I had a great time, no grounds for complaint whatsoever. My problem is just that I don't know what to do with the rest of my life." For both of the ex-Softs, the Eighties and Nineties were…. variable. Wyatt alternated between sporadic recording and periods of depression, partly induced by “the political weather… you can get a very cold draught sometimes.” Both artists have had struggles with alcohol, culminating this year with Wyatt going sober and quitting the potions he’d always seen as essential to loosening his creativity. Comicopera’s first “act” partly concerns the deleterious effects of his drinking on his relationship with Alfie (who wrote a lot of lyrics on the album), a syndrome she has described as “bereavement within a marriage.”

Both Comicopera and The Unfairground deal with aging, that sense of twilight memorably captured by Dylan a few years ago with the lines “it’s not dark yet/but it’s getting there.” Serenity and wisdom have eluded both artists. In one song, Wyatt sings, at once wry and deadly earnest, of envying Christians and Moslems for their certainty, their confidence that God has got their back. After the first act dealing with personal relationships, and a second moving out into the real world of politics and war, the final section sees Wyatt casting around for “solutions” via a series of cover versions that touch on spirituality, revolution, surrealism, and free improvisation. The Unfairground, meanwhile, exudes a worldweary confusion distilled in the line “I don’t understand anything as I grow older/Nothing seems to be any clearer”.

“When you get to a certain age the inevitable crumbling becomes very real,” Ayers admits. “It’s how you deal with that is the challenge. Robert said to me a very long time ago that I was the sort of person who would end up an old man on a park bench feeding ducks and wondering why people weren't nicer to each other!” Yet for all its bleakness, The Unfairground sounds sprightly and springheeled: falling in love was a major catalyst for Ayers even making a record again. And Comicopera’s sheer delight in strange and marvellous combinations of sounds is a tonic. In the end, there aren’t answers but there are consolations, the highest (and healthiest) being music and friendship. Both The Unfairground and Comicopera involved a company of musician pals: Ayers called on 26talents, among them folk singer Bridget St. John and Hugh Hopper, while Wyatt’s “imaginary gang” contained such seeming incompatibles as Brian Eno and Paul Weller. “I say imaginary cos they were never in the same room at the same time,” he chuckles. “I do believe in doing that, but I’ve found that often grumpiness ensues.”

Parts of The Unfairground were recorded at the same studio, owned by Roxy Music guitarist Phil Manzanera, where Wyatt recorded Comicopera. Hence the reunion last summer. “It was really great to see him again,” says Wyatt. “He’s gone through a lot of problems, battling the demons. And he’s looking battered, but he’s survived. And it was nice because I had the opportunity to say ‘Look, Kevin thanks very much for your tunes at the beginning’. Without his natural ability to write proper songs, The Soft Machine would have been hard pressed to cobble together much convincing original material of our own.”

Wyatt actually appears briefly on his old friend’s record, albeit as a disembodied vocal texture, sampled and listed in the credits as The Wyattron. “It’s not Robert, but it is a memory of Robert,” says Ayers. “And that makes a lot of sense to me, as that is what I have.”

Wyatt and Ultramarine 


other stray fragments on Wyatt: 

from Sex Revolts

Laziness was subversive in the (idle) hands of the counterculture; work
was to be replaced by 'play power'. The Soft Machine are classic examples of
late '60s layabouts...  Kevin Ayers called one of his backing bands the Soporifics and wrote
songs like 'Butterfly Dance' in which he declared that 'everything is play'. In
'Diminished But Not Finished', he renounces all ideologies in favour of an
agnostic self-indulgence.  His whole oeuvre is bathed in a sun-kissed
insouciance; it seems to take place, as Dave Maready put it, in 'an endless
summer on someone's else's money circa 1970'. The pinnacle of his hermetic
hedonism is 'Song From the Bottom Of a Well': for Ayers, the universe is just
'a comfortable bath'. He happily drowns himself in the womblike well, laughing
at a world whose toil and turmoil seems absurd. Robert Wyatt's solo albums also
courted infantile regression.  But even after his conversion to militant 
Communism, Wyatt could still confess, 'I've always been one to shirk responsibilities if 
there was an opportunity' and 'my ideal state of life would be one of total 
inactivity.... I don't approve of these people charging about all the time'.....

In Rock Bottom (1974), Robert Wyatt created one of rock's most astonishing
and poignant visions of an undersea paradise. Like ambient, Rock Bottom was
conceived in a hospital; an intoxicated Wyatt had tumbled from an upstairs
window during a wild party at his home and broken his back.  The album aches
with the anguish of disablement (Wyatt has spent the rest of his life in a
wheelchair), while its woozy, refractory sound simulates the effects of heavy
anaesthetic.  The title, Rock Bottom, plays both on the idea of reaching an
emotional abyss, and some kind of escape to a subaquatic sanctuary (an
environment where Wyatt's mobility and grace could be recovered, in the
absence of gravity). The cover depicts a seascape in cross-section: Wyatt's
head and torso bob above the surface and he holds a bunch of balloons in his
hand, but under the surface we can see that he hasn't got any legs, just
tentacles or fronds of seaweed.

    The opening 'Sea Song' sees Wyatt serenading his mermaid lover.  Their
trysts take place with the rising of the full-moon, its tidal pull impelling
her blood to him: they are both moonstruck lunatics. Then Wyatt spirals up and
off into tremulous, bubbling scat, a voluptuous agony of freeform vocal plasma
midway between muezzin prayer wail and orgasmic shudders--a carnal polyphony
that rivals Tim Buckley's Starsailor. In 'A Last Straw', the oceanfloor is 'a
home from home'. The oozy, aqueous synths, refractory horns, and imagery of
taking refuge inside the mammary gland suggest that the briny deep Wyatt
describes is really the 'inner ocean' of the female body.

'Alifib' reaches the nadir of despair, vocally reduced to wracked,
barely-there exhalations. This track and its sequel, 'Alife', are wordplays on
his wife's name, Alfie: Wyatt, in his abject dependency, has regressed to the
condition of a nursling at the breast. He calls her 'my larder': his neediness
is oral, a craving for the limitless plenitude of the infantile phase. Sense
degenerates into dribbled babytalk, as the music grows ever more sinister and
miasmic. He's reached rock bottom, his lowest ebb, and a sax takes over,
babbling free-form primal scream therapy. But then a woman's voice speaks
firmly: 'I'm not your larder'.  It's Alfie, putting her foot down, and
signalling Wyatt's re-emergence from the foetal position, his coming to terms.


from another project as yet unborn 

Robert Wyatt, Ruth Is Stranger Than Richard

A motley meander compared to its immaculately immersive predecessor Rock Bottom, this 1975 album ranges from the woozy “Solar Flares” (the soundtrack to a short experimental film) to the melodically fragmented “Muddy Mouse”, on which Wyatt vocally mimics the sound of a muted trumpet to exquisite effect. “Soup Song” is a deliciously daft ditty sung from the point of view of one of the broth’s reluctant ingredients, a slice of bacon.

Matching Mole, Live In Concert

Formed by Wyatt after leaving Soft Machine, Matching Mole continues that group’s original playful spirit – the name itself is a sly twist on “machine molle”, French for  “soft machine”. The highlight here is the first half of “Instant Pussy”, a lattice of wordless warbles from Wyatt layered over gently shimmering keyboards. The rest is gnarly and frenetic jazz-rock akin to Mahavishnu Orchestra. 

bloggage on the Canterbury scene

the pre-punk Virgin Records story

snippet on "Grass", one of Wyatt's series of Rough Trade singles 

 Violence of a different sort is the subject of "Grass", a darkly witty allegory about authoritarianism originally written by the late, great Ivor Cutler but covered here by Robert Wyatt, a pre-punk innovator who thrived in a postpunk world of anything-goes. Backed by the shimmering tablas and shehnai of East London Bangladeshi outfit Dishari Shilpee Gosth, Wyatt plays the role of guru imparting wisdom to an acolyte, the power relation underlined by lines like “while we talk I'll hit your head with a nail to make you understand me / I have something important to say."

Now this track, as heard on the NME / Rough Trade C81 cassette, might be the first thing I ever heard by Robert Wyatt

Mind you, possible that I heard one or other of the Rough Trade singles on Peel - "Caimenera", even "Stalin Wasn't Stalling" or "At Last I Am Free"

Wyatt appears twice on C81 - his keyboards flicker through Scritti "The 'Sweetest Girl'", the curling synth for sure is him, maybe the piano too?

The first record I ever bought by Wyatt was "Shipbuilding". Great 7 inch single sleeve. 

On one of the send-off-for-cheap NME cassettes, Mighty Reel, there's a lovely version of "Round Midnight" by Wyatt. 

Same cassette starts with a fab tune by King Sunny Ade... NME expanding minds in those days

Me and Mr. Wyatt, in the green room (green tent?) at  the Hay Literary Festival, 2007, prior to me interviewing  him live onstage. Pix by Richard King. 

I had no idea I was such a gesticulator until I saw this photo.

Oddly enough, on Sunday night - after midnight, so technically Monday, certainly Monday UK time - I started watching this doc on YouTube about Robert Wyatt. Unawares that it was actually his birthday. 

Not a doc about Wyatt but one for which he did the soundtrack - the Animals Film - and if you like the "Born Again Cretin" moan-mode, this has some lovely wordless 'voice as muted trumpet' alongside eerie detuned synth smearage and chaotic drum smashige... 

one of his most avant outings in some ways, wonder why it's never been reissued (perhaps it was and I didn't notice? ). My memory is so terrible I can't recall if I picked this second-hand on vinyl or not....  if not, more fool me...  

The film, by Victor Schonfeld & Myriam Alaux, is about human exploitation and mistreatment of animals.... and also animal rights activists... narrated by the Wyatt-Benge family friend Julie Christie, who gave them a house or flat after the accident...