Born Robert Wyatt Ellidge, January 28, 1945, in Bristol, England; son of Honor Wyatt (a broadcaster and teacher) and George Ellidge (an industrial psychologist); married Pam Howard c. 1960, divorced c. 1971, married Afreda Benge (an artist) July 26, 1974; children: one son Samuel. Addresses: Record company--Thirsty Ear, 274 Madison Ave, Suite 804, New York, NY 10016.
Robert Wyatt is one of the key members of the Canterbury school of British progressive rock. One of pop music's most thought-provoking lyricists, he has developed his unique musical style without bowing to commercial pressures. Wyatt's childhood home was filled with music. He attended the Simon Langton Grammar School in Canterbury; among his schoolmates were the Hopper brothers, Hugh and Brian, Michael Ratledge, and the Sinclair cousins, Richard and David.
During the early 1960s, Hugh Hopper, the Sinclairs, and Wyatt, along with another school friend Kevin Ayers, spent their time at Wyatt's parents' mansion reading poetry, listening to jazz, and practicing music. The Wyatts took boarders; the most significant was Australian Daevid Allen. Despite being six years older, Daevid got along well with Robert through a mutual love of jazz and similar iconoclastic spirits. After Allen emigrated to Paris in 1964, Wyatt and friends formed a rock band, The Wilde Flowers.
In 1966, Daevid Allen returned from a trip to Majorca with Kevin Ayers intending to form The Soft Machine, a rock band financed by an eccentric millionaire they met on the island. Wyatt was convinced to leave The Wilde Flowers and join as drummer and vocalist, while recent Oxford graduate Ratledge became the organist. The quartet released its debut single "Love Makes Sweet Music" in 1967, while the remaining Wilde Flowers renamed themselves Caravan.
The Soft Machine toured throughout Europe in 1967, building a long-lasting Continental following for the band. Allen was forced to leave the group due to visa problems and returned to England. He eventually formed [psychedelic-progressive rock band] Gong. As a trio, the Soft Machine was the opening act for two world tours with Jimi Hendrix. Following the release of its self-titled debut album, Ayers left and was replaced by Hugh Hopper.
In 1969, The Soft Machine was augmented by a four piece horn section. Due to the financial difficulties in supporting a seven-piece band, three members left, though sax player Elton Dean became a permanent addition. The Soft Machine was shifting toward a jazzier sound and de-emphasizing vocals, much to Wyatt's chagrin. "Moon In June," Wyatt's sidelong piece on the band's Third album, was almost entirely a solo recording. Dissatisfied with the direction of The Soft Machine's music after the Fourth album, Wyatt departed in 1971 to form Matching Mole, named for the French pronunciation of "Soft Machine."
Matching Mole released two acclaimed albums and toured England and Europe incessantly until Wyatt dissolved the band in late 1972 due to financial difficulties and the stress of leading a band. He was in the process of reforming Matching Mole when, during a party on June 1, 1973, he fell drunkenly from a fourth floor window and broke his spine; this accident left him paralyzed from the waist down. In Wrong Movements , Wyatt explains his perspective on the event, "People think I must have problems talking about my accident.... What I have problems talking about is what happened before the accident.... My adolescent self, the drummer biped, I don't remember him and I don't understand him.... I see the accident now as being a sort of neat division line between my adolescence and the rest of my life."
Without the use of his legs, Robert concentrated on singing and playing keyboards. Rock Bottom , released in 1974, is a landmark progressive rock album. Unlike previous efforts, Rock Bottom 's arrangements are given plenty of breathing space, and possess a clarity rarely heard before in his music. Many listeners thought that Rock Bottom was a sad album, since it was recorded soon after his accident, however, most of the material was written before his fall. A version of "I'm A Believer" became a surprise chart hit in Britain that year. He appeared on the BBC TV show Top of the Pops but was disgusted by the producer's reluctance to have a performer in a wheelchair.
Ruth Is Stranger Than Richard is a jazzier sounding album than Rock Bottom . In the mid-1970s, Wyatt went into semi-retirement, disillusioned by the music business. He explained to Creem , "You were getting to funny stages, where people who deliberately maimed themselves on-stage were selling themselves as brave and courageous, whereas you had someone like Victor Jara in Chile, who because he sang for democracy in Chile, was tortured to death. If we're going to talk about brave rebels in the music business, let's talk about Victor Jara, not people who mutilate themselves on groovy videos."
Wyatt returned to the public eye in 1980 with four singles, later compiled as Nothing Will Stop Us , each pairing songs dealing with freedom. In 1982, inspired by those singles, Elvis Costello wrote an anti-war song about the Falkland Islands conflict, "Shipbuilding", which he thought would be the perfect vehicle for Robert Wyatt. Costello produced Wyatt, backed by his band the Attractions, and the result was Robert's second United Kingdom-charting single.
In 1985, Robert Wyatt participated in a project with the South-West African People's Organization. "Winds of Change" was released to bring attention to the liberation movement of Namibia, which had been illegally occupied by South Africa. Robert commented about the political nature of his recent work in Wrong Movements , "I want to show you something which is my finger pointing.... Now there are two interesting things about a pointing finger. First of all, you can look at the finger, and secondly, you can look at where the finger is pointing.... I would only be happy if people looked at what I was pointing at."
Aside from numerous cameo appearances, Robert Wyatt was absent from the music business for several years following his 1991 recording Dondestan . He made a welcome return to the public eye in 1997 with Shleep . The album, named for a fit of insomnia during which he wrote the album's lyrics, arrived like a thought-provoking letter from an old friend who doesn't write often. Wyatt's lyrical candor and championing of the underdog has gained him an appreciative worldwide following and respect among his musician peers.
by Jim Powers
Robert Wyatt's Career
Began playing drums c. 1961; formed band The Wilde Flowers c. 1963; joined band The Soft Machine c. 1966; released albums and toured with Soft Machine c. 1967-71; played drums with bands Kevin Ayers and The Whole World, Symbiosis, Centipede, and The Amazing Band, c. 1971; left The Soft Machine c. 1971; founded Matching Mole c. 1972; disbanded Matching Mole c. 1972; fell from window and broke spine, paralyzed from waist down c. 1973; released Rock Bottom on Virgin c. 1974; recorded for Rough Trade c. 1980-91; recorded for Thirsty Ear c. 1998.
Robert Wyatt's Awards
Meilleur Disque, Leisure For Youth Best Record of The Year Award, France, 1969 for Soft Machine, Volume Two; Academie Charles Cros Grand Prix du Disque Record of The Year Award, France, 1974 for Rock Bottom.
- Selected discography
- End of An Ear , CBS, 1970.
- Rock Bottom , Virgin, 1974, reissued Thirsty Ear, 1998.
- "I'm A Believe"/ "Memories," Virgin, 1974.
- Ruth Is Stranger Than Richard , Virgin, 1975, reissued Thirsty Ear, 1998.
- "Yesterday Man"on V , Virgin, 1975.
- "Arauco"/ "Caimenera," Rough Trade, 1980.
- "At Last I Am Free"/ "Strange Fruit," Rough Trade, 1980.
- "Stalin Wasn't Stallin'"/ "Stalingrad," Rough Trade, 1980.
- "Grass"/ "Trade Union," Rough Trade, 1980.
- Nothing Can Stop Us Rough Trade, 1981, reissued Thirsty Ear, 1998.
- "Shipbuilding"/ "Memories of You," Rough Trade, 1983.
- The Animals Film Soundtrack Rough Trade, 1984, reissued Thirsty Ear, 1998.
- Old Rottenhat , Rough Trade, 1986, reissued Thirsty Ear, 1998.
- Dondestan , Gramavision, 1991, reissued Thirsty Ear, 1998.
- The Peel Sessions (rec. 1974), Strange Fruit 8336, 1991.
- Mid-Eighties (rec. 1982-86), Gramavision, 1993.
- A Short Break , Voiceprint, 1994.
- Flotsam & Jetsam (rec. 1968-90), Rough Trade, 1994.
- "Shipbuilding" (rec. 1983) on Bespoke Songs, Lost Dogs, Detours and Rendezvous: The Songs of Elvis Costello , Rhino, 1995.
- Shleep , Thirsty Ear, 1997.
- Canterburied Sounds Volume 1 , (recorded 1962-70), Voiceprint, 1998.
- Canterburied Sounds Volume 2 , (recorded 1962-70), Voiceprint, 1998.
- Canterburied Sounds Volume 3 , (recorded 1962-70), Voiceprint, 1998.
- With The Soft Machine
- "Love Makes Sweet Music" b/w "Feelin' Reelin' Squealin'," Polydor, 1967, reissued on Rare Tracks , Polydor, 1975.
- Soft Machine , ABC-Probe, 1968, reissued by One Way, 1991.
- Volume Two , ABC- Probe, 1969, reissued by One Way, 1991.
- Third , Columbia, 1970, reissued by BGO, 1993.
- Fourth , Columbia, 1971, reissued by One Way, 1991.
- Rock Generation Volume 7 (rec. 1967), BYG, 1971.
- Rock Generation Volume 8 (rec. 1967), BYG, 1971.
- Live at the Proms 1970 , Reckless, 1988.
- Turns On: The Peel Sessions , (rec. 1969-1971), Strange Fruit, 1990.
- Live At the Paradiso 1969 , Voiceprint, 1995.
- Spaced (rec. 1969), Cuneiform, 1996.
- Virtually (rec. 1971), Cuneiform, 1997.
- With Matching Mole
- Matching Mole , CBS, 1972, reissued BGO, 1991.
- Little Red Record , Columbia, 1972, reissued BGO, 1991.
- BBC Live In Concert (rec. 1972), Windsong, 1990.
- With Kevin Ayers
- Joy of a Toy , Harvest, 1969, reissued BGO, 1991.
- Shooting for the Moon , Harvest, 1970, reissued BGO, 1991.
- Whatevershebringswesing , Harvest, 1972, reissued BGO, 1991.
- Bananamour , Harvest, 1973, reissued, BGO, 1991.
- June 1, 1974 , Island, 1974.
- Singing The Bruise: The BBC Sessions 1970-1972 , Band of Joy, 1996.
- With Others
- (with The Daevid Allen Trio), Live 1963 , Voiceprint, 1993.
- (with The Wilde Flowers), The Wilde Flowers (rec. 1965-1969), Voiceprint, 1994
- (with Daevid Allen), Banana Moon , BYG, 1971, reissued by Charly, 1991.
- (with Syd Barrett), The Madcap Laughs , Harvest , 1970
- (with Lol Coxhill), Ear of the Beholder Ampex, 1971.
- (with Centipede), Septober Energy , RCA, 1971.
- (with Keith Tippett), Dedicated To You, But You Weren't Listening , Vertigo, 1971.
- (with Hatfield & The North), Hatfield & the North , Virgin, 1973.
- (with Brian Eno), Taking Tiger Mountain By Strategy , Virgin, 1974.
- (with Brian Eno), Another Green World , Virgin, 1975.
- (with Phil Manzanera), Diamond Head , Island, 1975.
- (with Brian Eno), Before and After Science , Virgin, 1977.
- (with Michael Mantler), The Hapless Child , Watt, 1975.
- (with Henry Cow), Concerts , Caroline, 1976, reissued by East Side Digital, 1996.
- (with the SWAPO Singers), "Wind of Change," Rough Trade, 1985.
- (with Ultramarine), Every Man and Woman Is a Star , Rough Trade, 1992.
- (with Ultramarine), United Kingdoms , Blanco Y Negro, 1992.
- (with John Greaves), Songs , Resurgence, 1995.
- (with Hugh Hopper & Kramer), A Remark Hugh Made Shimmy-Disc, 1995
- (with Fish Out of Water), Lucky Scars , Stream, 1996.
- (with Gary Windo), His Master's Bones (rec. 1971-1984), Cuneiform, 1997.
- Frame, Pete, The Complete Rock Family Trees , Omnibus Press, 1993.
- Joynson, Vernon, Tapestry of Delights: The Comprehensive Guide to British Music of the Beat, R & B, Psychedelic, and Progressive Eras 1963-1976 , Borderline Productions, 1995.
- King, Michael, Wrong Movements, A Robert Wyatt History , SAF, 1995.
- Martin, Bill, Listening To The Future, The Time of Progressive Rock 1968-1978 , Open Court, 1998.
- Schaffner, Nicholas, The British Invasion , McGraw-Hill, 1981.
- Thompson, Dave, Space Daze: The History & Mystery of Electronic Ambient and Space Rock , Cleopatra, 1994.
- Billboard , November 30, 1985.
- Creem , January, 1987.
- Down Beat , October 5, 1967; April 15, 1971; November 25, 1971; April, 1986; March, 1992.
- Facelift , Issue 6; Issue 7; Issue 11; Issue 15.
- Goldmine , October 6, 1989; April 10, 1998.
- Jazz & Pop , April, 1971.
- London Times , June 5, 1970; August 13, 1970; August 15, 1970.
- Melody Maker , July 5, 1969; November 8, 1969; February 14, 1970; January 2, 1971; July 3, 1971; September 21, 1974; November 9, 1974; April 16, 1976; March 15, 1980; September 20, 1980.
- New Musical Express , January 25, 1975; February 1, 1975.
- Ptolemaic Terrascope , January, 1992.
- Record Collector , June 1992.
- Rolling Stone , January 16, 1975.
- www.alpes-net.fr/~bigbang/calyx.html, (September 26, 1998).