I’m not sure how I got here tonight, but I suspect it has something to do with the new album by Phosphorescent (aka Matthew Houck) called Muchacho. You see, I can’t figure out if I like it or not. It reminds me, and maybe only me, of Robert Wyatt. I may like the Phosphorescent album because of that. But then again, I might hate it for that.

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Robert Wyatt first came to prominence as the drummer in the band Soft Machine. Soft Machine were an English rock band from Canterbury, named after the book The Soft Machine by William S. Burroughs. They were one of the central bands in the Canterbury scene, and helped pioneer the progressive rock genre.

Soft Machine – 25 August 1968 Ce Soir On Danse

Soft Machine – Live in Paris 1970

On 1 June 1973, during a party for Gong’s Gilli Smyth and June Campbell Cramer (also known as Lady June) at the latter’s Maida Vale home, an inebriated Wyatt fell from a fourth-floor window. He was paralysed from the waist down and consequently uses a wheelchair. On 4 November that year, Pink Floyd performed two benefit concerts, in one day, at London’s Rainbow Theatre.

He promptly embarked on a solo career, and with musician friends (including Mike Oldfield, Ivor Cutler and Henry Cow guitarist Fred Frith) released his solo album Rock Bottom on 26 July 1974. Two months later Wyatt put out a single, a cover version of “I’m a Believer”, which hit number 29 in the UK chart. Both were produced by Pink Floyd drummer Nick Mason. There were strong arguments with the producer of Top of the Pops surrounding Wyatt’s performance of “I’m a Believer,” on the grounds that his use of a wheelchair ‘was not suitable for family viewing’, the producer wanting Wyatt to appear on a normal chair.

I’m A Believer (Top Of The Pops, 1974)

Sea Song (originally 1974, live version from 2003)

Throughout the rest of the 1970s Wyatt guested with various acts, including Henry Cow, Hatfield and the North, Carla Bley, Brian Eno, Michael Mantler, and Roxy Music guitarist Phil Manzanera, contributing lead vocals to lead track “Frontera”, from Manzanera’s 1975 solo debut Diamond Head. His solo work during the early 1980s was increasingly politicised, and Wyatt became a member of the Communist Party of Great Britain.

Strange Fruit (1980)

In 1983, his original version of Elvis Costello and Clive Langer’s Falklands War-inspired song “Shipbuilding” reached number 35 in the UK singles chart.

Shipbuilding (live) (1983)

Interview with Elvis Costello about Shipbuilding (including rarely seen music video) (1983)

Biko (1984)

Gharbadzegi (1985)

 

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