Tales Of Canterbury
1994

The Wilde Flowers

   
 


 
MOJO - APRIL 1995

Wilde Flowers: Tales Of Canterbury: The Wilde Flowers Story (Voiceprint)

Rob Chapman

 

Caravan, Soft Machine, Kevin Ayers & The Whole World: all grew from the stem of the legendary Wilde Flowers. Rob Chapman tells their story.

BURIED DEEP IN THE GARDEN OF ENGLAND IS A RICH musical lineage. It begins with The Soft Machine and Caravan, takes in Kevin Ayers and The Whole World, the pre-Tubular Mike Oldfield, Daevid Allen’s Gong, and the solo works of Robert Wyatt, then hits public indifference head on in the late ‘70s.

However, if one takes the Steve Hillage/System 7 connection into account, and the fact that ambient technoids Ultramarine have featured both Ayers and Wyatt on recent releases, it becomes obvious that there’s life in the old legacy yet. They may not be about to place a commemorative blue plaque on the A1 to honour the road sign which bears the legend "Hatfield and the North", but plainly some sort of critical resurgence is under way.

The Canterbury bands were an inconsistent and eclectic lot. Kevin Ayers and The Whole World rarely captured on record what blinding innovation they were capable of live. All talk of Gong concentrates on the pot-headed pixie nonsense of the mid-‘70s and neglects to mention what a seminal space-rock prototype they were prior to the arrival of woolly hats and woolly minds. Soft Machine began as avant-garde explorers but ended up as a finishing school for ponderous jazz rock fusionists. Caravan by 1976 were releasing albums with titles like Cunning Stunts.

Long before any of this there was The Wilde Flowers, the oftmentioned but rarely heard outfit that effectively spawned them all. Now thanks to Voiceprint’s Tales Of Canterbury: The Wilde Flowers Story you can listen to the whole legacy taking shape. Compiled by co-founder Brian Hopper from his dusty old collection of acetates and rehearsal tapes, the 22 tracks gathered here span the entire Wilde Flowers oeuvre from the quirky R&B covers of early 1965 right through to a 1969 reunion replete with assorted Softs and Caravan members.

The album – complete with the booklet of Hopper’s memories which accompanies the first 2,000 copies – reminds you what a intricately intertwined unit the Canterbury family was. Members casually came and went. Third cousins twice removed and ex-roadies were drafted in at the drop of a hat. Kevin Ayers drifted off to the Balearics with a mad Australian pal of William Burroughs called Daevid Allen.

"The whole thing was very freewheeling," says Hopper. "But that was the nature of the Flowers – very fluid, not like most other bands who had a more regimented and conventional approach. Compared to most music scenes at that time our influences were pretty broad. We were quite conscious we were doing something different, and that probably prevented us from gaining more popularity at the time."

It is chiefly Wyatt’s singing, along with Brian Hopper’s guitar playing, that gives these tentative offerings their originality, offsetting standard beat group formulae with a unique vision of things to come. There was always a distinct Canterbury sound – droll, understated, aching with English melancholia. Two other exquisite voices from the Canterbury chorus also get a first outing here. On 'It’s What I Feel', Richard Sinclair unveils the wayward choirboy enunciation he later perfected on Caravan’s quintessential Land Of Grey And Pink. And on 'She Loves To Hurt', fellow Caravan founder Pye Hastings offers conclusive proof that he inherited both larynx and phrasing from the same gene pool as Wyatt.

The road from Canterbury was paved with wilful indulgence. Some routes led to innovation, others to ennui. Most of it is worthy of reissue. Hopefully there’s more stashed away in Brian Hopper’s attic. In the meantime this compilation should be essential listening for anyone who wishes to trace the exploratory roots of the early English Underground.




 
       

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