Wyatt - Ptolemaic Terrascope Vol. 3 - N°1 - January
The "Canterbury Scene" are three words which have
become common coinage in these pages in recent times;
not because of some strange fannish addiction to
anything emanating to that region of England, but
simply due to the sheer quality of the music which
has umbrella'd out over the years since those humble
'Wilde Flowers' beginnings of 1964. Whilst musically
unimportant in itself, the Wilde Flowers contained
in its original line-up three people who, within
a decade, were to be considered in many circles,
the definitive English rock vocalists: Richard Sinclair,
Kevin Ayers, and of course Robert Wyatt.
Whilst always highly rated as a drummer, it is for
his wonderful singing and songwriting that Wyatt
is today universally admired and respected. The
lack of his vocals in the Soft Machine after the
glorious 'Moon In June' on their album 'Third' (unbelievably,
he only drums on the following album, 'Four', as
the rest of the band believed his voice to be dispensible!)
marked the departure of any real interest in the
band; however in the subsequent Matching Mole, not
only is there the treat of hearing Robert's voice
combined with the equally unique sound of Dave Sinclair's
keyboards, but there's also what many people consider
to be one of Wyatt's finest moments - the near perfect
love song 'O Caroline', a desert-island-disc if
ever there was one.
As is Wyatt's second solo album, 'Rock Bottom' -
a masterpiece of languid depths and charged emotion.
The previous LP, 'End Of An Ear' is for avant-gardeners
only, while the third LP, 'Ruth Is Stranger Than
Richard' is more free blowing but none the less
essential. Together, this pair of platters confirm
for all time the talents of Robert Wyatt and his
place in the hearts and minds of his listeners.
Since then he has sporadicallyput out a handful
of excellent singles and the occasional LP on Rough
Trade as well as making several guest appearances,
most notably on Nick Mason's LP 'The Fictitious
Sports' alonside jazz keyboardist Carla Bley.
Now that the Canterbury scene is again up and running
with Caravan, Going Going (featuring Hugh Hopper)
and Richard Sinclair's Caravan of Dreams, as well
as rumours of an upcoming and long overdue return
to form for Kevin Ayers and a strong new album from
Robert Wyatt entitled 'Dondestan' on Rough Trade,
it seems only right and proper that the Terrascope
should be in the thight of it. Hence the following
Whilst Robert, as you will see, was until recently
unaware that he was considered an integral part
of the 'Canterbury Scene', there is no denying that
he has always been considered as such and his response
is in terms of a mistaken geographical and biographical
reference rather than in the general use of the
term 'Canterbury' as a broad but distinct musical
genre - one which rightly labels the likes of Dave
Stewart and Jimmy Hastings as 'Canterbury', even
thought neither of them has ever lived there. That
small point cleared up, it's on to the results of
a delightfully jovial afternoon spent in the relaxed
and friendly company of Mr. Wyatt, an afternoon
in which, fuelled by impromptu notes, failing memories,
quite a lot of tea and the occasional (and vaguely
apt) banana, we touched on as many aspects as possible
of his long and never less than interesting career...
PT : How did it all begin?
RW : It's a long story. When the Romans left Britain...
oh, then a few other things happened, I was born in 1945,
went to school in the Fifties and left at the end of them.
I think the Fifties were a very good time to be at school.
It was in Canterbury - people say 'Oh, Canterbury', but
I went to school there and that's all there is to it.
PT : You didn't live there then?
RW : No I didn't, I lived near Dover actually,
although I did have a spell there in late 1960 or early
'61. I couldn't make head nor tail of school, I had a
coupIe of friends there - one of whom from the age of
about 10 was Hugh Hopper. His older brother played clarinet
and had some nice records. My big brother had some nice
records as well. But because our records were our big
brothers' jazz record collections, people think we had
older tastes than others our age.
PT : You obviously heard the radio as well, though?
RW : Not obviously at all. I never heard the thing
much, quite frankly. We preferred records: jazz, some
R&B - we were fans, as teenagers are. Then Hugh got a
bass guitar and started playing some Ray Charles type
stuff, so there was this twin-tracked thing going on,
some dance or song-based music like R&B and some harmonic
and melodic deviations of the modern jazz of the time.
What we played was neither one or the other in the end,
we sort of fell between two stools and stayed there, on
PT : Great play has been made down the years of the
fact that you had various musical contemporaries at school,
but in fact they weren't exactly contemporaries at all
- there was a year or so between you all?
RW : That's right. I vaguely remember Dave Sinclair
playing piano for the school hymns, but I knew his older
brother better because we studied violin together for
a couple of years. I think the myth really is more glowing
than the reality. School life for me consisted mostly
of trying to catch the same bus as the girls in the other
schools. And I'm very glad I did, because my first wife,
Pam, was a girl who lived on the same bus route. She kept
me for years afterwards, working as a secretary for some
fairly unpleasant cleric when I didn't have two pennies
to rub together. I did a few jobs after leaving school,
worked in a forest near Folkestone for instance, but that
was it. We had a son - he's in his twenties now and a
nurse - but that's really the most positive thing I can
remember coming out of school. There was some music though,
of course. Daevid Allen, who's a nomadic Australian, had
come to Europe and floated about London and had some contacts
which later became invaluable - people like Hoppy, who
set up various gigs. I've come to the conclusion that
the whole world is gradually becoming Australian... anyway,
there was this bunch of people who were fairly radical
in their own fields. And Daevid was older than us, so
he showed us around. He used to get stoned, so he was
my introduction to all that. He also had a dog which he
used to take for walks with him - it was actually a tin
can on the end of a bit of string which he would trail
some yards behind him. To an impressionable lad of my
age, that was pretty far out!
PT : And your first group, The Wilde Flowers, came
RW : Hugh was the one in Canterbury who wanted
to get a group together. We (the Wilde Flowers) did basicalIy
R&B covers rather than hits, although we did occasionally
do Beatles songs and stuff. The point is though, Hugh
started writing his own material at this time and I would
do odd bits as well - I started singing for instance,
because he wouldn't sing himself. It was all a learning
process, realIy. [Referring to Richard Sinclair's comments
in issue 8 of the Terrascope:] Mine and Richard's memories
of Wildflowers material seem slightly out of synch - the
soul material I remember doing was like James Brown, Nina
Simone, and simple jazz pieces like Watermelon Man (Herbie
Hancock). But of course other stuff like by rock &
rollers such as Chuck Berry was often thought of as Brit-beat
music at the time...
PT : You did some demos as the
Wilde Flowers, didn't you?
RW : Somebody knew a popular Radio Two styled musician
named Wout Steinhaus who played steel guitar, he had a studio
and let us make some things in there. I imagine they were
PT : They included a version of 'Memories', I think.
(Robert later recorded it as the B-side to 'I'm A Believer')
RW : It's possible, yes. Hugh wrote 'Memories' quite
early on I can remember singing that. That was the challenge,
really trying to play stuff that people hadn't heard before
at local dances. Most of the time it was... it didn't have
to be hits, but things that were on the band circuit at
the time. I think after I left the Wilde Flowers went on
to play that stuff very well, but by then I had drifted
off with others, making odd noises here and there. The amoeba
sort of split one half of the Wilde Flowers eventually became
Caravan, and the rest became that other lot.
half of the Wilde Flowers eventually became
Caravan, and the rest became that other
PT : I've got the original line-up of the Soft Machine
down as yourself, Kevin Ayers, Daevid Allen and Mike Ratledge,
plus the guitarist Larry Nolan who left after a few gigs.
Some demos were done with Georgio Gomelsky. Why did Daevid
Allen leave fairly early on?
[as an aside, the demos are now out as 'Jet Propelled Photographs'.
In 1972, Daevid Allen said of them, 'They're just a mortal
embarrasment to me because it's probably the worst guitar
I've ever played... but Robert is just magnificent so their
release is justified'. The band also did the 'Feelin', Reelin',
Squeelin" single - produced by Kim Fowley!]
RW : We played some music for a play by Alfred Jarry
at the Edinburgh Fringe, I think it was. As a result of
that we met people on the avant-garde circuit ('avant garde
a clue', as Ronnie Scott calls it) who had connections in
Paris, where there were student rebellions going on, people
trying to set up autonomous universities and stuff. There
was this bunch of people doing a play by Picasso called
'Desire Caught By The Tail' in the South of France, for
which they wanted a band to play some suitably anarchic
music. We went to do that and did some gigs alongside it
in the same area. It turned out that a lot of Parisiens
were down there, and some New York dropouts like Taylor
Meade, so we got known amongst them. Anyway, when we came
back, Daevid's Australian visa had run out and they wouldn't
let him back into England. He stayed in France and went
on to do stuff like Camembert Electrique etc. It was as
simple as that.
PT : Then came the American tour with Hendrix and Eire
Apparent? [with new member Andy Somers - later of Police
- on guitar . He left after a few gigs to join Eric Burdon
& The New Animals]
RW : Yeah, we got a deal with
Anim-management, the Animals people, and because they'd
also signed up Jimi Hendrix, we all went on the road to
the States. What was useful about that was, a tour like
that soon knocks the whimsy out of you. Playing in front
of a few thousand beer-soaked Texan teenagers waiting
impatiently for Jimi Hendrix does something for your nervous
system. It makes you get on with things and state your
case. It could have been awful, it could have been very
frightening for us - we were going around there with very
little money with bands who were using a lot of money
(although it turns out they weren't getting to see a lot
of it) - but luckily, the Jimi Hendrix Experience were
very protective towards us. Like, Hendrix would sometimes
get some flak for having this weird-sounding band at the
beginning of his show, and he always said look, they're
trying to do something, they're not trying to copy anybody
else, and I want them on the show, OK? He personally stood
up for us, even though we were making a lot of musical
mistakes and hadn't got it fully together. The others
in the Experience were simply terrific as well, and they
were always doing things for us without seeming to use
their privilege. Like, Noel would say look, we're all
going down to this club and we want to go in mob-handed,
so you'll have to come too. What he meant was, we know
you couldn't afford to go in, we know you couldn't afford
to buy any drinks once you're in there, so we're taking
you. But they'd never put it like that. Mitch helped us
a lot as well- such a brilliant drummer, he'd been with
Georgie Fame before, and you have to be good to work with
somebody like that. A very proud bloke, quick to take
offence but he's actually all heart. Sitting there watching
them play every night and seeing how they'd work was great
for us. Mitch had had this maplewood drum kit made to
his own specifications, and at the end of the tour he
gave it to me. Everything I've played since as a drummer
has been on that kit which Mitch gave to me.
PT : So you have some good memories
of that tour?
RW : Absolutely, yes. I mean, I know 1968 wasn't
an easy time to be in America, I saw a lot of horrible
things which make you think a bit. You read articles here
sometimes about racism and of course we have a right to
talk about it, but unless you've spent some time in the
States where the streets smell of racism, you really have
no idea. I saw the kinds of things that a sheltered English
lad had never seen, the hostility between the police and
any kids with hair... the police would ride through crowds
on motorcycles without even waiting for them to clear.
I saw them pick up one kid, hold him horizontally and
run him into a wall like a battering ram. We were pretty
much sheltered as a group going from hotel to hotel, but
you could see that life on the streets was sticky.
PT : Did Hendrix himself suffer from the racism at
RW : Well, Hendrix was a rich entertainer, therefore
he couldn't really be black. It was a class thing. You'd
get cops standing at the side of the shows saying 'hey!
That nigger picks good!'. But there's always been a place
in America for the black entertainer. Mind you, they've
a reason to be grateful. I mean, where would American
music be today without the black American's contribution?
About as famous as New Zealand's I should think.
PT : The Eire Apparent album (on Buddah) came out of
that tour- are you on it?
was trying to turn it from pop into something
RW : Yeah, that was nice. Me and Noel did girly
choruses basically, and Hendrix was trying to tum it from
being pop into something more dangerous, as he saw it.
Eire Apparent were a very nice bunch of Irish lads. They
joined us for the second half of the tour, in a way it
was to get something more poppy in on the act - but they'd
been signed up and we reorganised the concerts accordingly.
It was a good, contrasting sort of thing. I have to say
though that even on our best nights, Hendrix would simply
erase the memory of everything that had gone before. He
was just so fucking good. And consistently good, too.
Better than on the records, actually - that's one thing
we had in common, I think we played better than we ever
recorded and I think he did as well. That's the jazz element
PT : The first Soft Machine album was actually recorded
in New York?
RW : That's right. Now, what was the name of the
guy that produced that?
PT : Tom Wilson?
RW : That's him. He'd worked with Frank Zappa so
they figured he'd be able to deal with us. He was very
nonchalent, not kind of fretting - just play, we'll tape
it and it'll come out alright. It's easy. He was living
his life, and we were welcome to join in if we wanted
to. But he made sure all the nuts and bolts were all tight
- he did his job. I have to say though that because we
in the group never got on very well personally, in a studio
situation you'd be dealing with each other much more whereas
on stage, you're all facing the same way which is outwards
- so somehow we could work together much better live than
in the studio.
PT : When was the last time you listened to that album?
no more listen to that [first Sort Machine
album] again than I would put my school
trousers back on"
RW : About twenty years ago. I'd
no more listen to that again than I would get out my school
trousers and put them back on. I accept it completely,
but the only way I can concentrate on doing my best is
by clearing whatever's gone before ruthlessly away. I
couldn't function by sitting in my own bath water!
PT : The Sort Machine disintegrated at that point -
you stayed in New York and then later moved to Los Angeles?
RW : Yeah, I liked New York. Mitch took us around
and introduced us to some other musicians that I might
not have otherwise met - people like Larry Coryell. Then
Hendrix booked a house in Los Angeles at the end of the
tour, a big L-shaped place it was - basically they're
only stage sets for Perry Mason films, but when there's
no Perry Mason going on, people live in them. So there
we were in this L-shaped stage set with people shouting
'hi!' across the swimming pool...
PT : You recorded some demos while you were in New
York and LA?
RW : I did, yeah. Jeff Dexter's just found one
of them, I must have left it at his house by accident
- but it's only an acetate so it gets really grunged up
whenever you try to play it. It costs a lot of money to
re-record them and clean them up, but he's trying to organise
that at the moment. I also started writing bits and pieces
which turned up in later reincarnations of the group.
PT : At that time, did you consider
yourself to be a part of Soft Machine?
RW : I don't know what I felt, really. I remember
thinking that I wasn't being a very good father. Anyway,
we came back to England and found people were wanting
us to do some gigs, so we 'phoned each other up to see
if we were all into it. Kevin Ayers wanted to do his own
thing, so Hugh, who had already been roadying for us and
had actually written some of the best tunes in our repertoire,
was the natural choice for a replacement. We reformed
really as a response to being offered jobs. I thought
God, this noise we're making is boring. I went down to
the Marquee and saw Keith Tippett's band and thought they
were really good, so we asked if we could borrow their
brass section for a while, which made it a bit richer.
We went on the road like that for a bit.
PT : You'd already recorded the second Soft Machine
album by this time?
RW : I think so - I can't really remember. I haven't
got a copy of that one, either.
PT : And by the 3rd album, by which time sax player
Elton Dean had joined, the band seemed to have fractured
- it's like a side each, really?
RW : I suppose so, although I must say I enjoy
Hugh's side, the live side. There was this British jazz-rock
thing developing though and I found it a rather tight-arsed
thing really, a fairly weak version of what was a pretty
dodgy idiom in the first place. I thought, I'm literally
not going to get a word in edgeways here. I got all my
fun from doing gigs outside of it, playing with Keith
Tippett's friends or with the South African exiles that
were around. It might not leave any great records, but
it was nice to be working with people you enjoy being
with. The adventure of trying things out seemed to be
more important than getting polished results and showing
off tricky time signatures. The corsets seemed to be tightening
by the month.
PT : The Soft Machine's appearance at the Proms happened
about this time, didn't it? (13/8/70)
RW : Yeah, we were invited there by a very nice
English composer named Tim Souster who, being an English
composer, had a night to himself at the Proms. He'd written
a piece for it which didn't last the whole night, so he
thought 'I'll get that band in, that'll stir it up...'.
I didn't really like playing there (the Royal Albert Hall)
because I couldn't hear what we were doing - it's an appalling
place to play. My microphone wasn't on when I was singing
and the organ kept breaking down. We did get to be interviewed
by Richard Baker though!
PT : Next we had your first solo album, 'End Of An
RW : Yeah, that was me throwing off the corsets
basically. All hell was let loose. I just screamed me
head off and had a lovely time, I even played the piano.
I can't actually play the piano, but I thought right -
l'm going to play the fucking piano. Turned out I could
play what I wanted to hear after all. Just goes to show,
you never know until you try!
PT : And you recorded 'Bananamoon' with Daevid Allen....
RW : Did I? You're right, I think I did.
PT : .... and went on the road with Kevin Ayers and
The Whole World.
RW : That's true. I remember, he'd take two rooms at the
hotel - one for him and one for the rest of the band.
I mean, I know it was Ayers' band, but I'd never heard
of that before! I come from this sort of lefty, co-operative
background so I wasn't used to this sort of colonial treatment.
Me and Mike Oldfield, Dave Bedford, LoI Coxhill alI scrunged
up in this little rat-infested room - well, I suppose
we were the rats really. Anyway, I thought that was a
bit off so I jumped out of the frying pan and went back
into the fire for a bit.
PT : To do the 4th Soft Machine album.
RW : That's it. Back into the fire, as I say.
PT : And then onto Matching Mole with David Sinclair,
who was later replaced by Dave MacRae, Phil Miller and
RW : Well, I wanted to play
with people I got on with, who would let me sing. Jazz and
rock was turning into a horrible hybrid form like railway
lines that you couldn't get off. I wanted something that
was using that same eclectic approach but which was looser.
I liked bands like Tony Williams' Lifetime, a real joyful
sort of traffic jam of a sound - like a conversation rather
than a series of solos. We did a few tours and a coupIe
of albums and just muddled along for a lot less money than
I was getting before, but I'm a bit suicidal like that.
I left the previous band just as they were starting to break
even as well. I think Matching Mole would have carried on,
but at the end of it Dave McRae [the man who wrote all the
'Goodies' songs with Bill Oddie!] wanted a trio which concentrated
on me on drums and I didn't want to be corralled into that
again. We did do some gigs as a trio, me and Dave and a
bass player, and I really enjoyed those but I wanted to
start singing properly. I also met people who hadn't been
into the jazz thing at all, like Francis Monkman, who was
into working out composed structures. I was working on both
of those things really when I broke my back, so obviously
that put paid to them both because I couldn't drum any more,
and I didn't really feel like singing either. I spent most
of 1974 - or was it '73? I can't really remember when I
did it - in hospital. People think that the LP which came
out afterwards, 'Rock Bottom' , was about being paraplegic
or about breaking your back - but it's not. I don't write
songs about being paraplegic, l'm not that introspective
actually. I'd already written quite a lot of it beforehand,
it would have been material for the group with Francis Monkman.
PT : That group [Matching Mole Mark 3] never happened
RW : The reason I didn't want a group was that it
was totally unfair, for a start asking musicians to hang
around for months while you're sitting in hospital even
though, nice geezers as they are, they might have done so.
It's just not fair on them, I mean they've got to earn a
living. And then wheelchairs - you just can't get them anywhere.
It's taken my wife six months to find this place we're sitting
in now, a single flat in London that a disabled person can
use and afford. Touring would be quite out of the question.
It would be hampering a whole group of people if I formed
a band, it's completely out of the question. So the best
thing was that I get my material out, such as I had, and
try to do as much of it as I could myself. I got together
with Nick Mason, a friend from the late Sixties, and he
helped co-ordinate stuff that I couldn't possibly arrange
myself - and we just got other musicians in to flesh it
out. They seemed to understand my stuff- to me, the Rock
Bottom group was more like a group than anything l've ever
had before. We knew each other well enough to be able to
work together, but the situation was unusual enough to put
an adventurous thread through it and make everybody stir
the creative juices a bit. I felt better after that than
I had done for years.
PT : You obviously had some understanding people around
RW : I certainly did. I got remarried - in fact,
I think our wedding day was the same day as 'Rock Bottom'
came out. It all came together nicely. My first wife and
I had split up quite amicably, but as I say I just hadn't
been a very good husband or father. I was just too busy
speeding about all over the place. So maybe it was a punishment
PT : But then, with respect, you weren't able to speed
about so much, were you?
RW : Well, no. That's what my wife says, too!
PT : And then you had your hit single, 'I'm A Believer'.
RW : It was more of a single than a hit, but you
can put the two words together if you want to. It was Simon
Draper, the A&R man at Virgin,'s idea. Especially in
England, record companies get very worried if you don't
PT : And you did a concert, as well.
RW : Yeah, Dave Stewart came along, Mike Oldfield
- he was brilliant, he heard all my keyboard stuff, which
I thought was inimitable, and just did it. I thought well,
that puts me in my place, doesn't it? It was a good laugh,
except Virgin sneakily recorded it and then put the cost
of recording onto my bill, which I thought was a bit nasty.
PT : Next, you did the second album - 'Ruth Is Stranger
RW : That's right. Although it had my name on it,
it was basically a lot of people doing things that they
hadn't perhaps got another context for. I did a duet with
Fred Frith on piano - Fred's got this wonderful lyrical
side to his music which he likes to play down, but it's
a shame to waste it. I just stuck some words on, and copped
half the royalties for that which I thought was a bit unfair
really. Brian Eno came along and mucked about with it all.
He didn't like jazz, so it was good having him in on it
- like a bit of salt where it might have been all sugar.
He was good company, he's a witty man. They (Virgin) charged
us an awful lot for recording it at the Manor - I think
I only stopped paying it off two years ago. I don't think
we're supposed to live this long, really. It's not in the
don't think we're supposed to live this long..."
PT : You were doing live stuff with Hatfield And The
North as well?
RW : D'you know, I'd completely forgotten about that.
Yes, I did do some stuff. And I'm on one of the tunes on
their album ['Calyx']. I later wrote some words for it,
but we never recorded that.
PT : Anyway, we had the two albums - what about 'Yesterday's
Man' - wasn't that supposed to be a single?
RW : Well, yes - but Virgin Records felt it was a
bit...lugubrious. I liked it, myself. It only ever came
out on a compilation.
PT : So how much do you feel part of what we loosely
term "The Canterbury Scene"?
RW : I didn't even know it meant me until interviewers
started asking me about it. As I say, because I'd bussed
in from outside to go to school there I didn't really consider
myself a Canterbury person. I think it really means people
like Hugh Hopper and Richard Sinclair, who are genuinely
based in that area. I met them there and I'm eternally grateful
that I met someone like Hugh who provided something I don't
think anyone else could have provided. My mind doesn't dwell
on it as a place though, if I recall a former fantasy world
upon which I draw, it's Harlem in the Forties and not Canterbury
in the Fifties.
PT : Then there was a bit of a gap in your career?
RW : Well, what looks like a gap was just me living
and not putting things down for posterity. I spent a lot
of time sitting and thinking, worked on some odd things
including a play by Harold Pinter. By that time I'd become
more interested in what's now called 'World Music' - basically
it's just anything that's not done by young white men from
England or America. Or Australia, yes indeed.
PT: Then we had the string of singles on Rough Trade?
RW : I was going to a lot of political gatherings.
People would ask me who I thought the best vocalist I'd
heard that year was, and I'd say Dennis Skinner. His gigs
were a lot better than most rock gigs! Alfie (my wife) took
very good care of me, was always devising things for me
to do to prevent me from getting bored like going to a festival
of foreign films, that was a real eye-opener. Either because
of that or in spite of it, I started to get more and more
impatient with the idea that rock music is intrinically
rebellious. Compared to the marginalised lives that the
people I was becoming interested in were leading, the rock
thing was a very safe and cosy part of the establishment.
The establishment has always had a place for rebellion.
Rock and Roll didn't invent that. So then I met a woman
named Vivienne Goldman who was writing at the time about
reggae from a political point of view. It was a very enlightened
look at why black kids in London were being more un-English
than their parents. She introduced me to a friend of hers,
Geoff Travis, who was a&r man for Rough Trade Records.
Geoff said, if ever you feel like recording again, let us
know. I hadn't got any albums in my mind, but I thought
I could at least try some of these other songs that I'd
been listening to. So I deliberately went out to do a Chilean
song or a Cuban song or get some Bengalis in the studio
to play something. That generated my juices again, and it's
that which really got me back into it.
PT : So you did several singles...
RW : Well, I didn't figure I was ready for an album,
and besides they weren't supposed to be something that would
last. They were done quickly, and there was that feeling
about the punk movement which I've always liked, the same
as with Matching Mole, that it wasn't a question of a polished,
finished product, it was just the adventure of trying things.
PT : I suppose the most successful one was 'Shipbuilding'?
RW : Yes, eventually. I think what happened was,
Clive Langer and Elvis Costello had heard a few of my singles
and cottoned onto them, I think Costello liked the way I'd
done a choir-boy version of a chic disco thing ['At Last
I'm Free']. So they wrote 'Shipbuilding' and offered it
to us to do - said they considered it a Robert Wyatt song.
I was really impressed that they could do that, imagine
what somebody else would do and find it just fits them like
a glove. So Costello took us into the studio and produced
it. Basically I just sang over a backing track. The bass
player from Madness [Mark Bedford] played on it. Mind you,
it all cost £10,000 more than it earned for us. That's
what they call the price of success.
PT : An album came out which was basically the singles
plus a couple more things besides?
RW : 'Nothing Can Stop Us'. A gratuitous title. Quite
ironic really, it's meant to look like a Leftie sort of
thing, but in fact it's lifted from some American talking
in 1932 - "we should not make the mistake the English
made of trying to govern the world, we shall merely own
it. Nothing can stop us now!" At the time it was quite
contentious, but I think it's turned out to be more or less
PT : 'Animals'?
RW : 'That was Victor Schonfield, an American film
director who was making this 'Animals' film. He had a
friend of ours doing the narrative and he asked her if
she could find somebody who could do the film music. They
got permission to use a track of Talking Heads music for
the opening of the film, but they asked five hundred pounds
for something like three minutes. He paid it, but he still
had an hour and a half to fill. So I did the rest for
a hundred pounds!
PT : Then it's 'Old Rottenhat' after that?
RW : Yes it is. I'd put ideas out without having
a coherent reason for an LP. I was originally a drummer
and not a composer, it's only occasionally it comes together
enough. Thanks to the feedback from the singles though
I'd become active again and had generated enough of my
own material for an album, so I went and did it. I think
the title, 'Old Rottenhat', was influenced by Ian Dury
- he's one of the great lyricists in the English language,
a very underestimated writer. He's also very funny, and
I appreciate that. It was he who inspired me to use that
obscure old London expression that I'd heard Alfie use.
Dury ... is one of the great lyricists in the English
PT : So we're coming now towards the present time.
RW : Inexorably, yes. I did an EP called 'Work In
Progress' - Jeff wanted me to do something but I didn't
have enough for an LP so I did that instead. I really enjoyed
that - it was a nice studio. I did five things there including
a Cuban song, a Chilean song, 'Amber & The Amberlines'
(one of Hugh's tunes) and 'Pigs' for some Animal Rights
people [Deltic, Captain Sensible's label]
PT : And then your new album, 'Dondestan'?
RW : Well, I'd been moving house further north where
I could afford a room without any neighbours above for the
same money. Now I can make a lot of noise and put my cymbals
up - I've got a proper music room for the first time. The
result of that is 'Dondestan'. The trouble was, I'd got
the music, but I still hadn't really got around to the words.
Alfie, my wife, had written all these poems in a collection
called 'Out Of Season' which was ostensibly about being
in Spain in the winter, but it also seemed to me to be about
a lot of things... it would be pretentious to say what though,
I just hope it resonates in different ways for the people
listening to it. So I sang her poems to the music I was
working on and just juggled it about until it all came together.
There's one of Hugh's tunes on there as well, I like to
get one by him on a record - I'm superstitious about that
- at least I've got somebody else to blame then!
At this point, we had to leave to make way for a journalist
from some far glossier magazine than ourselves. We thank
Robert profusely, shake hands and emerge onto the sunlit
balcony of his flat. I'll leave the last words to Mr. Wyatt:
It's been a pleasure! A bit like a psychedelic experience
going through it an that fast - I must have missed quite
a bit out. I don't take any responsibility for lapses in
memory or outright lies!
Interview : Mick Dillingham and Phil
Intro : Dill - Article : Phil
With thanks to Chris Stone for tea, sunbathing, bananas