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 Robert Wyatt - Ptolemaic Terrascope Vol. 3 - N°1 - January 1992


ROBERT WYATT



 



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 interview.

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 the floor.

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 together then?

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 pretty appalling.

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.


"One half of the Wilde Flowers eventually became Caravan, and the rest became that other lot."

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]



 > Zoom

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 all?

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?

"Hendrix was trying to turn it from pop into something more dangerous..."

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 for you.

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?


"I'd 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 Ear'?

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 Bill MacCormick?

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 though?

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 you then?

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 or something...

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 do singles.

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 Than Richard'.

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 contract!


  "I 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 true.


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.


  "Ian Dury ... is one of the great lyricists in the English language."  


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 and organisation.