Robert Wyatt  

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Robert Wyatt (born Robert Wyatt-Ellidge, 28 January 1945, in Bristol) is an English musician, and a former member of the influential Canterbury scene band Soft Machine.


Early life

As a teenager, he lived with his parents in Lydden near Dover. Here he was taught the drums by visiting American jazz drummer George Neidorf.

In 1962, Wyatt and Neidorf moved to Majorca where they stayed near the poet Robert Graves. The following year, Wyatt returned to England and joined the Daevid Allen Trio with Daevid Allen and Hugh Hopper. Allen subsequently left for France to form Gong, and Wyatt and Hopper formed the Wilde Flowers with Richard Sinclair, Kevin Ayers and Brian Hopper. Wyatt was initially the drummer in the Wilde Flowers, but following the departure of Ayers, he became lead singer.

Soft Machine and Matching Mole

In 1966, the Wilde Flowers disintegrated, and Wyatt and Mike Ratledge formed the Soft Machine with Ayers and Allen. Here Wyatt both drummed and sang, an unusual combination for a stage rock band.

In 1970, after chaotic touring, three albums and increasing internal conflicts in Soft Machine, Wyatt released his first solo album, The End of an Ear, which combined his vocal and multi-instrumental talents with tape effects.

A year later, Wyatt left Soft Machine and, besides participating in the fusion bigband Centipede, formed his own band Matching Mole (a pun on "machine molle", the French for Soft Machine), a largely instrumental outfit. After two albums and a split, Matching Mole were about to embark on a third record when, on 1 June, 1973, during a drunken party, Wyatt jumped from a third floor window. He was paralysed from the waist down (paraplegia) and subsequently confined to a wheelchair. On 4 November that year, Pink Floyd performed two benefit concerts, in one day, at London's Rainbow Theatre, supported by Soft Machine, and compered by John Peel. The concerts raised a reported £10,000 for Wyatt.

Solo career

The injury led Wyatt to abandon the Matching Mole project, and his drumming. He promptly embarked on a solo-career, and with musician friends (including Mike Oldfield, the poet Ivor Cutler and Henry Cow guitarist Fred Frith), he released his acclaimed solo-album Rock Bottom. Later that same year he 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 his performance of "I'm a Believer," on the grounds that his wheelchair-bound appearance 'was not suitable for family viewing', the producer wanting Wyatt to appear on a normal chair. Wyatt won the day and 'lost his rag but not the wheel chair', but gave a performance that could be described as disgruntled.

Wyatt's next solo-album, Ruth Is Stranger Than Richard, was more jazz-led, with free jazz influences and nods to African music. Guest musicians included Brian Eno on guitar, synthesizer and "direct inject anti-jazz ray gun". Rock Bottom was produced by Nick Mason and Wyatt would subsequently sing lead vocals on Mason's 1981, and first, solo album Fictitious Sports (with songwriting credits going to Carla Bley).

Throughout the rest of the 1970s, Wyatt guested with various acts, working with Henry Cow (documented on their Henry Cow Concerts album), Hatfield and the North, Carla Bley and Michael Mantler. His solo work during the early 1980s was increasingly politicised, and Wyatt became a member of the Communist Party of Britain. In 1982, his interpretation of Elvis Costello's anti-Falklands War song "Shipbuilding", the last in a series of political cover-versions (collected as Nothing Can Stop Us), reached number 35 in the UK singles chart.

In the late 1980s, after collaborations with other acts such as News from Babel as well as Japanese recording artist Ryuichi Sakamoto, he and his wife Alfreda Benge spent a sabbatical in Spain, before returning in 1991 with a comeback album Dondestan, considered by many to be his best work since Rock Bottom. His 1997 album Shleep was also highly acclaimed.

Wyatt contributed the haunting "Masters of the Field", as well as "The Highest Gander", "La Forêt Rouge" and "Hors Champ" to the soundtrack of the acclaimed 2001 film Winged Migration. He can be seen in the DVD's Special Features section, and is praised by the film's composer Bruno Coulais as being a big influence in his younger days.

Recent years

In 2001, Wyatt was curator of the Meltdown festival, and sang "Comfortably Numb" during David Gilmour's performance at the festival, recorded on Gilmour's DVD David Gilmour in Concert.

In 2003, Wyatt put out his album Cuckooland which was nominated for the Mercury Music Prize.

In 2004, Wyatt collaborated with Björk on the song "Submarine" which was released on her fifth album Medúlla.

"He lives in Louth, Lincolnshire and he has equipment in his bedroom where he records himself and his albums. We brought a G4 and Pro Tools and recorded it in like one afternoon. He's such an extraordinary singer. Before he left, he insisted to give us a scale of his voice, where he sings all the tones – and he has the most amazing range, like 5 or 6 octaves. What's really interesting about his range is that each octave is of a totally different character. We actually ended up using that later for "Oceania", we used what he calls the 'Wyattron'." — Björk, XFM 25 August 2004

In 2006, Wyatt played with David Gilmour on Gilmour's new release On An Island, singing and playing cornet and percussion on "Then I Close My Eyes." Wyatt performed as a guest at Gilmour's series of Royal Albert Hall concerts, playing his cornet solo for this song. Wyatt also read passages from the novels of Haruki Murakami for Max Richter's album Songs from Before.

In 2006, Wyatt collaberated with Steve Nieve and Muriel Teodori on an opera "Welcome to the Voice". Wyatt interprets the character 'the Friend', both singing and playing pocket trumpet. "Welcome to the Voice" is an opera in one unique scene, on the street infront of an opera house. Robert's contribution to the recording was recorded at Phil Manzanera's home studio in North London. "Welcome to the Voice" is released in May on Deutsche Grammophon, and the recording features Robert Wyatt, Barbara Bonney, Sting, Amanda Roocroft, Elvis Costello, Nathalie Manfrino, Brodsky Quartet, Sara Fulgoni, Ned Rothenberg, Antoine Quessada, Marc Ribot, Steve Nieve and Muriel Teodori.

In March 2007, it was announced that Wyatt was working on a solo album for release in the autumn. By May, 2007, it transpired that Wyatt's new release, tentatively titled Comic Opera, would be released on the Domino Records label, a large independent label housing such big indie stars as Arctic Monkeys, Pavement, Neutral Milk Hotel and Elliott Smith. The website of Domino stated: "it will be released later on this year. We've heard it once and it's sounding very good indeed. We are big fans of Robert's work here so this is a happy day for us."


Recently the noun "Wyatting", named obviously after Robert Wyatt, appeared in some blogs and music magazines to describe the practice of playing weird tracks on a pub jukebox to annoy the other pub goers. The name was coined by Carl Neville, a 36-year-old English teacher from London, because one of the favourites LPs for this effect is Dondestan.

Robert Wyatt was quoted in The Guardian: as saying "I think it's really funny," and "I'm very honoured at the idea of becoming a verb [sic]."<ref>"Wyatting (vb): when jukeboxes go mad", Ned Beauman,Monday July 10, 2006, The Guardian [1]</ref> However, when asked if he would ever try it himself, he said "Oh no. I don't really like disconcerting people. Although often when I try to be normal I disconcert anyway."

Solo discography



  • The Peel Sessions (1974, "Alifib"/"Soup Song"/"Sea Song"/"I'm a Believer")
  • Work In Progress (1984, "Biko"/"Amber and the Amberines"/"Yolanda"/"Te Recuerdo Amanda")
  • 4 Tracks EP (1984, "I'm a Believer"/"Yesterday Man"/"Team Spirit"/"Memories")
  • Airplay (2002, "Fridge"/"When Access Was a Noun "/"Salt-Ivy"/"Signed Curtain")


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