Listening Room columnist
Today, January 28, English musician Robert Wyatt turns 65. A founding member and drummer of the 1960’s British rock/jazz experimental band, Soft Machine, he has maintained a low profile in the music industry but has been very influential on other artists.
The Tears for Fears song “I Believe” from the 1985 Album Songs from the Big Chair was dedicated to him.
The Soft Machine was the support act /opening act in America & Europe for the Jimi Hendrix Experience from 1967 to 1968. (As an aside, Soft Machine opened for the Jimi Hendrix Experience when they played at the Westchester County Center in White Plains in April 1968).
After leaving Soft Machine in 1971, Wyatt formed the short lived Matching Mole.
On the recording of their third album in 1973,Wyatt fell from a third floor window which resulted in his being paralyzed from the waist down.
Now in a wheel-chair with his rock drumming days behind him, Wyatt embarked on a solar career with the help of such musical friends as guitarist Mike Oldfield, drummer Nick Mason from Pink Floyd, and Brian Eno, who would later go on to produce U2.
In 1974, Wyatt put out a cover of Neil Diamond’s “I’m a Believer” ( a big hit for the Monkees in the 1960s), which became a top 30 hit in Britain. His first solo album, Rock Bottom, ( also released in 1974) was critically acclaimed and made many critics’ “best of” lists at the end of the year, including those in America. Rock Bottom is a work of personal conviction and deals with his unfortunate accident.
The songs are uplifting and painful all at once. His second LP, 1975’s Ruth is Stanger than Richard, had free jazz influences with his beautiful, frail
passionate voice in the background. A great work and more accessible than Rock Bottom. A great LP for musicians to listen and learn.
In the 1980’s Wyatt became a member of the Communist Party of Great Britain and to this day, a good portion of his his music has been political; haunting but beautiful at the same time . His 1983 interpretation of Elvis Costello’s Falkland’s anti-war song “Shipbuilding” became a top 40 hit in Britain.
His 1984 cover of Peter Gabriel’s “Biko,” about apartheid in South Africa, was a underground classic on many radio stations around the world at the time. Many folks considered Wyatt’s version of “Biko” the definitive version.
In recent years, Wyatt continues to record and occasionally performed. In 2006, he was a guest on David Gilmour’s On An Island LP. In 2008, the Domino record label reissued a number of Wyatt’s albums including Rock Bottom (1974) Nothing Can Stop Us (1982), Old Rottenhat (1985) and Shleep (1997) on both CD and vinyl. In 2009, Wyatt appeared on the LP Around Robert Wyatt by the French Orchestra National De Jazz.
Over the past 40 years, Wyatt has recorded some stunning music, full of hope and emotion that has remained undiscovered by many. He shows no interests in the “show business” of music. Wyatt plans to record a new LP by the end of this year.