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“My favourite ever Robert was my dad; my second favourite, Robert Wyatt.”
(John Peel, 03 April 1980)

Robert wyatt shipbuilding02:53

Robert wyatt shipbuilding

'Shipbuilding' on the Old Grey Whistle Test, 1983

Robert Wyatt (born Robert Wyatt-Ellidge, 28 January 1945, Bristol) is an English musician and founding member of the influential Canterbury scene band Soft Machine, with a long and distinguished solo career. He is married to English painter and songwriter Alfreda Benge.

Wyatt released his first solo album, The End of an Ear, in 1970. A year later, he left Soft Machine and formed his own band, Matching Mole. On 1 June 1973, during a party, an inebriated Wyatt fell from a fourth floor window. He was paralysed from the waist down and consequently uses a wheelchair. The injury led Wyatt to abandon rock drumming and embark on a solo career … (read more at Wikipedia).

Links To Peel

Robert Wyatt is one of the few performers whose music appeared regularly on Peel's shows from the late 1960s until the DJ's death in 2004. In addition, he became a personal friend of Peel and his wife Sheila and - unlike many of Peel's earlier musical heroes - retained their affection and admiration over the years.

Wyatt was first heard as a member of Soft Machine, who were regulars at London's UFO club, which Peel attended during his weeks of onshore leave from his DJ duties on the pirate radio ship Radio London, and sang on their 1967 single, "Love Makes Sweet Music", not a hit at the time but later a collector's item.. After touring the US in 1968 as support band to Jimi Hendrix, they split up, reformed as a trio and became popular with British audiences, not least via Peel's programmes, with albums and Top Gear sessions (including Wyatt's song "The Moon in June", which namechecks Peel in the course of describing the pleasures of session recording "here at the BBC"). In 1971, Wyatt left to form his own band, Matching Mole.

It was in this period that Peel and Wyatt struck up a friendship; Peel was gradually becoming wary of the more cultish aspects of the hippy underground, and Wyatt, who came from a literary background and had been a jazz (and pop) loving bohemian since his schooldays, shared his scepticism. Peel was also uneasy with the Soft Machine's move from short songs to long, increasingly complex instrumentals, which continued after the departure of Wyatt. Matching Mole's work was also marked by instrumental exploration, but they found time to include songs composed by Wyatt, including "O Caroline", which became a Peel favourite.

John Peel on Robert Wyatt's accident - Top Gear - 5 June 197301:07

John Peel on Robert Wyatt's accident - Top Gear - 5 June 1973

Peel on Wyatt's accident, Top Gear, 05 June 1973

Wyatt's career was profoundly affected by the accident in 1973 which led to him being confined to a wheelchair; Peel's on-air response to this was emotional; he sounded as if he was holding back tears. He not only asked his listeners to write to "Wyatty" during his stay in hospital, but hosted the benefit concert at the Rainbow Theatre later that year, which featured Pink Floyd and Soft Machine. He also became supportive of Wyatt's solo career, which began with an album, Rock Bottom, and perhaps more surprisingly with a hit single, a version of Neil Diamond's "I'm A Believer", which had been a hit for the Monkees in 1967. This led to demands from Virgin, Wyatt's record label, for more hit singles. The label had begun by recording other artists with appeal to Peel's audience but no obvious chart potential - Henry Cow, Slapp Happy, Gong, Ivor Cutler, Hatfield And The North - but it now seemed to Wyatt to be a record company like any other. He refused to go along with their wishes and as a result was unable to record albums under his own name, due to the terms of his contract.

He continued to work with artists whom he respected, largely British avant-garde jazz musicians and Cambridge and Canterbury rock-based experimentalists; a favourite of Peel's at this time was Michael Mantler's setting of Edward Gorey's stories, The Hapless Child, on which Wyatt provided the narration. But at the end of the 1970s he was able to get around his contractual problems with the help of Rough Trade Records, for whom he began to record singles and EPs. By 1980 artists and listeners no longer thought of LPs as the only possible recorded format for non-commercial music, so Wyatt could release a succession of songs on 45s, many of them reflecting his left-wing political beliefs. Peel played these, thereby introducing Wyatt's work to a new generation of listeners; the 1982 version of "Shipbuilding", Elvis Costello's sardonic comment on the Falklands War, achieved a high ranking in that year's Festive Fifty (to Peel's delight) and even made the national singles charts.

Since then, Wyatt has continued to work and record steadily for three decades, both under his own name and as a collaborator with a wide range of jazz and pop artists. He is one of the few musicians of his generation whose reputation has grown since his initial success. Unlike many of his contemporaries he has never been defined by the era in which he achieved fame, and he has always been wary of showbusiness and the commercial compromises it demands - attributes which he shared with Peel. The DJ admired Wyatt's intellect, valued his friendship and spoke warmly of him on numerous occasions. In Margrave of the Marshes (p.281), Sheila Ravenscroft recounts how, when Wyatt visited Peel Acres for her fiftieth birthday party,

the field was so muddy that his wheelchair didn't have a hope of making it across, so Thomas and his pal Nick carried him, neither having any real idea of the identity of their cargo until John crept up behind them and said, "Do you realise you're carrying one of the greatest men alive?"

Festive Fifty Entries

N.B. Wyatt also provided lead vocals on Working Week's 1984 Festive Fifty entry 'Venceremos (We Will Win)' (#50) and played piano on Scritti Politti's 'The Sweetest Girl' (1981 Festive Fifty #22 and 1982 Festive Fifty (AT) #27). See also Matching Mole.

Peelenium

Sessions

Two sessions. The second was included in the Peel Sessions: The Best 125. Wyatt also took part in the one-off Carol Concert session, recorded 1970-12-08, first broadcast 26 December 1970.

1. Recorded 1972-12-05. First broadcast: 19 December 1972. Repeated: 13 March 1973.

  • Little Child / Godsong/Hatfield / We Got An Arts Council Grant / Righteous Rhumba

2.Recorded 1974-09-10. First broadcast: 26 September 1974. Repeated 17 May 1977.

  • Alifib / Soup Song / Sea Song / I’m A Believer

Other Shows Played

(The list below was compiled only from the database of this site and Lorcan's Tracklistings Archive. Please add further information if known.)

1969
1970
  • 24 October 1970: To Marc Everywhere (2xLP - Rock Buster (Sampler LP)) CBS
  • 21 November 1970: To Saintly Bridget/To Oz Alien Daevyd And Gilly (LP - The End Of An Ear) CBS
  • 19 December 1970: To Caravan and Brother Jim (LP - The End Of An Ear) CBS
1974
  • 05 September 1974: Little Red Robin Hood Hit The Road (LP-Rock Bottom) Virgin (Peel mentions the upcoming Wyatt concert “with famous friends” at the Drury Lane that Sunday. Also promises to play his single later in the show – presumably 'I'm A Believer'.)
  • 24 September 1974: I'm A Believer (7") Virgin
  • 10 October 1974: I'm A Believer (7") Virgin
1975
  • D017: Team Spirit (LP - Ruth Is Stranger Than Richard)
1976
  • 17 August 1976: Soup Song (LP – Ruth Is Stranger Than Richard) Virgin (Soft Machine retrospective)
  • 17 August 1976: I'm A Believer (single) Virgin (JP: "Robert Wyatt doing the seemingly impossible and making Neil Diamond acceptable to the sensitive man, and woman too, I shouldn't wonder ...") (Soft Machine retrospective)
1980
  • 31 March 1980: Caimanera (7") Rough Trade (Peel expresses his delight that Rough Trade have persuaded Robert Wyatt to start recording again.)
  • 01 April 1980: unknown (7") (probably either 'Arauco' or 'Caimenara')
  • 03 April 1980: (JP: “My favourite ever Robert was my dad: my second favourite, Robert Wyatt.”) Caimanera (7 inch-B side of Arauco) Rough Trade
  • 15 April 1980: Caimanera (7 inch-B side of Arauco) Rough Trade (JP: “Redolent of the sun-scorched pampas, I shouldn't wonder.”)
  • 02 July 1980: Caimanera (7") Rough Trade
  • 08 October 1980: Strange Fruit (7" - At Last I Am Free / Strange Fruit) RT 052
  • 23 October 1980: At Last I'm Free
1981
1982
  • 17 March 1982: Born Again Cretin (album - Nothing Can Stop Us) Rough Trade ROUGH 35
  • 18 March 1982: At Last I Am Free (album - Nothing Can Stop Us) Rough Trade ROUGH 35
  • 23 September 1982: Shipbuilding (single) Rough Trade
  • 12 October 1982: Memories Of You (b-side 'Shipbuilding' 7") Rough Trade
  • 14 October 1982: Shipbuilding (single) Rough Trade
  • 21 October 1982: Shipbuilding (single) Rough Trade
  • 30 December 1982: (JP: “I must confess, I got more pleasure from this (the next record) than anything else. I was very very happy about this.”) Shipbuilding (7 inch) Rough Trade (JP: “And a great sadness that he wasn't considered bright and breezy enough for the radioplay that he most surely deserved...well voted, those of you who voted for that.”) FF#2
1983
  • 09 June 1983: Muddy Mouse (album - Ruth Is Stranger Than Richard) Virgin
1984
1985
1986
1987
1990
  • 23 June 1990 (BFBS) (Peel 150 (BFBS)): 'Te Recuerdo Amanda (12"-Work In Progress)' (Rough Trade)
  • 09 August 1990: Shipbuilding (7") Rough Trade (JP: “The opposite side of the coin to the 'Gotcha' mentality, and was there ever a better anti-war song written than that?”)
1991
1992
  • 25 July 1992: (JP: “This next one is for the Pig, and it’s a particular favourite from 1975.”) Yesterday Man (Various Artists LP – V) Virgin
  • 03 August 1992 (BFBS): Yesterday Man (LP - V) Virgin

1993

1994
1995
  • 30 June 1995 (with Hugh Hopper & Kramer): Free Will & Testament (album - A Remark Hugh Made)
1997
  • 06 January 1997: I'm A Believer (10/9/74) (John Peel's Classic Sessions)
  • 07 August 1997: Free Will And Testament (album - Shleep) Hannibal HNCD 1418
  • 12 August 1997: Freewill and Testament (LP – Shleep) Hannibal
  • 13 August 1997: The Duchess (LP – Shleep) Hannibal
  • 14 August 1997: A Sunday in Madrid (LP – Shleep) Hannibal
  • 25 September 1997 (BFBS): Heaps Of Sheeps (promo CD - Shleep) Hannibal
  • 01 October 1997: Heaps Of Sheeps (CD - Shleep) Hannibal
  • 08 October 1997: The Duchess (LP – Shleep) Hannibal
  • 15 October 1997: The Duchess (LP – Shleep) Hannibal
  • 23 October 1997 (BFBS): Maryan (CD-Shleep) Hannibal (JP discusses party to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Radio 1: “The nicest thing about it was that Robert Wyatt was there, and as he's in a wheelchair these days, not awfully easy for him to get to events. Almost everybody that I spoke to at the time and have spoken to since said to me, "Wasn't it great that Robert Wyatt was there?" Or even more excitedly, they'd say to me, "I've actually spoken to Robert Wyatt!", and I thought, well, any group of people where Robert Wyatt is held in high esteem is a group of people that I would wish to be part of.”)
  • 05 November 1997: Was A Friend (LP – Shleep) Hannibal
  • 13 November 1997: Free Will And Testament (CD-Shleep) Hannibal
  • 04 December 1997 (BFBS): A Sunday In Madrid (CD-Shleep) Hannibal
  • 11 December 1997 (BFBS): A Sunday In Madrid (CD-Shleep) Hannibal
  • 18 December 1997: Out Of Season (album - Shleep) Hannibal
1999
2000
2002
  • 02 January 2002 (with Pascal Comelade): September Song (EP – September) Les Disques Du Soleil Et De L'Acier (Peel is very happy that one of his favourite songs has now been sung by one of this favourite singers.)
  • 05 February 2002 (with Pascal Comelade): September Song (EP – September) Les Disques Du Soleil Et De L'Acier
  • 07 March 2002 (Radio Eins) (with Pascal Comelade): September Song (EP – September) Les Disques Du Soleil Et De L'Acier
  • 01 October 2002: Love (LP- Instant Karma- A Tribute To John Lennon) Uncut
  • 03 October 2002 (Radio Mafia): Love (LP-Instant Karma- A Tribute To John Lennon) Uncut
  • 15 October 2002: Love (LP- Instant Karma- A Tribute To John Lennon) Uncut
2003
2004
Other
  • The Peel Tapes Vol.3: Mass Medium
  • Best Of Peel Vol 35: Costa (CD-Dondestan) Rough Trade Germany (Presents for JP's 52nd birthday included the Robert Wyatt CD (from which a track is played) and some beer from "the oldest brewery in the world.")
  • Best Of Peel Vol 38: Rangers In The Nightst (Compilation CD-Ambition - The Cherry Red Story Vol. 1) Cherry Red

See Also

External Links

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