Born: Robert Wyatt, January 28, 1945 in Bristol, England to Honor Wyatt a teacher and BBC journalist. Wyatt became Robert Ellidge [or Robert Wyatt Ellidge] and moved with his mother and father, George Ellidge an industrial psychologist, to West Dulwich, England in 1950. The family included three other children from previous relationships: George's son Mark Ellidge [later a renowned photographer and a pianist on Wyatt recordings] and Honor's daughter Prudence and son Julian Glover [later to become a renowned actor]. When George was diagnosed with MS the family moved from South London to Wellington House, a large Georgian home near Canterbury in Lydden, Kent. As Robert Ellidge, Wyatt attended the Simon Langton school.
At this school Wyatt met three people who would shape his career: Hugh Hopper and his elder brother Brian Hopper, and Brian's classmate Mike Ratledge. Skiffle and Jazz became their collective interests through school and home life.
To help maintain their large country home Wyatt's parents took in lodgers, three of whom would have a further decisive effect on his career: In late 1960 Daevid Allen arrived with a huge pile of jazz records and an unconventional lifestyle and musical philosophy. He, in turn, brought in George Neidorf from Paris, an American jazz drummer who paid his rent by teaching Wyatt the art of drumming. A footloose Kevin Ayers also arrived to share in this house's Bohemian lifestyle of jazz, beat poetry and Dadaist art concepts. In the Spring of 1962 Wyatt & Neidorf stayed in Deya on the island of Majorca at the home of poet/author Robert Graves, a friend of Wyatt's parents. [Wyatt also stayed there later with Ayers in 1965]
Allen moved to London, where he was later joined by Wyatt and Hugh Hopper. They formed the Daevid Allen Trio, gigging in the Spring & Summer of 1963 until Allen moved to Paris.
In the Summer of 1964 Wyatt co-founded Wilde Flowers with the Hopper brothers & Ayers. The band included Wyatt on drums, Hugh Hopper on bass guitar, Brian Hopper on lead guitar & sax, Kevin Ayers on vocals and young rhythm guitarist Richard Sinclair. Ayers later departed and Wyatt became the vocalist, with Richard Coughlan on drums.
Whilst still the vocalist in Wilde Flowers, Wyatt co-founded Soft Machine with Daevid Allen, Kevin Ayers and Mike Ratledge in the Summer of 1966, funded by a chance meeting on a trip in Deya with a philanthropic American spectacle-manufacturer named Wes Brunson from Tulsa, who was dropping out and tuning in to the music scene. The result was that the two bands often gigged collectively during that year. Soft Machine gained a strong 'cult' following on the London 'psychedelic underground' music scene, sharing club billings with bands such as Pink Floyd and the Jimi Hendrix Experience.
In January 1967, Soft Machine's first single release was recorded ("Love Makes Sweet Music" b/w "Feelin' Reelin' Squeelin'"). Celebrating its release on February 22nd the band gave a press conference at The Speakeasy, performing that evening at The Roundhouse as the opening act for the Jimi Hendrix Experience- where Hendrix jammed with them on bass. Earlier, a collection of demos were recorded at De Lane Lea Studios with producer Giorgio Gomelsky, but not officially released until 1971 as two compilations on the French BYG Records label.
During the summer of 1967 Wyatt toured France with Soft Machine, performing at psychedelic events along the Cote d’Azur such as Jean-Jacques Lebel’s “Sunlove Happening” and Eddie Barclay’s “La Nuit Psychedelique”. For three weeks they provided daily musical “transmissions hallucinatoires” for wildly popular performances of “Le Désir Attrapé par la Queue”, a Pablo Picasso play produced by Lebel at the Festival de la Libre Expression outside Saint-Tropez. A legendary performance of “Do It Again” helped Soft Machine to make an enormous impression in France and, by the end of the Summer of Love, they became the favorite band of the French avant-garde.
On the way back Daevid Allen was refused re-entry to England and reluctantly stayed in France (subsequently moving on to various projects before forming Gong). Meanwhile, Wyatt, Ratledge and Ayers decided to carry on Soft Machine as a trio to fulfill what was now a host of UK engagements.
In February 1968, Soft Machine embarked on a three-month American tour (opening for the Jimi Hendrix Experience), recording their first album during their touring schedule in New York over four days in April, with production handled by Tom Wilson (2) and former Animals bassist and Hendrix producer Chas Chandler. Although quickly made and not particularly well-recorded, the band's album "The Soft Machine" is now considered a classic of the extraordinarily creative post-psychedelic and pre-progressive period of the late 60's. The band split up in December 1968, re-formed in February 1969 and carried on until the late 1970's through many line-up changes and leaving no original member on board. It re-formed briefly in 1980 and 1984.
Shortly after recording the third Soft Machine album (during which time he developed his keyboard talents) Wyatt released his first solo album, "The End Of An Ear". He recorded with pianist Keith Tippett in the Keith Tippett Group in 1970 and in Tippett's 'jazz big-band' Centipede (see Centipede (3)) in 1971.
Robert Wyatt then formed the band Matching Mole in October 1971. "Matching Mole" is a clever mis-pronounciation/spelling of "La Machine Molle", the French title of William Burroughs' novel "The Soft Machine". Matching Mole disbanded in 1972 after Wyatt went with his future wife, Alfreda Benge, to Italy. On his return to the UK he was in the midst of reforming Matching Mole when at a birthday party for Gilli Smyth, on June 1, 1973, he fell from a third-floor window in a drunken stupor which left him paralyzed from the waist down.
A benefit concert by Pink Floyd helped raise funds and spirits for Wyatt's recovery back into the music business. Wyatt's album Rock Bottom was recorded three months after he was released from hospital in 1974 with the aid of Pink Floyd's Manor Mobile and Nick Mason as producer. Since then, Wyatt has achieved a successful and well-respected solo career outside the mainstream of popular music, working with a whole spectrum of renowned musicians. One of his most popular works as a solo artist has been "Shipbuilding", written for him by Elvis Costello and Clive Langer.
Robert Wyatt Discography
- 197 Vocals
- 196 Instruments & Performance
- 260 Writing & Arrangement
- 20 Featuring & Presenting
- 23 Production
- 5 Technical
- 9 Visual
- 17 Acting, Literary & Spoken