b. 28 January 1945, Bristol, Avon, England. As the drummer, vocalist and guiding spirit of the original Soft Machine, Robert Wyatt established a style that merged the avant garde with English eccentricity. His first solo album, 1970's The End Of An Ear, presaged his departure from the above group, although its radical content resulted in a muted reception. Wyatt's next venture, the excellent Matching Mole, was bedevilled by internal dissent, but a planned relaunch was forcibly abandoned following a tragic fall from a window, which left him paralyzed and confined to a wheelchair. Rock Bottom, the artist's next release, was composed while Wyatt lay in hospital. This heartfelt, deeply personal collection was marked by an aching vulnerability that successfully avoided any hint of self-pity. This exceptional album was succeeded by an unlikely UK hit single in the shape of an idiosyncratic reading of the Monkees hit 'I'm A Believer'. Ruth Is Stranger Than Richard, released in 1975, was a more open collection, and balanced original pieces with outside material, including a spirited reading of jazz bass player Charlie Haden's 'Song For Che'. Although Wyatt, a committed Marxist, would make frequent guest appearances, his own career was shelved until 1980 when a single comprised of two South American songs of liberation became the first in a series of politically motivated releases undertaken for Rough Trade Records. These performances were subsequently compiled on Nothing Can Stop Us, which was then enhanced by the addition of 'Shipbuilding', a haunting anti-Falklands War composition, specifically written for Wyatt by Elvis Costello, which was a minor chart entry in 1983. Fluctuating health undermined Wyatt's recording ambitions, but his commitment remained undiminished. He issued singles in aid of Namibia and the British Miners' Hardship Fund, and contributed a compassionate soundtrack to 1982's harrowing Animals. Wyatt's subsequent 80s and early 90s recordings, Old Rotten Hat, Dondestan, and the mini-album A Short Break, proved to be as compelling as his impressive 70s oeuvre.
Now relocated in Lincolnshire, after a number of years in post-Franco Spain, Wyatt returned to music in 1997 with one of his best ever albums. Shleep proved to be as brilliantly idiosyncratic as anything Wyatt had ever recorded. Surrounded by musicians he genuinely respected, the feeling of the album was one of mutual accord. Brian Eno's production enhanced Wyatt's beautifully frail vocals. Highlights included 'The Duchess', a poignant and honest song for his wife (and frequent lyricist) Alfie (b. Alfreda Benge), whose gentle illustrations have graced many of his album covers. Other noteworthy tracks included the wandering 'Maryan', the deeply logical 'Free Will And Testament', and the lightly mocking paean to 'Bob Dylan's 115th Dream', 'Blues In Bob Minor'. Shleep was rightly received as a minor masterpiece, by a man treasured by all who possess a conscience and a heart.
Wyatt's music was celebrated in a series of 1999 shows by a hand picked group of musicians led by the trombonist Annie Whitehead. A spin-off tour was inaugurated the following year. Wyatt received further acclaim in 2003 for his new studio album, Cuckooland, the fruits of his self-confessed one song a year work rate. The jazz influence on Wyatt's work was more pronounced than ever with input from Whitehead, Gilad Atzmon and Carla Bley's daughter, Karen Mantler. The album was unexpectedly nominated for the Mercury Music Prize in 2004.
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