Wednesday, May 17, 2006

 

Robert Wyatt


My prolonged professional experience in the music business had rather humble beginnings, whilst still at school I managed to get the coveted place of Saturday job in my local record shop, at that stage it was called Roylance, in Barkingside. The manager who later became a good friend was called John. He was a good few years older than me and had been around at the time of the summer of love, and during that period he had the reputation of being rather a wild man. Now John walked with a limp, and the reason for this was quite simple and almost unbelievable. While tripping on acid he had walked out of a first store window and had been lucky enough to only have got away with only broken limbs, and this he had done twice, I can never quite remember if it was the same window! Now the reason for this little piece of history is that a similar thing happened to Robert Wyatt in in 1973. According to his bio it was while under the effects of alcohol that he exited from a third floor window and a party but for him the result was much more serious as it left him in a wheelchair. Now part of the reason for talking about Robert Wyatt is that it was his nimble fingers tickling the ivory on yesterdays 'Sweetest Girl', also I must confess to having rather a soft spot for the man and some of his music. Now let me explain, sometimes I feel quite guilty as there are some records that are widely considered to be classics but they do nothing at all for me, now one of these is 'Ruth Is Stranger Than Richard' great title, great sleeve but the music let's just say it goes over my head. Indeed up until his Eighties output the only thing that I even half liked of his was the tongue in cheek (?) surprise UK hit he had with a cover of the Monkeys 'I'm A Believer'. Between 1980 and 1984 Wyatt released seven singles for Rough Trade Records, the first five of which have been compiled as 'Nothing Can Stop Us' a title that maybe betrays his political alliance with the left wing. The first of the 45rpms was of all things in Spanish with b side being a beautiful cover version of 'Caimanera', somewhat out of step with things in 1980 but nevertheless it worked. His next single was his own take on Chic's 'At Last I Am Free', and this time he really did stamp his own mark on the song, with its almost dreamlike quality underlined by his frail voice it was almost enough to break my cynical heart. My Own personal favorite from his series of singles was 'Stalin Wasn't Stallin', a Barber Shop Quartet Accapela number that recounts with more than a degree of humour how Stalin whipped Adolf's arse. Now as this really is for me Wyatt's best period I can't resist a third song and again it's a cover version, but he does do them well, his almost straight run through of Elvis Costello's anti-Falklands song 'Shipbuilding', and despite all the respect that I have for Costello it is the Wyatt version that wins hands down, it's his voice that does it.
In the years that followed he has continued to record this has included such well received albums as 'Dondestan' and 'Shleep', he even lent his voice to the track 'Submarine' on Bjork's 2004 album 'Medulla'. Though as far as I am concerned his golden age was with those Rough Trade singles.
Wyatt today, after having spent some years living in Spain, is now back in England and living in Lincolnshire, where he has his own recording studio in his bedroom, he records a little and paints as he pleases and dabbles in politics. As for my old friend John the last time I saw him he still enjoyed a pint of Guinness with the ever present joint in his hand and he no longer drops acid!

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