ROBERT Wyatt rose to prominence as part of Canterbury’s Soft Machine who released a string of highly inventive albums before he left in 1970 to pursue a solo career. Marcus O’Dair’s new biography has been written with Wyatt’s full co-operation and input. It is a fascinating read with a free flowing style reminiscent of Wyatt’s own sonic adventures.
Wyatt was born in 1945 into a middle class family – his mother was a BBC journalist whilst his father was an industrial psychologist. They moved in bohemian circles being on good terms with Robert Graves, spending time with him and his literary circle in Majorca. O’Dair is good on Wyatt’s formative years that find the highly bright teenager preferring poetry and painting to the stuffy classrooms of his Canterbury Grammar school. Wyatt’s life took an unexpected turn in 1973 when he fell from the fourth floor window of a friend’s flat in Maida Vale leaving him being paralysed from the waist down and confined to a wheel chair ever since. His seminal album Rock Bottom followed soon after his accident in 1974 and is widely regarded as his masterpiece. Since then he has released six solo albums alongside film soundtracks and collaborations with artists as varied as Nick Mason, Björk and Paul Weller. Each LP has borne the distinctive artwork created by his long-term partner and wife the poet Alfreda Benge who also contributes lyrics to his songs. John Peel was a long time fan of Wyatt’s and it is easy to see why: like Peel, Robert Wyatt is quintessentially English, existing outside the musical mainstream, quietly creating his own world.
Read this wonderful biography and remind yourself of the genius of Robert Wyatt. JM