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Canterbury Scene definition

With many other types of English progressive music developing mostly in London, it may at first seem strange that the old pilgrimage centre and relatively quiet cathedral city of Canterbury, became the centre of this very English form of progressive music and jazz fusion. Originally the Wilde Flowers, a teenage band of members living in and around Canterbury, playing a mix of pop, R'n'B and band members with a developing love of jazz, was formed in the 60's and became the seedling from which the Canterbury Scene grew. Australian beatnik Daevid Allen during a long stop-over at Robert Wyatt's parent's home, a refuge for many left field artists, was to catalyse the evolution of the Wilde Flowers into the fledging Soft Machine and the development of some avant music during the English psychedelic and underground period. From 1963 to 1969, the Wilde Flowers included most of the figures who later formed Canterbury's two best known bands, (The) Soft Machine (Robert Wyatt, Kevin Ayers, Hugh Hopper) and Caravan (Pye Hastings, David Sinclair, Richard Sinclair, Richard Coughlan).

Canterbury was then to be the cradle for several of the more freewheeling British bands of the post-psychedelic era. While fans would suggest this is the home of an English musical quirkiness tempered with quite a bit of whimsy, within the Canterbury Scene's musical spectrum any similarities between Canterbury's major bands, (e.g. Soft Machine, Caravan, Gong, Robert Wyatt, Kevin Ayers, Hatfield & the North, Egg, National Health), are not immediately obvious*. Most bands will be found employing a clever fusion of rock rhythms and jazz improvisation with intellectual song-writing and varying strengths of psychedelia - some would too include folk elements (e.g. Spirogyra), others blues (e.g. Carol Grimes and Delivery). In addition, a number of bands employed various elements from classical music, for instance those bands with Dave Stewart playing keyboards. Whilst there have been a handful of excellent and distinctly different guitarists to play with Canterbury bands (e.g. Andy Summers, Allan Holdsworth, John Etheridge, Steve Hillage, Phil Miller), the lead instrument of choice has been keyboards. One English peculiarity of Canterbury is what the late John Peel called the 'School of Anti-song' because of particular Wyatt, Ayers and Richard Sinclair's approaches to vocals and perhaps the whimsy. More recently Richard Sinclair's vocal style has perhaps accurately been labelled as 'English jazz singing' by Jazzwise (i.e. singing jazz with an English rather than the usual American accent). In addition Canterbury musicians have experimented as avant garde, free jazz players, e.g. instance Elton Dean, Lol Coxhill, Steve Miller.

(*However, once you've heard some Canterbury bands the commonality becomes more obvious - chord sequencing e.g. Caveman Hughscore's electric piano opening on the tune 'More Than Nothing', the vocals, the lyrics etc.)

Both the Soft Machine and Caravan were popular in England's psychedelic/ underground scene before releasing their first albums in 1968, with Machine completing on level footing with Pink Floyd. However, by the early 70's a series of fragmenting changes of bands' line-ups, (Soft Machine went through about 30) and the subsequent formation of new bands, rapidly broadened Canterbury's range, with many newer musicians with only loose and in fact, no previous Canterbury connections. Early Soft Machine member Daevid Allen formed Gong in Paris. Both Kevin Ayers and Robert Wyatt left the Softs because of musical developments they did not like, to begin their own solo careers. By the mid-70's, most the old and new Canterbury bands had progressed away from psychedelia, developing their distinct forms of progressive rock some embracing jazz fusion, many playing extended jams with now limited lyrical input (e.g. Hatfield and The Norths, National Health, Gilgamesh). Caravan became more folky. However, as the 70's progressed several Canterbury bands would lose most of the rock element from their music. Gong retained their psychedelic side longest, but with the departure of Daevid Allen and Steve Hillage in the mid 70's, the band evolved into the percussion-oriented, jazz rock group Gong, which eventually became the modern day Gongzilla. Daevid Allen regained Gong's name in the 90's and through his solo work and with his University of Errors, is still evidently producing psychedelia. Steve Hillage's form of psychedelia evolved into the glissando rock of his own band and then into electronica, by the end of the 70's. In particular, Hillage through his work as a successful record producer of new bands from the 80's, develop his form of electronica through other bands. This music lost much of its complexity e.g. few riffs played over and over, rather than dozens per tune that previously had often typified prog, into a very popular form that is the antithesis of prog, i.e. the various forms of house music, with associated remixing/turntablism. For instance, Gong's "You" got the remix treatment in the 90's - but then to reflect his range of activities, Hillage has also produced and played guitar for Algerian Rai singer, Rachid Taha for over 20 years.

Many of Britain's better known avant-garde and fusion musicians of the 70's and 80's - including Fred Frith (Henry Cow), Allan Holdsworth (Gong, Soft Machine, UK, Bruford) and Peter Blegvad - were involved during their early careers playing in Canterbury bands. And still new musicians join the Canterbury Scene's ranks, Theo Travis being perhaps the most notable recently (Gong, The Soft Machine Legacy). The Canterbury scene was to have a major influence on musicians in Europe, especially France (e.g. Gong, Moving Gelatine Plates), the Netherlands (Super Sister)and Italy (Daedalus), and more belatedly in the USA (Hughscore). Caravan reformed in the mid 90's, while ex-members of Soft Machine could be found in various avant jazz and straight jazz fusion groups, e.g. Just Us, Soft Heap, Soft Works and most recently The Soft Machine Legacy. From the Canterbury Scene, RIO it its various forms has developed.

FOOTNOTE: As indicated above, many Canterbury Scene bands are acknowledged as having played/are playing jazz rock fusion. However, because of their strong Canterbury affliations are listed under "Canterbury Scene" in Prog Archives.

Dick Heath
Based loosely in part on the source: http://www.allmusic.com
(Edition 3, Aug 2009)

Current team members as at 14/02/2014:
Steve (HolyMoly)

Canterbury Scene Top Albums

Showing only studios | Based on members ratings & PA algorithm* | Show Top 100 Canterbury Scene | More Top Prog lists and filters

4.27 | 1148 ratings
4.29 | 551 ratings
Wyatt, Robert
4.26 | 660 ratings
4.29 | 489 ratings
Hatfield And The North
4.28 | 439 ratings
4.23 | 654 ratings
4.20 | 684 ratings
Soft Machine, The
4.18 | 376 ratings
Hatfield And The North
4.15 | 502 ratings
4.26 | 188 ratings
Quiet Sun
4.19 | 258 ratings
National Health
4.09 | 454 ratings
4.12 | 291 ratings
Hillage, Steve
4.11 | 266 ratings
4.06 | 368 ratings
Soft Machine, The
4.10 | 246 ratings
National Health
4.20 | 151 ratings
4.19 | 138 ratings
3.98 | 325 ratings
Soft Machine, The
4.04 | 205 ratings
Picchio Dal Pozzo

Canterbury Scene overlooked and obscure gems albums new

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Picchio Dal Pozzo
Jakszyk, Jakko M.
National Health
Moving Gelatine Plates

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Latest Canterbury Scene Music Reviews

 Paradise Filter by CARAVAN album cover Studio Album, 2013
2.97 | 45 ratings

Paradise Filter
Caravan Canterbury Scene

Review by FXM

4 stars This is Caravan's thirteenth studio album and is released ten years after their last one "The Unauthorised Breakfast Item". I find it hard to believe that it is ten years since that was released and it is something I still listen to quite regularly.

"The Unauthorised Breakfast Item" represented a return to form after some mediocre releases. So I was eagerly awaiting the release of "Paradise Filter". While it may not be as excellent as the previous album it is still very good and is an album that can stand proud amongst their discography.

It starts well with an uptempo track "All This Could be Yours" displaying some nice guitar riffs. There are a few of those quirky humourous songs such as "Trust Me I'm a Doctor"so typically of Caravan throughout their career.

Highlights on the album include I'll Be There for You" which features a banjo played by Geoffrey Richardson who manages to make the instrument sound good. "This Is What We Are" is another good one. The final track is the title track and is a nice soothing piece of music initially but livens up half way in with some fine guitar work followed by nice flute before it returns to the earlier mood. Another highlight is "Farewell My Old Friend" which is a fitting tribute to their former drummer Richard Coughlan who passed away last year

On their past albums there were often one or two tracks that I found annoying but not in this case. Overall it is a mellow album with fine musicianship, reflecting the maturity of the band members. Its a recording to chill out to, maybe on a summer's evening watching the sunset with a glass of fine vintage wine.

A definite 4 star recording!!!

 Camembert Electrique by GONG album cover Studio Album, 1971
3.71 | 249 ratings

Camembert Electrique
Gong Canterbury Scene

Review by friso
Prog Reviewer

4 stars Gong - Camembert Electrique (1971)

I've been a longtime listener of the Radio Gnome Trilogy (RGT), but finding this record on a vinyl is a different game. I was excited at first listen and what suprised me is the fact that 'Camembert Electrique' sounds very professional and well recorded - perhaps even better then the first two installments of the RGT. Of these four records that share the same style and ethos I think this one is most intense & bizarre, almost like avant-prog sometimes.

The album has some clear Canterbury/Zappa influences, but Daevid Allen' craziness has its own flavour. The lyrics already hint towards the themes of the RGT on some tracks, on other tracks it just plain silly in a hippiej fashion like on 'I've been stone before'. The musicianship is quite frantic on some tracks 'You can't kill me' & 'Dynamite', on other tracks the vibes are more relaxing. The second side is overall a bit more attractive for the progressive rock listener, whilst the first side is more psychedelic and acadic.

Conclusion. Very good record, though I'd prefer the less frantic approach of 'Flying Teapot'. For fans of Gong this is not to be skipped, fans of Canterbury and psychedelic/space rock might also want to give this a spin. Four stars!

 In The Land Of Grey And Pink by CARAVAN album cover Studio Album, 1971
4.27 | 1148 ratings

In The Land Of Grey And Pink
Caravan Canterbury Scene

Review by JCDenton

2 stars For years I thought "Nine Feet Underground" was the only good track.

I returned to this album years later with little memory of the rest of the album. They all sounded okay another time through, except "Love to be Louis the Canterbury Kingsmen". Wow. I'm surprised these tunes didn't sound bad anymore. I almost was going to say that I enjoyed them.

But then "Nine Feet" came on. A very short time had passed when I realized this song completely blows the rest out of the water. It's not even that the other tracks are bad. They just seem tame and not so captivating by comparison. "Golf Girl" and "Winter Wine" are good tunes. All the potential is there, but the band doesn't jam when it's time to grow loud and heavy. The soloing is pretty good, but after a time just feels typical, undistinguished and seems like noodling to fill up some more time. By the time the title track comes about, I'm impatiently waiting for the reason I dug up the recording. Why overshadow the other lesser tunes with the lengthy epic containing most of the interesting ideas and melodies? Each part of "Nine Feet" is better than nearly all other songs on the album.

In the Land of-.. Hell, just skip to "Nine Feet Underground".

 Mind Over Matter by MILLER, PHIL album cover Studio Album, 2011
4.50 | 2 ratings

Mind Over Matter
Phil Miller Canterbury Scene

Review by gypsydoc5

5 stars I'm feeling quite guilty of some sort of crime here for awarding 5 stars to a CD that is obviously, after just a few moments of listening, NOT progressive rock; but essentially the perfect example of what modern jazz should sound like. What we have here, is the most astounding collection of world class musicians that one could hope to gather, working together to interpret the thrilling compositions of an old friend and brilliant taskmaster, Phil Miller.

I received my copy of this album of songs from Phil himself, via international mail, shortly after it's release. There is absolutely no changing my mind after nearly three years; that this is the most uplifting, exciting, and meticulously delivered package of ear candy that Phil has produced to date, with six of the seven compositions written by Phil. Mind you, it does bear much more resemblance to Jazz, than what many would label prof-rock; but if your pleasures take ease in drifting from one genre to another, this is a treasure worth the travel.

There are significantly exhilarating high points demonstrated by each of the band members throughout this catalog; with the usual standouts on occasion being Fred Baker's propulsion of the bottom end searing through the atmosphere, and Mark Armstrong's blazing trumpet, which surely raises Miles from his resting place with each hair-raising note. Be advised: This is JAZZ in it's spellbinding and most emotionally jam-packed form. As for our old friend Phil Miller, he could get 5 stars playing Lawrence Welk covers; but here he shines the light so brilliantly, it's difficult to observe any musical boundaries. Seek this out, and expand your threshold.

 Tales Of Canterbury: The Wilde Flowers Story by WILDE FLOWERS, THE album cover Boxset/Compilation, 1994
2.41 | 16 ratings

Tales Of Canterbury: The Wilde Flowers Story
The Wilde Flowers Canterbury Scene

Review by DrömmarenAdrian

3 stars The Canterbury Sound is a special subgenre, little but very interesting. Its mixture of jazz and pop made a soft and easy listened form of progressive rock. The genre originated from this band "The Wilde Flowers" which existed in the sixties but never released anything then. This is a collection of demoes which is very insteresting for every prog lover. Afterwards members of this band formed Soft Machine and Caravan.

Musicians on the record are Robert Wyatt, Hugh Hopper, Brian Hopper, Kevin Ayers, Richard Coughlan, Grahan Flight, Richard Sinclair and Pye Hastings. The three tracks 17, 18 and 19 is actually with another band "Zobe" with Dave Lawrence, Bob Gilleson and John Lawrence.

I think this collection is underrated. You have to think about how early this was. Well many tracks feels a bit too simple and amateurish but other tracks are very fine and romantic. I like the lightness of the music and that it's the opposite of over produced music. "Impotence" is a typical Canterbury song with a soft pop melody in a jazzy landscape(8/10) and the romantic little "Memories"(7/10) or the little blues thing with wind instrument "Parchman Farm"(7/10) would I also recommend. "It's what I feel" with (I think) Richard Sinclair on vocals is very nice(7/10) as well as the lovely "She loves to hurt" which is more professional than others(7/10). The three Zobe songs are different from the others and I would recommend a closer listening also to them.

Many of the tracks aren't timeless gems and should perhaps just be heard as references but over all I think this album is pleasant and appealing. If you don't have enough spirit to hear it all I recommend "Impotence", "It's what I feel", "She loves to hurt" and "Memories". I consider the album an interesting start of wonderful bands. Three stars!

 The Soft Machine by SOFT MACHINE, THE album cover Studio Album, 1968
4.06 | 368 ratings

The Soft Machine
The Soft Machine Canterbury Scene

Review by siLLy puPPy

5 stars All one has to do is listen to the demos (available as Jet-propelled Photographs) recorded the year before to hear how quickly THE SOFT MACHINE was evolving their sound. It had been a wild ride since the days of the Wilde Flowers for drummer Robert Wyatt and bassist Kevin Ayers to get to this point. Mike Ratledge joined the band in 1966 when they officially formed as keyboardist and fellow ex-Wilde Flower veteran Hugh Hopper (bass) joins in on a few tracks here. Hugh would later join the band as a full member.

Originally the band also included Larry Nowlin on guitar but by the time we get to this debut album there is no guitarist to be found and just as well. It allows the band to emphasize how much a band can do with just a bass, keyboards and drums. Although Daevid Allen (guitars and vocals) was out and would begin his own Canterbury powerhouse Gong, on this debut we get a mixture of his own beatnik philosophy that he left behind, the psychedelic rock that was in fashion at the time and a new found appreciation for jazz that is incorporated into the nooks and crannies of the song structures creating a very new and exciting kind of music.

I personally believe that the sudden evolution can be attributed to the musical genius of Jimi Hendrix with whom SOFT MACHINE would tour. Hendrix was a major catalyst in the musical world at large and such a close proximity to his world surely must have served as an energizing lightning bolt for the band catapulting them suddenly into the more progressive interpretations of their earlier psychedelic pop churned out just a short time prior their debut. The band tackles the songs quite creatively. I love how the leading track "Hope For Happiness" is really one long track but in the middle they insert another track titled "Joy Of A Toy." That strategy is repeated throughout the album making a smooth. flowing album from beginning to end. The melodies are catchy, the musicianship is excellent and the arrangements are quite brilliant. Ayers and Wyatt trade off vocals complementing each other quite well.

This one was certainly a grower. Upon first listen most of the complexities passed me by and I was more focused on the psychedelic pop aspects of the music. To fully appreciate SOFT MACHINE albums takes patience and dedication to fully unlock the brilliance embedded into the music. Although I liked this album on the first listen, I have grown to really love it for its bold and daring display of creativity as well as for its long lasting influence on not only the Canterbury side of jazz-fusion but for the evolution of progressive music in general. A belated 5 star masterpiece in my world but one that will firmly remain in that status. You'll know you're hooked when "Hope For Happiness" becomes the dominant ear worm beckoning you to put on the album time and time again!

 Paradise Filter by CARAVAN album cover Studio Album, 2013
2.97 | 45 ratings

Paradise Filter
Caravan Canterbury Scene

Review by DrömmarenAdrian

3 stars The British Canterbury band Caravan has been an important part of my prog discoveries the past two years and I have got anything fresh and lovely from almost everything they have done. Thirteen records have they done, many of them have got bad reviews from listeners here but I have liked even records as Back to front, The Album and Cunning Stunts. Their latest record from 2003 though didn't got my fully attention. In the very end of last year 2013 Caravan released their thirteenth studio album "Paradise filter" and it took some while before I could listen to it. I like the appearence of the cover. The Caravan sign is fresh and simple and the title has a computer style and the main motive is some strong coloured fields.

Four of the participating musicians have been in Caravan before. Most important of them are of course Pye Hastings, without whose voice and light attitude there hadn't been any Caravan. Also we have Geoffrey Richardson whose strings from time to time have given this music a lot of splendor and Jan Schelhaas who also played keyboards in the band in the middle of the seventies. Jim Leverton has played bass in the band since 1995. The drummer Mark Walker and guitarist Doug Boyle are new. Beside these musicians some are missed of course: Richard Coughlan, who died last year, the keyboard wizard Dave Sinclair and the charismatic Richard Sinclair is also missed, even if Caravan still is a reliable band.

Actually I was a bit suspicious when I put this record but instead the music made me satisfied. "Paradise filter" is not a fantastic record that Caravan should be remebered for, but it is a great collection of well performed songs. Some of the songs are very decent. I think I like "I'll be there for you" most(8/10). It's a happy song with an instrumental world which proudly bears the mantle of this prog band. "Trust me I am a doctor" is another lovely piece, well composed and sung and has great guitars too(8/10). Then we have "All this could be yours" which enters the record with melodical light and the catchy Pye and some English strings(8/10). "Fingers in the till" is also very sympathic with a smart melody and guitar(7/10) as well as "I'm on my way" which even if it's a bit bluesy has some old Caravan' feeling. The other compositions are reasonable but not interesting. My overall impression is that this is a good late Caravan record. It doesn't seem to have intentions to fight with old Caravan in originality but it doesn't need to do that. If I would judge records after how progressive they are this would have got a very low rating. Now I'm going to give it three strong stars. It is not a magic record, but it pleases me as a Caravan fan, and I am sure others will like it too. I think Caravan is worth your time!

 Jet Propelled Photographs by SOFT MACHINE, THE album cover Boxset/Compilation, 1989
3.07 | 17 ratings

Jet Propelled Photographs
The Soft Machine Canterbury Scene

Review by siLLy puPPy

3 stars Although these demos of the first lineup of SOFT MACHINE were recorded as far back in 1967, they wouldn't see the light of day until this compilation was released in 1972 under the title "Faces And Places Vol 7." For some strange reason, not content with simply re-releasing these 10 tracks under the same name over the years, it has also been released under the following titles: "Jet-Propelled Photographs," "Jet Propelled," "At The Beginning," "Memories," "Soft Machine 1967 Demos," "London 1967,"Les génies du Rock n°042: At the Beginning"and simply "Soft Machine." Almost as many titles for this compilation as there are tracks!

These tracks which were supposed to be SOFT MACHINE's first album are all that exist of the 1967 lineup with Daevid Allen, Kevin Ayers, Mike Ratledgte and Robert Wyatt. What we get here is a sound not too far removed from the Wylde Flowers' version of jazzy pop songs that have a slight progressive edge to them but light-years away from the more masterfully developed debut album that would finally emerge after the departure of Daevid Allen.

These tracks are actually pretty good as far as 60s pop oriented songwriting goes and I find this to be a gleeful little listen every now and again. Nothing else at the time sounds like this and although this isn't even close to the full on jazz-fusion that would take off in just a few short years, it is an interesting relic of history that shows a legendary band finding their own sound. A few of these would be spruced up to be included on the first album and some of them would be used on solo albums by individual members. Hardly essential but certainly sufficiently entertaining and a glimpse into their inchoate ideas.

 Paradise Filter by CARAVAN album cover Studio Album, 2013
2.97 | 45 ratings

Paradise Filter
Caravan Canterbury Scene

Review by madcap68

3 stars What I wrote about "The Battle of Hastings" applies here as well: There is much on this album that I like, just not too much prog, really. So, although I consider this to be quite a fine album (some songs stronger than others, of course) I can't give more than 3 stars here, progwise...

Musically, it's close to TBoH, although I'm missing older brother Jimmy Hastings' woodwinds that are missing here (for the first time?). Nevertheless, Geoffrey Richardson's viola fills some gaps in a nice way.

After some listening, it's probably a little weaker than TBoH, which might have the catchier melodies, and "The Unauthorized Breakfast Item", which might have a little more edge, but if you liked those, this one should definetely be worth a try.

 Third by SOFT MACHINE, THE album cover Studio Album, 1970
4.20 | 684 ratings

The Soft Machine Canterbury Scene

Review by Anon-E-Mouse

5 stars It's that time of the year again (June) when I usually reach for this CD. (The old vinyl is still here too, but .my turntable is long gone to Heaven.) So, why this album? Simple. For the track "Moon in June". On the side, it's also a gentle reminder of this excellent band that hasn't received much attention lately in the reviews.

I love pretty much all incarnations of Soft Machine. At this point they leave their early psychedelic approach and delve into Canterbury/ Jazz-Rock without compromises . Four long tracks on this double album (none much under 20 mins) are quite a mouthful to digest. Mainly because these tracks command due attention. This is not a criticism from my part, but one is to allow sufficient time to duly pay attention in place of listening to music on the run. It also helps if one is in the mood.

Having taken care of the bulk of this album (3 tracks!), I'd like to reflect on "Moon in June" which is perhaps one of Robert Wyatt's finest moments before forming Matching Mole. Here he sings softly and plays multiple instruments onto a dynamic beat. Truly charming and effective. Then the second half of the song turns into a full blown instrumental jazz run typical of that era of British approach. How these two widely different halves merge so well is a bit of a mystery, but they sure do. It's almost sexual and in a way I am reminded of Robert Fripp's skills of creating tension and release in some early KC tunes. But this piece is almost in the reverse of that. Like gentle foreplay followed by furious and sustained activity. This piece alone is worth your purchase. but the whole album is pretty good, nevertheless.

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Canterbury Scene bands/artists list

Bands/Artists Country
KEVIN AYERS United Kingdom
BRAINVILLE United Kingdom
CARAVAN United Kingdom
CLEAR FRAME United Kingdom
COS Belgium
DELIVERY United Kingdom
EGG United Kingdom
THE GHOULIES United Kingdom
MICHAEL GILES United Kingdom
GILGAMESH United Kingdom
GONG Multi-National
JOHN GREAVES United Kingdom
GRINGO United Kingdom
STEVE HILLAGE United Kingdom
HUGH HOPPER United Kingdom
JAKKO M. JAKSZYK United Kingdom
KHAN United Kingdom
THE LODGE United States
MATCHING MOLE United Kingdom
MILLER & COXHILL United Kingdom
PHIL MILLER United Kingdom
MOOM United Kingdom
THE MUFFINS United States
PANTHEON Netherlands
PAZOP Belgium
JOHN G. PERRY United Kingdom
PIP PYLE United Kingdom
QUANTUM JUMP United Kingdom
QUIET SUN United Kingdom
SOFT HEAP United Kingdom
SOFT MOUNTAIN Multi-National
SOFT WORKS United Kingdom
VOLARÉ United States
ROBERT WYATT United Kingdom
ZYMA Germany

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