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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:
(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 | 1398 ratings
4.30 | 679 ratings
Wyatt, Robert
4.24 | 810 ratings
4.27 | 621 ratings
Hatfield And The North
4.23 | 815 ratings
4.26 | 555 ratings
4.21 | 797 ratings
Soft Machine, The
4.24 | 318 ratings
National Health
4.18 | 454 ratings
Hatfield And The North
4.15 | 595 ratings
4.28 | 235 ratings
Quiet Sun
4.11 | 549 ratings
4.14 | 326 ratings
4.12 | 338 ratings
Hillage, Steve
4.25 | 171 ratings
4.22 | 190 ratings
4.13 | 291 ratings
National Health
4.02 | 436 ratings
Soft Machine, The
4.03 | 387 ratings
Soft Machine, The
4.10 | 222 ratings
Picchio Dal Pozzo

Canterbury Scene overlooked and obscure gems albums new

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Miller, Phil
National Health
Hopper, Hugh
Muffins, The

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Latest Canterbury Scene Music Reviews

 The Rotters' Club by HATFIELD AND THE NORTH album cover Studio Album, 1975
4.18 | 454 ratings

The Rotters' Club
Hatfield And The North Canterbury Scene

Review by Mens1MeterDash

5 stars This might just be my favorite album of all time. Any genre, period. And it's an *album* meaning that each song flows into the next.

I listened to this just about every day for a year or two while attending Berklee College of Music and at the end of that period, I still couldn't say for certain which parts were improvised vs. composed, where one song started or ended. Well, some points are obvious, and on the CD, the tracks are labeled, but with the vinyl, it all sort of blended together.

Other questions too, like "Is Phil Miller an abstract genius, or is he just terrible?" plagued me for years. Clearly he's not a technical wizard and you can hear him hit some obvious clams in the solos, but he's not marching to the beat of anyone else's drum, he does a lot of upper-structure triads with his harmonizations and he composed some of the best pieces (like Underdub). So, yeah, he knows what he's doing, but he's just raw and a little outside.

I know the general consensus is that the first (self titled) album is better, but I have to disagree. It has some high points, to be sure, but this one is just more mature. After listening to them both for 25 years or so, I really don't want to listen to the first album any more, yet I'm almost always delighted when this one comes on shuffle.

In terms of it's place in Prog Rock, I can't say this album is better than Kind of Blue, Birds of Fire, Permanent Waves, The Yes Album, One Size Fits All, or In Absentia. But I like it just the tiniest smidgen better than those and musically I put it in the same league. Thus: favorite album of all time.

 Magick Brother by GONG album cover Studio Album, 1969
3.43 | 144 ratings

Magick Brother
Gong Canterbury Scene

Review by ALotOfBottle

4 stars After touring Europe with Soft Machine in August 1967, Daevid Allen was rejected to enter the United Kingdom due to overstaying his visa on previous staying. Allen settled in Paris and together with his partner, Gilli Smyth, he formed a band called Gong along with a few other side projects such as the Bananamoon Band. The two also took part in the 1968 Paris protests and later settled in Deiŕ, Mallorca, where they had met a poet Robert Graves on their previous visit. In August 1969, they returned to Paris and recorded their debut album Magick Brother with Gong, which was released under the BYG Actuel label. At the time, the group did not have a bass player, so it was up to Allen to play the instrument. He also invited guest musicians, notably Barre Phillips, a renowned double bass player, who had previously performed with Eric Dolphy, Jimmi Giuffre, and Archie Shepp, Burton Greene, a pianist, who had played with Cecil Taylor and Albert Ayler, and a wind player Didier Malherbe, who would later become one of the members of the "classic" Gong era.

Since his very first days in Soft Machine, it was clear that Daevid Allen was a forward-looking, unorthodox, and immensely original individual. Brian Hopper, formerly of the Wilde Flowers with Robert Wyatt, Kevin Ayers, and Richard Sinclair to name a few, recalls meeting Allen for the first time: "[Daevid] showed up at Robert Wyatt's parents' house along with which he brought his own record collection, which was quite eclectic. And he was the first, I suppose, really hippie sort of person we'd met at that stage, you know, he was quite a sort of phenomenon, if you like, that arrived on the scene." Allen's musical vision comprises various diverse element, which fructify in a complex, odd, moody, tounge-in-cheek whole. Jazz influences are the most evident of all, reflected by swinging arrangements, free-jazz-like passages, and harmonic solutions. However, these only provides the basis for the music on Magick Brother. Avant-garde elements such as spoken word, storytelling, melody-less ambient parts, are introduced and play a crucial role in Gong's distinctive musical formula. Everything is topped with somewhat of a cosmic topping to it, whether it be lyrics, long reverb tails or quirky modulation effects. Most of all, the band builds on the legacy of the psychedelic boom of the sixties, with its escapist, hippie, trance-like feel.

Isn't it amazing that the first seconds of the very first Gong album are a sound of an oriental-sounding gong? "Mystic Sister/Magick Brother" is somewhat of a display of magic that one is dealing with on the album, being a hippie folk ballad opened by spacey ambient guitar parts with whistling, bird-like wind instruments somewhere in the distant background. "Glad To Say To Say" follows a rather simple psychedelic pop song pattern, featuring a catchy guitar riff and Daevid Allen's overdubbed vocals. Towards the end, the piece descends into trippy atonal mayhem. "Rational Anthem" is based around a quiet, blurry guitar motif with various ambient effects around. After the calm mood of the previous track, "Chainstore Chant/Pretty Miss Titty", a heavier psychedelic rock piece, offers more dynamically varied parts with Daevid Allen's guitar in the foreground. The song also features spoken word parts, delivered through Gilli Smyth's "space whisper". "Fredfish/Hope You Feel OK" opens with comedic spoken words, which sound as if broadcasted through a radio. Later, the track turns into a Syd Barret-era Pink Floyd-like ballad. Side two, labeled The Late Night (as opposed to side one, Early Morning), opens with "Ego", an avant-jazz statement with psychedelic rock influences, particularly on the sung parts. "Gong Song" tells a story of Pothead Pixie, a visitor from a distant planet, Gong. The concept would be continued on the following albums. Musically, it has somewhat of a Beatles-like sound, but with strong influences of jazz. "Princess Dreaming" opens with a repeating screech, an awfully unpleasant ear-sore, which later dissolves into a part spoken by Gilli Smyth. "5 & 20 Schoolgirls" is another piece kept in a psychedelic pop convention, but again with jazzy flavoring and a healthy dose of peculiarity. The album closes with a haunted ambient soundscape of "Cos You Got Green Hair", which seems to point the way towards the following works by Gong.

The Flying Teapot may yet be to take off to planet Gong, but Magick Brother, Gong's debut album, undoubtedly sets the stage for the band's next albums with its cosmic, trippy, escapist, and jazzy character. The release does have its flaws, poor studio recording being the most notable and disturbing, but is an incredibly rewarding and fascinating journey. Regardless of the style, whether it's a free-jazz workout, a spacey ambient trip or a psychedelic pop ballad, everything is played with great taste and precision. Highly recommended!

 Chronometers by MUFFINS, THE album cover Studio Album, 1993
3.82 | 30 ratings

The Muffins Canterbury Scene

Review by ALotOfBottle

4 stars Despite releasing their first album, Manna/Mirage, in 1978, The Muffins had been functioning long before, being formed in 1973. Before their debut, the group recorded numerous studio and home demos, mainly at a large farmhouse in Gaithersburg, Maryland, which they had moved into, naming it the Buba Flirf house. In 1993, Cuneiform Records released a compilation of these recordings from around 1975, under the name Chronometers. At the time, the line-up was different from that on Manna/Mirage, with a guitarist and violinist, Michael Zentner, and Stuart Abramowitz on drums.

The Muffins' style on Chronometers is quite similar to that of their debut album. Their distinct Canterbury-inspired sound is very much present, but at times seems to be characterized by a greater amount of eclecticism and musical diversity. That might, at least partly, be caused by a greater variety of instruments. Tones of Fender Rhodes electric piano, the interplay of Henry Cow-like woodwinds, a xylophone, groovy basslines are now enriched with a mellow, jazzy electric guitar, opening a whole new plethora of possibilities, as well as a virtuosic violin, which gives the material a RIO-like flavor. Similarly to their debut album, the instrumentalism is nearly flawless. The members find themselves comfortable in complex, intricate, jazz-rock-fueled arrangements, dripping with unorthodox time signatures, harmonic sophistication, and difficult improvisational parts, to name a few. Chronometers is also full of tongue-in-cheek arrangements, reminiscent of Hatfield and the North or Egg, a key element to the Canterbury sound. Compared to Manna/Mirage, the music on the album relies on improvisation to a much greater extent. The tracks do not create an impression of lengthy, organized pieces like on The Muffins' debut, but rather that of short musical miniatures compiled together. This gives a great diversity between the pieces.

The album opens with "Chronometers", the lengthiest and the most representative track of the album. In construction and the overall feel, it shares an affinity with "The Adventures of Captain Boomerang", a 23-minute epic from the band's debut. However, one is likely to notice, that "Chronometers" has its own, unique feel, quite different from the previously mentioned piece. It begins with a catchy motif, which utilizes a pixiphone and a mouth harp. Going through various dynamically contrasted jams, every musician gets a chance to display their instrumental skill ? Michael Zentner on guitar, Dave Newhouse on keyboards and wind instruments, and Tom Scott on saxophones. On one of the more soft, ambient passages, the group introduces samples and, more prominently, dialogues from The Wizard of Oz, with a comic, yet somewhat ominous and unsettling feel. After many variations, the track closes with a descending soundscape, somewhat reminiscent of Mike Oldfield, with Canterbury flavoring. I feel like reviewing other twenty one "miniatures" separately would be aimless so let me just say that they have a great diversity between them and their short format just adds to that impression. One is likely to find similarities with Henry Cow, Hatfield and the North, Egg, Sammla Mammas Manna, Soft Machine, Frank Zappa, Supersister, Moving Gelatine Plates, Caravan, Gentle Giant, and even Mahavishnu Orchestra. The tracks range from almost ambient compositions to elaborate jazz-rock pieces to free-form avant-garde mayhem. The tracks that in my opinion especially deserve attention are "Three Days That Won't Soon Fade", with its spoken word parts, "Look at the Size of that Sponge", driven by impressive violin playing, and "Apparently", which showcases Michael Zentner's jazzy guitar playing.

Chronometers is not only an incredibly rewarding musical journey, full of surprising, baffling moments, but also an important historical document, presenting The Muffins' musical style before their debut album, Manna/Mirage. Furthermore, these are the only recordings by The Muffins to feature Michael Zentner on guitar and Stuart Abramowitz on drums. Chronometers is an uncommonly enjoyable, fresh-sounding, innovative, vigorous, and unique album. Highly recommended to all Canterbury scene fans!

 Manna/Mirage by MUFFINS, THE album cover Studio Album, 1978
4.06 | 73 ratings

The Muffins Canterbury Scene

Review by ALotOfBottle

5 stars The Muffins were formed in 1973, in Washington D. C., soon after a keyboardist and saxophonist Dave Newhouse, a guitarist Michael Zentner, and a bassist Billy Swann found a common unorthodox and anti-commercial approach to music. The group, however, remained nameless until a few months later when they named themselves The Muffins, allegedly after one friend of theirs shouted, "The muffins are here!" while bringing them blueberry muffins and more importantly giving an idea for the name of the band. One year after their formation, they were joined by Thomas Scott, a saxophonist with a big-band background. In 1975, Stuart Abramowitz on drums joined, only to leave one year later with Michael Zentner. While playing a concert in 1976, they stumbled upon a drummer Paul Sears, who stayed in the band. The Muffins founded their own independent recording label, Random Radar Records, under which they released their debut album, Manna/Mirage, in 1978.

With influences of acts such as Hatfield and the North, Henry Cow, National Health, Soft Machine, Frank Zappa's Mothers Of Invention, and even Caravan, The Muffins have shaped their own, distinctive Canterbury scene-inspired style. Although the United States has always been far from being the heartland of the subgenre and recognized it relatively late, the group's music sounds incredibly natural and authentic. Characterized by strong emphasis put on improvisation, The Muffins go far beyond being just another Canterbury-tinged jam band. The extensive use of woodwind instruments such as clarinets, flutes, recorders, and oboes, rather than brass winds, gives the band a varied, unique, almost chamber-like sound, at times reminiscent of Henry Cow's Legend. Keyboard instruments also play a prominent role with smooth, dreamy Fender Rhodes electric piano, reminiscent of Dave Stewart and Tim Hodgkinson-inspired Farfisa organ. Free jazz passages, very much in the vein of Sun Ra or Albert Ayler, are also common, enriching the album with even more of a diverse, varied style. In short: Manna/Mirage is a perfectly balanced mélange between classy avant-garde progressive rock and jazz-influenced Canterbury sound.

The album opens with "Monkey with the Golden Eyes". A calm repeating passage on electric piano is supported by a great interplay of flute and clarinet. Gradually, more instruments are added - xylophone, drums, organ, resulting in an almost ambient texture. In the beginning, "Hobart Got Burned" features just a little part of the previous track until it loses itself in chaotic, quirky, free-form mayhem. At one point, all of the instruments participating in the madness meet and, as if finally entering the same alley, present a theme which would not be out of place on an album by Hatfield and the North. Side One closes with the 15-minute "Amelia Earhart". The piece starts out with mystic, meditative sounds of a wide plethora of percussion instruments, which dissolve into a merry Caravan-like melody. Later, the listener encounters a brief free passage and various different segments of the piece, perfectly displaying the flawless work of every instrument in different musical circumstances. Side Two is fully occupied by a nearly 23-minute suite "The Adventures Of Captain Boomerang". The track begins with an interaction of woodwind instruments supplemented by accompaniment on Fender Rhodes. Then, a more energetic, louder motif dominated by saxophones kicks in. What follows is really inexplicable. Let me just say that the piece is dripping with complex arrangements, contrasted segments, dynamically, rhythmically, and instrumentally varied parts, numerous different themes, lengthy improvisational passages, and proficient instrumental work. The Muffins seem to have a well-thought plan for every second of the suite and make use of their recording time perfectly.

Manna/Mirage is an absolutely exceptional record in the history of the Canterbury scene. While in 1978, its sound might have radically drifted towards jazz fusion, this one American band, that seemingly appeared out of nowhere, skillfully carries on traditions set by bands such as Henry Cow, Soft Machine, and Hatfield and the North. The release is incredibly consistent, mature, and most of all deeply fascinating. A true gem of the Canterbury scene. Highly recommended!

 Kew Rhone by GREAVES, JOHN album cover Studio Album, 1977
4.03 | 42 ratings

Kew Rhone
John Greaves Canterbury Scene

Review by ALotOfBottle

5 stars In 1969, during his studies at Premboke College in Cambridge, John Greaves met members of a forward-looking outfit known as Henry Cow. The musicians, Fred Frith and Tim Hodgkinson, were looking for a bass player and persuaded Greaves to join them. In 1974, Henry Cow teamed up with a German avant-pop outfit Slapp Happy. Peter Blegvad, Slapp Happy's guitarist, and Greaves found working together extremely prolific and, in result, ended up writing some material, most notably a piece "Bad Alchemy", which appeared on Slapp Happy's album Desperate Straights. After leaving the band, Blegvad returned to his hometown, New York City, and made a living as an illustrator. John Greaves left Henry Cow in 1976, appearing on three of their studio releases. In 1977, they decided to join forces to work on Greaves' project Kew. Rhone. in New York City, with financial help from Virgin Records. Peter Blegvad was responsible for writing lyrics, while John Greaves wrote music. When the album was ready to record, the two were offered a studio by two jazz musicians, Michael Mantler and Carla Bley, who ended up playing on Kew. Rhone., alongside a vocalist Lisa Herman, a drummer Andrew Cyrille, and numerous other guests.

The music on Kew. Rhone. is at times quite similar to that of Henry Cow from the Unrest period. The affinity is really a testimony for how much of the band's sound Greaves is responsible for. His distinctive compositional style, first fully displayed on "Half Asleep Half Awake" from Unrest, is now dominant on the album. The work has a unique, dark, noir-like quality, supported by influences of urban hard-bop. Jazz elements are also reflected in instrumentation, through the extensive use of Miles Davis-inspired the trumpet and rhythmic grand piano. And yet, Greaves and Blegvad manage to capture somewhat of a European spirit in their music. Flavors of avant-garde opera, in particular that of the Second Viennese School, composers such as Schoenberg and Berg, are also a considerable part of the musical extract. Small, inexplicable ingredients of so-called Canterbury sound are also present, highly likely solving the problem of classification of the album. Peter Blegvad's twisted, sophisticated, ambiguous, and most of all, highly experimental lyrics, dripping with of oxymorons, anagrams, palindromes, demand a great amount of erudition to be fully comprehended. There appears to be an invisible link between all of the songs lyrically, creating a feel of a concept album. Obviously, one is rather unlikely to notice the exceptionality of the words without actually reading them individually. However, "Is Kew. Rhone. an album to be "solved"? asks Marcus O'Dair, a journalist of a British music magazine. "It invites interpretation even as it resists it," was Blegvad's answer. "When considering the meanings of Kew. Rhone. we can only guess, we can't know ? which will put some people off. People who want definitive answers are unlikely to get whatever there is to be got from the Kew. Rhone. experience. Personally, I feel more at home with doubt than I do with certainty. What Keats called Negative Capability." Without a shade of doubt, the interplay of intricate and advanced music and elaborate and knowledgeable lyrics creates a one-of-a-kind blend - Kew. Rhone.

To ensure his musical vision is executed in the best possible manner, John Greaves invited some of the finest musicians he knew to play on the album. Himself, Greaves handles all the keyboard instruments (except for clave played by Boris Kinberg) as well as bass guitar. Peter Blegvad is responsible for guitar parts, which play an important role in the album's sound. Blegvad, Greaves, and Lisa Herman together, create a beautiful texture of three varied harmony vocals, which are probably the most characteristic element of Kew. Rhone. In addition, they get some help from the voices of Dana Johnson, April Lang, Michael Levine, and Carla Bley. The album is rich in wind instruments, which include a trumpet and trombone played by Mike Mantler, an alto saxophone and flute played by Vito Rendace, and tenor saxophones played by Rendace, Carla Bley, and Blegvad. Throughout the album, trumpet gets the most solo parts, followed by tenor saxophones. Andrew Cyrille on drums, finds himself perfectly comfortable playing complex time signatures. A classically-trained string sound is delivered by Michael Levine, who plays violin and viola, giving a slight chamber-like taste. In short: the musicianship on this release is excellent.

The album comprises eleven tracks. It opens with "Good Evening", a half-a-minute intro, which despite its short duration, successfully sets the mood for the rest of the work. "Twenty-Two Proverbs" has a bit of an unsettling sound reflected by its dissonant nature and an odd time signature, with great, varied harmony vocals. "Seven Scenes from the Painting 'Exhuming the First American Mastodon' by C.W. Peale" alludes to the album art, which portrays Peale's scientific project. The title track, "Kew. Rhone." features a motif that I'm sure I have heard on Henry Cow's debut album, LegEnd. The short theme used in this lighter piece often appears on Cow's early recordings. "Pipeline" was once described as "a phenomenological bossa nova in 7/4". And this description perfectly captures the spirit on the track. "Catalogue of Fifteen Objects and Their Titles" closes side one of the LP with well-rehearsed saxophone virtuosity and memorable harmony vocals. Side two opens with a somewhat heavy sound of " One Footnote (to Kew. Rhone.)", which features a strong syncopated rhythm with great interaction of horn instruments and, later, the band members' voices. "Three Tenses Onanism" is a much lighter piece with John Greaves' grand piano play and strange, sinister noises from Peter Blegvad's guitar. "Apricot" is built around a catchy, jazz-influenced theme with a trumpet solo and sophisticated vocals. The album closes with "Gegenstand", which starts with a melody-less, improvised passage with atonal, Fred Frith-like guitar sounds. Towards the end, one will hear a bit of silent vocal melody supported by gentle bass and organ, as if struggling to break through, but not for long, as the piece slowly descends into complete silence.

John Greaves and Peter Blegvad are responsible for one of the most detailed, difficult, multifaceted, complicated, and thought-provoking albums in the history of progressive music with very listen revealing new aspects and qualities. Kew. Rhone. demands a lot more than just many listens to be fully appreciated, it demands a careful and experienced listener. Canterbury sound had never been as complex and sophisticated before Kew. Rhone. Close to sheer perfection in almost every way, in short: a masterpiece.

 Little Red Record  by MATCHING MOLE album cover Studio Album, 1972
3.90 | 149 ratings

Little Red Record
Matching Mole Canterbury Scene

Review by ALotOfBottle

4 stars "We are determined to liberate Taiwan!"

Soon after their eponymous debut, Matching Mole hit the road and toured western Europe, appearing on various TV shows and festivals. It was at that time that David Sinclair left the band to play with Hatfield and the North and later on Caravan's For Girls Who Grow Plump in the Night. He was replaced with Dave MacRae, a jazz keyboardist from New Zealand, who was already credited as a guest on Matching Mole's debut album. In July of 1972, about half a year after their first work, the band entered the doors of London's CBS Studios to record Matching Mole's Little Red Record. The release was produced by Robert Fripp of King Crimson. In addition, the band invited Brian Eno, the pioneer synthesist, to guest on their album.

The title of the release is an allusion to Chairman Mao's Little Red Book, known as the Maoist bible of the cultural revolution period. The cover art portrays the band members on what looks like a Chinese communist propaganda poster. The inspiration for the cover painting came from a Chinese postcard with a caption that read "We are determined to liberate Taiwan!" Despite a lot of controversy, the group, in fact, had nothing to do with idea for the album art, as the drawing was designed by CBS' graphic designers. Robert Wyatt even admitted that he did not particularly like the design. Wyatt's lyrics on Little Red Record have also been an object of heated discussion. The artist declares that the fight for the righteous socialist world should also be expressed in music and confesses that his beliefs are closer to the Chinese communist world rather than the degenerated capitalist west.

Musically, Little Red Record is a quintessential Canterbury scene album. Matching Mole's style is notably different from their debut album. The group got rid of the song-oriented ballads almost entirely and introduced an even higher amount of jazz-fueled improvisation to their music. However, showcasing the group's members' musical skill does not seem to be the aim of the numerous improvisational passages that appear so frequently on Little Red Record. The heavy repeating passages, which often do provide a base for instrumental solos, create musical tension, which makes the music on this record incredibly moody and full of distinctive mysticism. The typical tongue-in-cheek, Canterbury-styled arrangements are common. This becomes evident with pre-recorded voices and sounds of various conversations played over the band's music, giving the album an eccentric appearance.

The high amount of jazz influences on Little Red Record compared to Matching Mole might partly be caused by the new keyboard player, Dave MacRae. His extensive use of Fender Rhodes electric piano adds a very fusion-esque element to the band's sound, at times similar to the one of Soft Machine. Similarly to Dave Sinclair, MacRae is extremely proficient in many diverse musical situations ranging from as far as subtle drone touches to accurate rhythm keyboard play to rapid, pronounced solo parts. Robert Wyatt's drumming is very dense. He finds himself comfortable playing heavy, varied rhythms in odd time signatures. His characteristic vocals also appear, but more often in a spoken word scenario. Although it may not seem like it at first, Bill McCormick's basslines play a crucial role in Matching Mole's sound, building a strong musical foundation for other members. David Sinclair's fuzz organ solos are replaced with those on Phil Miller's guitar, which he plays with an astonishingly precise touch. Brian Eno with his VCS3 synthesizer is responsible for ambient, electronic passages, creating striking, mystic soundscapes.

The album opens with "Starting in the Middle of the Day, We Can Drink Our Politics Away", which features a male choir supported by a repeating piano passage. The lush, surrounding organ sound builds up tension, which is discharged with a loud, rapid jazz jam on "Marchides". The next track, "Nah True's Hole" is based around a repeating pattern with a conversation in the background. In fact, the female voice belongs to Julie Christie, a famous English actress, who is credited as Flora Fidgit. The things she says are erotically-charged and work particularly well with the passage in the background. On "Righteous Rhumba", Robert Wyatt's lyrics talk about the utopian socialist vision and his repellence towards the capitalist world. "Brandy as in Benj" is a jazz-based piece, aimed at displaying the instrumental skill of Matching Mole's members. "Gloria Gloom" starts out with Brain Eno's lengthy synthesizer texture and resolves into Robert Wyatt's politically-charged song. Towards the end, Eno's input comes back, closing the song in a dark, agitating manner. "God Song", the only acoustic piece, sounds a bit like song-oriented tracks from Wyatt's solo releases. "Flora Fidgit" is another jazz jam, in ways similar to what Soft Machine were doing at the time. The album is closed with "Smoke Signal". The track features tense ambient soundscapes with Robert Wyatt's drum solo. Towards the end, one is capable of hearing soft melodies, sounding as if trying to break through, which eventually fade way.

Matching Mole's iconic Little Red Record could best be described as an eccentric political jazz statement with great musicianship. The controversy the band caused with its appearance and title may partly be responsible for its success. The concept and performance is very interesting and original. This is a legendary Canterbury scene album and is without a doubt a must-listen! Recommended!

 Theatre Royal Drury Lane by WYATT, ROBERT album cover Live, 2005
4.12 | 55 ratings

Theatre Royal Drury Lane
Robert Wyatt Canterbury Scene

Review by Mellotron Storm
Prog Reviewer

5 stars I dedicate this review to my best friend Dexter, my Fox Terrier who I had to put to sleep on May 25th. While he was disliked by everyone in the house but me(yes he was very annoying at times) I loved him. Only my late Father-In-Law cared for him like me and yet even he could often be yelling "Damn you Dexter!" Until we meet again my friend.

Now to the review. After falling from a fourth floor window and being subsequently paralyzed from the waist down a benefit concert was held for Robert Wyatt to help him get on with life. Thankfully the events were recorded as we get an all-star cast of performers from the Canterbury Scene and beyond. There's quite a Rio/ Avant flavour here as well. I have to say Hugues hits the nail on the head in my opinion with his review. This truly is a must-have recording if your into the styles of music I mentioned earlier. Check out the lineup! Dave Stewart on keyboards, Hugh Hopper on bass, Fred Frith on violin and guitar, Mongezi Feza on trumpet, Gary Windo reeds, Laurie Allan and Nick Mason on drums, Mike Oldfield guitar, Julie Tipetts keys and vocals, Ivor Cutler voice and the man of the hour Robert Wyatt on vocals. Most of the songs are from Robert's "Rock Bottom" album and the first MATCHING MOLE record.

One person I didn't mention yet is John Peel who we have on the first track opening the proceedings with a hilarious speech. He has the whole crowd laughing. "Dedicated To You But You Weren't Listening" is one messed up version of that SOFT MACHINE track I'll say that. Very avant-garde piano and vocals throughout. I'm not sure if this was Robert giving a shot at SOFT MACHINE or if he was just trying to freak the audience out. "Memories" has some brief distorted organ to start as a beat with keys and bass help out as Robert sings beautifully. So good. Violin before 1 1/2 minutes along with some vocal melodies from Robert.

"Sea Song" is the first song I heard after Dexter passed and man it was emotional before that but now it's just pure emotion for me. The crowd claps when they know what song it is. Check out the electric piano during the instrumental section 2 minutes in along with the fuzzed out guitar. Distorted organ joins in before 3 minutes. Nice. Robert is back after this amazing instrumental passage after 5 minutes. It feels like hope 6 1/2 minutes in as it turns brighter as we get vocal melodies from Robert to the end. Incredible! "A Last Straw" opens with bass and jazz drumming along with electric piano. Reserved vocals a minute in and check out the vocal melodies before 2 minutes which are so unique and they last about a minute. "Little Red Riding Hood Hit The Road" has some energy to it with strummed guitar and organ as drums and trumpet join in. Some dissonance with those trumpet sounds. This is catchy though. Vocal melodies 2 minutes in then he's singing a minute later. Such a great song. Insane vocal melodies end it.

"Alife" features dissonant trumpet and violin as electric piano and drums join in. Amazing sound here. Vocal melodies after 3 1/2 minutes as it winds down and blends into "Alifib" where it's pastoral to start with faint bass and electric piano. Quiet vocals 2 1/2 minutes in. So sentimental and beautiful. "Mind Of A Child" has this warm and inviting intro with electric piano, a light beat and bass. Gentle guitar too as Julie comes in with vocal melodies. She's more passionate 3 minutes in but then she settles back quickly. The distorted organ after 4 minutes is killer! And check out her vocal melodies here. "Instant Pussy" has Julie and Robert doing these vocal melodies that make me feel like I'm intruding(haha) especially 3 1/2 minutes in.

"Signed Curtain" is another one the crowd claps and cheers about once they recognize it. I love this song so much and even my daughter who walked in as it was on sang along as she knows it from years ago when I played it. "Calyx" a HATFIELD AND THE NORTH tune has humerous lyrics with electric piano and bass standing out. Vocal melodies after 2 minutes as the organ replaces the electric piano. "Little Red Robin Hood Hit The Road" opens with Robert singing as the organ and drums support. Check out Oldfield on guitar starting before 1 1/2 minutes, man that sounds amazing. It's powerful 3 minutes in before we get a calm with violin before 4 1/2 minutes. It ends with Ivor Cutler's spoken poetry. It all ends with the cover of "I'm A Believer" a minor hit for Robert but honestly I can only think of Shrek.

One of the best live albums I own without question

 Fourth by SOFT MACHINE, THE album cover Studio Album, 1971
3.48 | 268 ratings

The Soft Machine Canterbury Scene

Review by ALotOfBottle

3 stars In October of 1970, Soft Machine started recording their fourth studio album. Their previous, two-disc release, Third , contained four long epics, each with its distinctive flavor. Robert Wyatt's piece, 'Moon In June', which was the only vocal track on the album, clearly showing his own musical vision, quite different from one of his band-mates. In fact, on his first solo album, The End of an Ear, Wyatt described himself as an "Out of work pop singer currently on drums with Soft Machine". The jazz-fusion oriented path Soft Machine had taken undoubtedly did not please his musical sensibilities. For their upcoming album, the group invited a double-bass player, Roy Babbington, who had previously played with Keith Tippet. A horn section, different from the one on Third, was also added, consisting of Alan Skidmore on tenor saxophone, Jimmy Hastings on alto flute and bass clarinet, Nick Evans on trombone, and Mark Charig on cornet. Fourth was released in early 1971 and was followed by Robert Wyatt's departure from the band.

Soft Machine's style on Fourth may appear as radical compared their first two works from 1968 and 1969, but is in fact merely a natural development they made from Third. The recruitment of a double-bass player, however, is a breakthrough and a turning point in the band's career. This might be interpreted as a definitive cut-off from rock. Yes, they probably still could rock out, but they were by no means a rock band anymore. The group creates a unique blend of elements of Miles Davis' mid-late sixties post-bop, free jazz of Cecil Taylor, Ornette Coleman, and Charles Mingus, and ambient music, that could be connected with pioneering bands such as Popol Vuh. Fourth also has a one-of-a-kind, inexplicable flavor that indicates that Soft Machine is a European outfit and differentiates them from contemporary groups from the United States. Similarly to Third, Fourth is largely focused on improvisation, therefore showcasing the instrumentalism of the musicians.

The newly-recruited horn section helps the band in reaching a certain amount of versatility in their sound. Although Elton Dean's alto saxophone and saxello is still dominant in the band's soundscapes, they are now enriched with sounds of a flute, a trombone, a cornet, and a tenor sax. Most often, these instruments play together, creating an interesting 'metal wall' of horn sounds, but solo parts on each of them are not uncommon. Mike Ratledge's keyboard rig is extended with a Hohner pianet, which the virtuoso finds particularly useful on parts, where strong rhythmical background is needed. His signature fuzzed-out Lowrey organ sound, which is one of the few common elements between Soft Machines debut and Fourth, plays an important role on his break-neck speed solos. With a double-bass player onboard, Hugh Hopper's contribution might seem limited, but the bassist's unique style and bass timbre is still crucial to Machine's sound. Robert Wyatt, who quite rightfully might not have been happy with a direction his band took, proves how much of a versatile drummer he was with his accurate and precise drumming.

Side one of Fourth is occupied by three tracks. The work starts with Ratledge's composition 'Teeth'. It starts out with a complex theme, which smoothly dissolves into a jam (which at parts reminds me of 'Hope For Happiness' from Soft Machine's debut). Then, we are approached by Hopper's piece 'Kings and Queens', which despite following a simple structure is one of the most memorable tracks from the album with a slightly gloomy, melancholic feel. Side one is closed with 'Fletcher's Blemish', a loud, atonal, horn-driven jam that lies just on the border of being classified as free-jazz and fusion. Side two comprises Hugh Hopper's four-part suite 'Virtually'. Part 1 is kept in a traditional jazz feel and is based on improvisation. Part 2 builds up tension, which leads to an atonal jam with Elton Dean's saxophone in the foreground. Part 3 opens with dissonant noises achieved by manipulating instruments with studio equipment on dreamy electronic ambient basis. Part 4 is basically an extension of Part 3 with smooth passages fading until the end of the album.

Fourth marks the end of Soft Machine's Canterbury scene years and begins what is known as group's 'classic' era as a jazz-fusion act. The music on the album might not be very compelling, at least in my book, but is a much-needed listen and is crucial to the development English jazz to come. A lot of the times, one will find their thoughts drifting far away from the music, which might be a testimony of its' well, soporific aspect. The album is more than decent in its own right, but is rather stodgy, insignificant, and unmemorable at the same time. No wonder why Robert Wyatt left Soft Machine. However, it is recommended to listen to the album and forge your own opinion. Fourth gets well-deserved three stars!

 Camembert Electrique by GONG album cover Studio Album, 1971
3.78 | 314 ratings

Camembert Electrique
Gong Canterbury Scene

Review by Mellotron Storm
Prog Reviewer

4 stars After recently enjoying "Obsolete" by Dashiell Hedayatt with pretty much this same lineup of GONG backing him up I had to finally review "Camembert Electrique" which was released the same year as "Obsolete". According to the liner notes this is the first "real" GONG album as "Magik Brother" was a solo Daevid Allen release although they put Gilli's name on the album cover too. Subsequent re-issues changed "Magik Brother" to being a GONG recording but in reality "Camembert Electrique" is the first true GONG record. This album really does fit in well with the trilogy that would follow. It's maybe less polished and as mentioned in the liner notes "... Camembert epitomises the early GONG, ie stoned loonies having a great time, who also happen to be excellent musicians. It's full of raw energy, more tape loops, space-whisper and glissando guitar, topped off with inspired sax playing. The later albums were more sophisticated and polished but they lack the edge and anarchy of Camembert."

"Radio Gnome Prediction" and the closer "Gnome The Second" are 27 second opening and closing bits with spoken words and strange sounds. "You Can't Kill Me" is a rock song with Daevid on vocals as Gilli helps out. Sax before a minute. Check out the guitar 2 minutes in on this great instrumental section that lasts until after 3 minutes. It turns instrumental again except for Gilli's whispers then Daevid returns on vocals while Pip keeps busy on the drums, lots of sax too. "I've Bin Stone Before" sounds like a Dylan song both vocally and the theme. This is like a hymn with that floating organ helping out. Sax eventually joins in and Daevid channels Wyatt briefly before 2 minutes.

"Mister Long Shanks/ O Mother/ I Am Your Fantasy" opens with a catchy sax led section that speeds up as the vocals join in. The "O Mother" section sounds like an early Zappa tune on the chorus part. The final section starts before 2 1/2 minutes and it's melancholic and mysterious as Gilli speaks the lyrics slowly in a haunting atmosphere. Love it! "Dynamite/ I am your Animal" has this line repeated over and over as drums and more help out. It kicks into a groove before a minute as the second part of this song arrives with Gilli on vocals as sax joins in in this determined and relentless passage. Contrasts between the two sections continue.

"Wet Cheese Delirium" is a very short piece with funny spoken words and sampled sounds. "Squeezing Sponges Over Policemen's Heads" is just over 10 seconds of sampled voices. The next three tracks are my top three tunes on here, so I imagine if I owned this on vinyl back in the day I'd have worn out side two. "Fohat Digs Holes In Space" features dramatic sounds as the drums pound and spacey synths help out. It settles in quickly though with bass, percussion and spacey sounds reminding me of "Continental Circus" a soundtrack that GONG released the same year. So good! Vocals after 4 minutes as Daevid and Gilli both sing. Sax before 5 minutes after the vocals have stopped. What a great track!

My favourite though is "And You Tried So Hard". It opens sounding like heaven and it builds. Daevid's vocals are so smooth and well done. This sounds like a 60's hit before theatrical vocals and a rougher sound take over. Back to that earlier sound 2 minutes in and Gilli sings a minute later. It ends like it began. "Tropical Fish/ Selene" has funny vocal sounds to start which are replaced by an uptempo instrumental section. Vocals join in reminding me of Syd-led FLOYD. I like the instrumental section starting before 2 minutes with lots of guitar and sax. This is so good as Gilli helps out. Daevid's back vocally after 4 minutes and I love the passage before 6 minutes as Gilli sings and the guitar riffs.

A very solid 4 stars. I just want to quote the liner notes about a second manager that GONG hired back then named Giorgio Gomelsky. "One day Gomelsky turned up babbling about this band he'd seen. Like GONG, they had their mythology, even their own language-MAGMA. In due course Gomelsky took them on as well and Daevid got to see them! As he recalls, "Incredible. All these men in black with inverted tantra symbols. Their music took the breath out of your lungs, it was like upside down Wagner. Christian Vander delivered imitation Hitler speeches in the middle of drum solos, and the singer looked like Valkyrie and had a four octave voice. Anyway they were like our shadow. There was GONG, colourful, anarchic, all going different directions, but trying to pull together. MAGMA were all incredible musicians, but totally disciplined, Vander would hit them with a stick if they played a wrong note. It was like ying and yang."" Gomelsky did put them on tour together with each alternating as the headline group but there was not a single night where both bands played well.

 Fish Rising by HILLAGE, STEVE album cover Studio Album, 1975
4.12 | 338 ratings

Fish Rising
Steve Hillage Canterbury Scene

Review by ALotOfBottle

4 stars Steve Hillage's musical career can be traced back to his days in the band Uriel with Dave Stewart, Mont Campbell, and Clive Brooks. In 1968, Hillage decided to begin studies at the University of Kent in Canterbury, which made it unable for him to continue playing with the group. Uriel recorded only one album, under the name Azrachel. The three other musicians changed their name to Egg. In 1971, Hillage formed a one-album project Khan, which would break up only one year later. He settled in Gong, playing on all three parts of the legendary Radio Gnome trilogy. After leaving the band, Hillage teamed up with Dave Stewart, his friends from Gong, Mike Howlett, Tim Blake, Pierre Moerlen, Didier Malherbe, Miquette Giraudy, and Lindsay Cooper of Henry Cow, and recorded his first solo album, Fish Rising.

The music of Fish Rising could closely be compared to that of Gong, but without the strange, comedic input of Daevid Allen. The album is rich in dreamy soundscapes and ambient, space-like textures. The influence of Canterbury-style jazz becomes evident on improvisational passages. The main melodies and themes of the pieces though, are kept in a rather popular convention with ballad-like vocal parts. Hillage often lays down a dry guitar riff with the whole band building a theme around it. On the instrumental parts, he takes care to keep good balance between jazz-fueled improvisation and more 'distant', beat-less passages. Studio equipment works in favor of the lush, cosmic feel of Fish Rising, enriching the music with various delay units, reverberated instrument sounds, Gong-like electronic shimmer effects, and oscillator devices.

Steve Hillage's guitar style and tone may remind the listener a bit of those of Manuel Göttsching from Ash Ra Tempel (who released his guitar-dominated solo album, Inventions For Electric Guitar the very same year). The guitarist switches between a wide variety of sounds ranging from as far as clean, glassy tone supported by a chorus effect, to dirty crunch on rhythm parts, to sustaining fuzz on solos. In addition, Hillage sings with his characteristic, gentle voice. Dave Stewart's organ, Tim Blake's synthesizers, and Miquette Graudy's keyboards all play a crucial role on the album. The wind section of Lindsay Cooper on bassoon and Didier Malherbe on sax and flute gives this release a unique flavor, sort of reminiscent of Gong. Pierre Moerlen's dynamic and accurate drumming is perfectly suited for the work. Moerlen also plays percussion, which really adds to the its distinct sound.

Firsh Rising comprises five pieces. The opening 17-minute 'Solar Musick Suite' is divided into four movements, each having a different feel. 'Aftaglid' and 'The Salmon Song', two other multimovement pieces, follow a similar pattern of the sung theme being presented and later resolving into instrumental madness, which displays the fantastic musicianship of Hillage's companions. Besides 'Solar Musick Suite', Side 1 also consists of shorter tracks, "Meditation of the Snake" and 'Fish'.

The style of Steve Hillage's solo debut, Fish Rising points the direction in which he would go in the following years. To make sure his musical vision is executed in the best possible way, he teamed up with the musicians of the highest order. The result is without a doubt incredibly pleasing. The album's sound is distinct and innovative, yet a bit familiar. Fish Rising is an absolutely quintessential Canterbury scene work.

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Canterbury Scene bands/artists list

Bands/Artists Country
KEVIN AYERS United Kingdom
THE BOOT LAGOON 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
MAGIC BUS United Kingdom
MANNA/MIRAGE 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
SHORT WAVE 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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