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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

4.28 | 1552 ratings
4.29 | 769 ratings
Wyatt, Robert
4.25 | 916 ratings
4.27 | 700 ratings
Hatfield And The North
4.24 | 905 ratings
4.27 | 629 ratings
4.22 | 873 ratings
Soft Machine, The
4.26 | 369 ratings
National Health
4.20 | 499 ratings
Hatfield And The North
4.16 | 658 ratings
4.24 | 280 ratings
Quiet Sun
4.12 | 598 ratings
4.15 | 370 ratings
4.23 | 221 ratings
4.13 | 379 ratings
Hillage, Steve
4.24 | 190 ratings
4.13 | 337 ratings
National Health
4.35 | 120 ratings
Moving Gelatine Plates
4.07 | 433 ratings
Soft Machine, The
4.03 | 489 ratings
Soft Machine, The

Canterbury Scene overlooked and obscure gems albums new

Random 4 (reload page for new list) | As selected by the Canterbury Scene experts team

Miller, Phil
Soft Heap
Muffins, The

Latest Canterbury Scene Music Reviews

 Matching Mole by MATCHING MOLE album cover Studio Album, 1972
3.62 | 216 ratings

Matching Mole
Matching Mole Canterbury Scene

Review by Kingsnake

2 stars Maybe this isn't just for me. When I listened to this, I thought the other reviewers wouldn;t like it, as I did.

But the reviews are raving. Maybe it's just not my kind of humor, or maybe it's because I don't do drugs. I can hear that the musicians are very talented and here and there I hear beautiful melodies (especially the piano-parts).

But the humor is just to much. I can't be bothered with this amount of humor in music. I do like Caravan and Supersister, but they are enjoyable to listen to. This is just annoying. "this is the verse, this is the bridge, this is the chorus or just another part of the song".

The music sounds like a jam-session, not like worthy compositions. It would have been funny if someone I knew did this, while being stoned. But it's not for me. Sorry.

 Barren Dream by MR. SIRIUS album cover Studio Album, 1987
4.23 | 42 ratings

Barren Dream
Mr. Sirius Canterbury Scene

Review by nikitasv777

5 stars This is Mr. Sirius debut album released in 1987. One of the most unique and individual progressive rock albums. The music covers the Canterbury Scene and Symphonic Prog. It's very pleasant music with lots of flute, vintage keyboards and female soprano vocals. This album is chock full of wonderful melodies sung in Lisa Ohki's (Hiroko Nagai) nightingale-sweet, soaring voice. Simply put, an absolute masterpiece and a basic addition to any serious progressive rock fan - the flute work are just flawless. This is high-quality symphonic progressive music. If you are an early Camel, Renaissance and Italian symphonic prog fan, you will love this album!
 Songs by GREAVES, JOHN album cover Studio Album, 1994
4.02 | 16 ratings

John Greaves Canterbury Scene

Review by Walkscore

4 stars The Essential Greaves Album - very close to 5 stars!

John Greaves has produced solo albums since the late 1970s, although often sporadically. But with at least 16 solo albums, he has by now a long discography. He is not an easy composer to categorize, although there is perhaps a touch of melancholic vaudeville (or something) in all his work. He began with Henry Cow, playing bass on their first three albums, and then on National Health's two last (out of three) albums, as well as the joint Henry Cow/Slapp Happy album 'Desperate Straights'. It was while making the latter that he met Peter Blegvad, with whom he would make his (probably) most famous album 'Kew.Rhone'. While I really like that album, 'Songs' is my favourite Greaves album. While Kew.Rhone is highly inventive and original, it largely keeps the same sound and feel all the way through, and one needs to be in a particular mood for it. 'Songs', on the other hand, is highly varied, and yet flows very well from song to song, engulfing the listener in its warmth regardless of mood. On 'Songs', Greaves writes new songs while also re-interpreting a number of his older tunes, setting a pattern that would continue on many later albums. However, instead of having the same vocalists on every song, here Greaves invites a number of different vocalists to sing on the album, as well as himself. This further helps differentiate each track, giving each song a slightly different flavour and allowing the identify of each one to really emerge. Robert Wyatt is one of these guest vocalists, singing on three tracks, among them a re-interpretation of both the closing track ('Gegestand') and the title track, to his first album 'Kew.Rhone'. I must say this is just an amazing version of the song - the penultimate version in my opinion. Another Wyatt guest vocal is on Greave's 'The Song', a new song written for this album. And well, it is awesome. If Greaves could be said to have a signature song, this would be it (and 'Kew.Rhone' would have to be the runner-up). These are two exceptionally musical tunes, and Wyatt's presence elevates them even further, putting them among the best of the 'Canterbury' genre. But with only three guest vocals, Wyatt does not dominate here. Greaves brings in three other singers to sing on a total of seven of the other tracks, while Greaves takes the helm on only two songs (including the excellent ''The Green Fuse', with lyrics drawn from a poem by Dylan Thomas). Susan S'Ange Belling adds quasi-operatic vocals on three tracks, including a re-interpretation of the 'The Price We Pay' originally from Greaves' 'Parrot Fashions' album, while Kristoffer Blegvad (younger brother of Peter, with whom Greaves has written a number of songs, including those on Kew.Rhone) co-sings on three tracks. While the music, with instrumentation leaning on acoustic guitar, piano, and accordion, is largely subdued and sombre, it is also highly innovative with ethereal electric guitar additions by David Cunningham and the occasional saxello by (of course) Elton Dean, with the instrumentation changing from song to song. Yet each track builds on the previous one, and you just don't want to turn this album off. While I could highlight my favourite tracks (in addition to the Wyatt version of "Kew.Rhone" and Greaves' classic "The Song", for me these would include "The Green Fuse", "The Silence" and "Back Where We Began"), in reality every single track here is excellent and everyone will probably choose a different favourite. If anyone has not yet heard John Greaves solo music, this is the album I would recommend you start with - it is really high quality, warm, and often beautiful. I give this album 8.8 out of 10 on my 10-point scale, which is very very close to 5 stars.

 For To Next by HILLAGE, STEVE album cover Studio Album, 1983
2.27 | 31 ratings

For To Next
Steve Hillage Canterbury Scene

Review by poito

4 stars 3+4 This seems to be the last studio album by Prog hero SH so far. And I may understand it, or maybe not. To start with, I think he made a big mistake in the order of tracks. He had not released new material for some years and everybody including me thought that the original flame went out, but SH found something here. This is an esquizoid album with two very different parts. In the first, to be skipped, he definitely tried the commercial line, maybe he was looking for a living, you know, everybody has needs. Possibly, the longtime mating and influence by M Giraudy who came along SH off the French band GONG, had finally taken over as a safeguard to sail in the dessert of the 80's. But he didn't succeed. This was the time when carpetbaggers like JM Jarre were rising to stardom, what a bad example for kids and teens selling away easy electro techno sound to entertain open-mouth crowds in national holidays and fireworks. SH would have rather follow other Frenchy as JL Ponty, into the fusion, for which he was fully skilled and could have granted him new audience and a living. So and all, he tried in this album that probably deserves much more credit, as I said in the beginning before I lost myself in the field of mourners. Although the first half, up to track 5, is made of commercial fillers, the second half is purely instrumental, and SH finds a worthy blend of techno backgrounds Tangerine Dream-like and his classic guitar riffs, which appeared in very good shape again. Kind of returned to the style in the album GREEN, but with much more techno, as the closing track Still Golden. Before The Storm, And Not Or, Knight Templar, and Serotonin are very interesting tracks and though weaker, also deserve a turn the techno-glam Frame by Frame and Red Admiral. Globally, the album would score 3 stars, but the second part is worth 4, and SH deserves to be recognized and credited.
 Rainbow Dome Musick by HILLAGE, STEVE album cover Studio Album, 1979
3.41 | 90 ratings

Rainbow Dome Musick
Steve Hillage Canterbury Scene

Review by poito

1 stars This is a strong bet by SH, or maybe a joke, hard to say. He flirts with spacy airs since the third album, but never attempted to emulate Tangerine Dream that openly. I wonder where he thought he would go with this. I mean, anyone plays with toys in their houses but no one takes them to the office. Definitely, he was running out of ideas and essayed the cheap way. The funny thing is that the spacy era was also about to end. I mean, the Tangerine Dream climax was in 74-75, and even they had run out of gas by the time. Those empowering this album should go a little back to the origins of electronic music. By the way, where is PROGression in electronic music?
 Open by HILLAGE, STEVE album cover Studio Album, 1979
3.39 | 52 ratings

Steve Hillage Canterbury Scene

Review by poito

2 stars SH begins a sudden decline in this album. He had been refractory to musical tendencies for a while and crafted a bunch of great albums in the beginning of his solo career, original, innovative, a style of playing guitar of his own that very few could handle at the time, but inspiration is finite and it was thinning. The album is a medley of different styles without any direction. If it weren't by the spacy synth backgrounds and the gliding style SH would be hard to recognize in some themes. Canterbury roots are dry, and the muses are gone. Even the guitar riffs that came out naturally only one year earlier, with no effort, sound now tired, flat. And the rhythmic section is poor; he might have found something better in a high school band. Somehow, he succumbed to what he had been keeping away for so long, the mainstream tendencies, and didn't know which one to follow, rock, funk, techno. He opens to new ideas, but not sufficiently worked, as in "Earthrise", where he blends the tangerinesque background with Arabian flavors. The jazzy airs a la JL Ponty in the closing track "The Fire Inside" might have been a good direction. At least he would have been on the track of the hard work. But when you stop being yourself the personality disappears. I can't single out any track.
 Motivation Radio by HILLAGE, STEVE album cover Studio Album, 1977
3.43 | 115 ratings

Motivation Radio
Steve Hillage Canterbury Scene

Review by poito

4 stars Third solo album by SH. He uses here standard bass and drum rock elements to build the base of the tracks in side A and spacy atmospheres in side B upon which gliding his guitar. Apparently with some messages to deliver SH sings much more than in previous releases. In A-side themes one has to wait till they reach the final third to listen to the wonderful guitar riffs, as in Motivation or Light in the Sky. Motivation is one of the highs, a smooth piece that initiates with a blend of guitars in the background and the front, spacy atmospheres and it goes in crescendo. In B-side, it is the other way around, themes start with atmospheric spacy catchy rhythms that usually go in crescendo till some lyrics get in and are swept away by gliding guitars, as in Saucer Surfing that slicks on a funky rhythm and beautiful aerial guitars to deliver a bizarre message from the hippie era, the Searching for the Spark, or Not Fade Away. Globally, the album is not as strong as others in SH discography, but no doubt the mastery of this guitar giant and the unique sounds he crafted are worth to have it in anyone's shelf. It never disappoints when taken to the disc player.
 Green by HILLAGE, STEVE album cover Studio Album, 1978
3.92 | 176 ratings

Steve Hillage Canterbury Scene

Review by poito

4 stars SH underwent such a fast evolution since he left GONG. In four years he released four albums in clear progression to new musical scapes. From his Canterburian roots and the hippie Tibetan flavors he went on to use more atmospheric, experimental and even funky elements, and still growing alone in the deceiving musical panorama of the late 70's. GREEN is more uniform than former RADIO MOTIVATION. It cultivates profusely atmospheres, some with spacy airs, but don't be mistaken, they are only beds for master guitar work. Lots of great riffs and some techno elements that rival Tangerine Dream's, as in Ether Ships, but always ending in a great gliding guitar solo. Some tracks follow that may start as ballades or lighter themes and contain wonderful guitar, in the background as well as in the front during riffs. Musik of the Trees is an acoustic piece that finishes in one of his characteristic lengthy ends with nice guitar work in the background. Two tracks are dedicated to the UFO stuff, Unidentified and UFO Over Paris, with some funky rhythm. My favorite pick in the album is the closing The Glorious Om Riff, a great dramatic background with nice work at the drums and the customary guitar work at the front. Overall, it is a bit weaker than the first two albums, but strong enough and offering very pleasant combinations of atmospheres and impressive guitar work.
 L by HILLAGE, STEVE album cover Studio Album, 1976
3.67 | 168 ratings

Steve Hillage Canterbury Scene

Review by poito

5 stars 4.5 Second solo album by Prog guitar hero SH after departing from underground totem band GONG. Apparently indifferent to the tides of punk and disco that were erasing all trace of good music and good taste in both sides of the Atlantic, SH remained tightly in his own track, evolving refractory to the ongoing musical scenario. The album named under a cryptic letter L, is more varied than the amazing FISH RISING. There is more singing here. Some tracks are heavily immersed in Indian flavors, like the opening Hurdy Gurdy Man and the following Hurdy Gurdy Glissando, both with an exceptional guitar work. The next track Elektrick Gypsies may give an idea of how SH saw himself. It has several very different parts, as in a wondering gypsy life. The track begins with the sirens of a big boat in a harbor, and continues with a light tune for the lyrics, but listen carefully to the background in which SH plays his characteristic riffs behind the voices, not to miss, because it is there where his mastery shows up. SH is one of those few guitar monsters that can make a guitar speak as a human. There are also some excerpts of jazz, and a delightful final section with a guitar floating over a monotonous acoustic bed. The following track is a kind of Tibetan mantra or something, which closes circle with the former and somehow reconstructs the origins of European gypsies to India. The next track is a 12 min long suite called Lunar Musick Suite with several sections, in which SH experiences with different blends and atmospheres, some spacy, some jazzy, some rockier, which at times appear improvisational, but most likely they weren't. The closing track It's All Too Much has a background that could have been signed by Bruce Springsteen, a catchy rhythm with easy arrangements and a floating background of keys, unusual in SH's, that ends in a sound that reminded the band Boston, but of course with a final great guitar work that makes it special. This might well be an anthem for live shows. That's all that contained my original tape. The remastered CD version added some bonuses that in my view degrade the spirit and the quality of the original. A big mistake indeed. Let's forget about them and keep the masterpiece alone.
 Fish Rising by HILLAGE, STEVE album cover Studio Album, 1975
4.13 | 379 ratings

Fish Rising
Steve Hillage Canterbury Scene

Review by poito

5 stars Steve Hillage is one of the few musicians that fought back the devastation produced by punk and disco music in mid 70's. When many Prog mastodons were deciding whether kneeling or closing business, a few heroes like SH ignored the hecatomb and dedicated selflessly to keep on creating amazing music, which would however remain in the shelves of a few teenagers that just woke up to life and music in those days and decided to swim against the tide. SH is a Canterburian guitar player, formerly part of the melt pot band GONG and probably one of the best guitars of all times (mark this name), plus an amazing composer. He was able to take his Canterbury roots and evolve to a unique style. Some have called it space rock, but I don't share that view at all. That's an often misused tag in which some techno-hippie sounds are often allocated. But SH is far from this in this album. He used glissando style at the guitar, a few echo arrangements and sounds, and occasionally some techno-aerial bits, that's it. But this album is a clear heir of the Canterbury scene taking elements from the hippie era, and occasionally includes bits of India flavors, which will be more prominent in following releases. This is one of a kind, a masterpiece of Prog. We are first blessed by a 17 min epic called the Solar Music Suite, a magnum opus full of new sounds, motifs and thrilling guitar. Also outstanding is The Salmon Song, in the same vein. A jumpy salmon is depicted in the cover, playing with the equivocal scene of a god fish rising triumphant to the world and a poor fish that is about to be caught and become food, maybe us when we dare to stand out. The closing track called Aftaglid, again dominated by master guitar work, is recorded in a delightful stereo sound that wraps you up and takes us inside of a musical box, perfect to listen while relaxing in a bath tube. You don't want it to finish. The airs of late 60's psicodellia are still floating, and SH probably incarnates the prototype of hippie that evokes to India, gurus and lamas in late 60's, but this album will shock you up and you will learn why music re-born to the world in those restless years. The recording is excellent for the time. I bought this and other SH's in tape format, which I still treasure, and the sound was already so good. Only 2-3 years earlier they were so deficient. This album is a masterpiece, one of those I would like someone to point for me if I were young. A discovery. Trust me.
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Canterbury Scene bands/artists list

Bands/Artists Country
KEVIN AYERS United Kingdom
BIG HOGG 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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