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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 | 1606 ratings
4.31 | 795 ratings
Wyatt, Robert
4.25 | 930 ratings
4.24 | 949 ratings
4.28 | 653 ratings
4.26 | 727 ratings
Hatfield And The North
4.22 | 919 ratings
Soft Machine, The
4.26 | 389 ratings
National Health
4.20 | 517 ratings
Hatfield And The North
4.16 | 679 ratings
4.23 | 293 ratings
Quiet Sun
4.13 | 617 ratings
4.27 | 235 ratings
4.16 | 383 ratings
4.13 | 394 ratings
Hillage, Steve
4.14 | 354 ratings
National Health
4.23 | 200 ratings
4.34 | 129 ratings
Moving Gelatine Plates
4.06 | 454 ratings
Soft Machine, The
4.12 | 256 ratings
Picchio Dal Pozzo

Canterbury Scene overlooked and obscure gems albums new

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

Moving Gelatine Plates
Gowen - Miller - Sinclair - Tomkins
Greaves, John
Miller, Phil

Latest Canterbury Scene Music Reviews

 Whatevershebringswesing by AYERS, KEVIN album cover Studio Album, 1972
3.64 | 69 ratings

Kevin Ayers Canterbury Scene

Review by YourJefa

4 stars I don't know with how many stars rate this album: 4 or 5. I like this album way too much more than I like "Joy of a toy" but definitely not that much as I like "Shooting at the moon".

When I heard this album for the first time I immediately got amazed by the first song; the following songs didn't make me feel that, but I still enyoyed it a lot.

I can measure and compare this album with some other great albums of the classic Canterbury Scene era and that wouldn't help me too much either.

I must be very careful and not to give it a higher note than it deserves, so I believe four stars is a very fair note. But I'm still not sure, probably it deserves five...

 Kevin Ayers & The Whole World: Shooting At The Moon by AYERS, KEVIN album cover Studio Album, 1970
3.73 | 75 ratings

Kevin Ayers & The Whole World: Shooting At The Moon
Kevin Ayers Canterbury Scene

Review by YourJefa

5 stars If I had to describe this album with just one word that word would be "majestic". It's not only that I liked it, but also is one of most epic albums that I've ever heard, one of those really few albums that make me feel incredibly lucky for having the chance to listen and enjoy them.

Each song is amazing and it has that natural continuity that is really hard to get on an album (even in Prog). The mysterious instrumental pieces like "Pisser dans un violon" and "Underwater" show us that even on an improvised track KEVIN AYERS and his group were able to do some great stuff (and I really don't think those pieces were really improvised).

I don't remember when it was the last time that I heard such a good album; "Shooting at the moon" is one of those essential albums that just have to be on every Prog Rock collection. This is an obligated album for any collector.

The French singing in the BT's "Puis je?" And "Jolie madame" is wonderful: the French is very clear and easy to understand, easier than the French singed by most of the classic French Prog Rock bands like Ange or Mona Lisa, but maybe that's particularly interesting to me because I like to study foreign languages.

This album is a whole masterpiece, so I'll give it the highest note: five stars!!!

 Hidden Details by SOFT MACHINE, THE album cover Studio Album, 2018
4.13 | 51 ratings

Hidden Details
The Soft Machine Canterbury Scene

Review by WFV

4 stars I'm really glad I bought this record. The pros for me echo previous reviews - these old guys really can still wail and the music is energetic and lively - it fits right in with the Soft Machine canon that hadn't seen a shiny studio release since the early eighties. This music is welcome indeed for Soft Machine fans. For those who have never heard their music, I think this would be a fine place to start. Yeah, their discography definitely needed a better curtain call than the Land of Cocayne. The cons - I'm not crazy about sax as a lead instrument in a fusion setting. It just doesn't set my world on fire like a guitar. Good thing is these guys can play anything and that isn't a huge drawback for me. Good album.
 Joy Of A Toy by AYERS, KEVIN album cover Studio Album, 1969
3.63 | 102 ratings

Joy Of A Toy
Kevin Ayers Canterbury Scene

Review by YourJefa

4 stars Such an amazing album! To be honest, I don't like too much the first four tracks, but "Song for insane times" it's a great song and the following ones get much and much better.

"Lady Rachel" is one of my all time favourite songs from the whole Canterbury Scene cathalog, "Stop this train" is pretty cool too and "Oleh, oleh, Bandu Bandong" is from now on a song that I need to practice on my drum-set.

There is too much left from Soft Machine's classic sound, KEVIN AYERS had made a very underrated Canterbury Scene classic album which needs and deserves more people to listen to it.

My personal oppinion about "Joy of a toy" is that if you enjoy soft but very interesting and well done music you have to get it into your collection (I hope to get it into mine someday).

Very nice album! Four stars

 Double Egg With Chips And Beans by ANTIQUE SEEKING NUNS album cover Singles/EPs/Fan Club/Promo, 2006
4.31 | 29 ratings

Double Egg With Chips And Beans
Antique Seeking Nuns Canterbury Scene

Review by YourJefa

4 stars This second EP from ANTIQUE SEEKING NUNS was (at least to me) not as interesting as the first one, but that does not suggest it is a bad record. The essence and influence of the classic Canterbury Scene bands is notorious, but it is also notorious that these guys were making something brand new. I can hear a very clear influence from bands like National Health and Picchio dal Pozzo, maybe there is, maybe not.

I can't believe it took me so long to hear these guys' music. With this EP and the first one they have become one of my favourite Canterbury Scene bands, I wish they had recorded an actual album, that would be really amazing.

I will rate this EP with four stars.

 Mild Profundities by ANTIQUE SEEKING NUNS album cover Singles/EPs/Fan Club/Promo, 2003
3.78 | 19 ratings

Mild Profundities
Antique Seeking Nuns Canterbury Scene

Review by YourJefa

4 stars Well, this is not an album but only an EP, so we can't expect to get the same satisfaction that an actual album can bring, it ends very soon, when we are just starting to get interested (or at least that happened to me).

The music is great, this four musicians had made an amazing work; the songs are short (for a Prog Rock band) but are also very well played and interesting (they don't become boring).

Canterbury Scene gave us its most amazing bands in the seventies, but this young guys from this century have made something very unique. Maybe if they would have recorded a few more songs and they have made a whole album starting with the idea of this EP the results would have been even more interesting. They had a great potential.

I'll rate this EP with four stars.

 Daevid Allen & Euterpe: Good Morning! by ALLEN, DAEVID album cover Studio Album, 1976
3.71 | 51 ratings

Daevid Allen & Euterpe: Good Morning!
Daevid Allen Canterbury Scene

Review by YourJefa

3 stars This album was published in 1976, Daevid Allen and Gilli Smith have had left Gong two years earlier. In general, I think this album is very slow and soft, I mean, the music is not the kind that we can appretiate on the classic Gong Albums, this is more similar to the first Daevid Allen's solo album "Banana Moon".

It did not make me feel much interest, in some points I got really bored; clearly it has too much of the Canterbury Scene characteristics, but probably the best times for Canterbury Scene were in the first half of the 70's.

The album has some interesting moments, I liked the three last songs (including the bonus track "Euterpe gratitude piece") but I found than more of the half of the album was very slow and not too much interesting. I'll rate it with three stars.

 Banana Moon by ALLEN, DAEVID album cover Studio Album, 1971
3.22 | 56 ratings

Banana Moon
Daevid Allen Canterbury Scene

Review by YourJefa

3 stars When I started listening to this album I was expexting to listen a lot of the same type of sounds present in the classic Gong albums, but to be honest, what I found was more like a pop folk album.

The atmospheres created by Gong in the Radio Gnome Invisible are very hard to get (by a listener) and clearly this Daevid Allen's debut was not in that line. Then I realized that this album was published in 1971, the same year in which "Camembert electrique" was published but two years earlier than "Flying teapot" so I figured that probably Daevid hadn't started to explore those amazing sounds.

I feel just a couple of songs would be able to keep the attention of a whole Gong fan, but in general it's kind of boring. Anyway, I was expecting way too much from this album and I couldn't find what I was expecting. I'll rate it with three stars.

 Shapeshifter by GONG album cover Studio Album, 1992
3.52 | 74 ratings

Gong Canterbury Scene

Review by siLLy puPPy
Collaborator PSIKE, JR/F/Canterbury & Eclectic Teams

4 stars GONG has always been about keeping it weird and in any possible way imaginable. GONG was the lovechild of the fertile minds and straight out of the 60s hippies named Daevid Allen and Gilli Smyth. Together they crafted their idiosyncratic take on psychedelic rock that borrowed a thing or two from Allen's stint as a founder of The Wilde Flowers, a group that pretty birthed another phenomenon, namely England's quirky Canterbury jazz-rock scene. The duo set out to hone their craft and attracted all the right musicians to make their tangerine dreams come to fruition. After the successful grand finale of 'The Radio Gnome Invisible' trilogy that would wind up with 1974's jazz-fusion meets space rock masterpiece 'You,' both parents needed a vacation from their loving children and packed their bags and moved on.

Despite the founders' untimely departure, GONG was still obligated to Virgin Records to record three more albums. Enter Pierre Moerlin, and to the rescue he crafted a new GONG but kept the name the same at least until such annoying legalities were settled but then something even weirder than the music itself started to kick in. The band GONG suddenly became a family tree. Yep, the roots and trunk of the true that GONG had built up and out to brilliantly nurture and sprout new branches. The new GONG itself would eventually adopt the Pierre Mourlen's Gong moniker while other past members would splinter even further with bands such as Mother Gong, Gongzilla, Gongmaison, Paragong and even Planet Gong. Oh the excitement Allen and Smyth must've felt watching their pixie fueled vision morph into so many offspring.

But when such a project so wickedly cool and so utterly unique lays dormant for nearly two decades, something about the original GONG was space whispering in Allen's ear and ever so adept at tuning into the cosmic messages, felt the urge to reunite as much of the classic 70s lineup as humanly possible. Classic lineup is probably a hard nut to crack because even within the 'Radio Gnome' trilogy, there were many members who came and went and i do not believe that one single GONG album has ever seen the same lineup as the previous. And so the process began. Round up the old team to see if the boys (and girl) could still muster up some mind blowing pixie jazz rock magic that could capture the zeitgeist of the past while remaining contemporary for a more fickle alternative rock 90s crowd.

After all was said and done, Allen was quite successful in stacking up some of the greats of the past for the 9th album under the GONG moniker. SHAPESHIFTER would resurrect the zany GONG mythology with the main character Zero The Hero meeting an urban shaman who agrees to take Zero to the next level of consciousness but only if Zero spends nine months on an airplane where he could travel anywhere in the world but could spend money and under the condition that he only eat airplane food. Of course after all this, Zero dies at the end in Australia under mysterious circumstances. Oh my! The TRUE GONG is back and it's never been as absurd or ridiculously surreal since the 70s heyday! The album was released with two covers over the years and there have been variations in tracks as well. Can't anything be easy?

And so it was. GONG picks right up where 'You' left off with Didier Malherebe returning on bass, sax, keyboards, piccolo and flutes. Mike Howlett on bass. Graham Clark from the Pierre Moerlon phase on violins and even Pip Pyle from the wayback machine joins in on drums. Expectedly, everyone else on board is new to the GONG scene providing bass, keys, a crap load of Indian percussive instruments and even an African kora. So let the zaniness begin! There's lots of catching up to do.

As expected, despite being the fourth chapter of the GONG mythology, SHAPESHIFTER doesn't repeat what came before. Instead it's more like a collage effect of everything that came before. Jazz-fusion space rock? Check. Allen's whimsical charismatic presence with ridiculousness galore? Check. Space rock with glissando guitar, Allen's bread and butter? Check. The band take a cue from 'Angels Egg' and lolling through a diverse palette of musical flavors ranging from sizzling violin fueled progressive jazz-rock to silly hippie dippy drugged out silliness with healthy doses of short Indian percussion pieces and narrated silliness. This one is a long affair clocking in at 66 minutes but for the most part it's a wild ride that doesn't get stale. If i have any complaints it's that Allen's voice hasn't held up as well as i'd prefer and some of the tracks are substandard in quality compared to the greats of the past. While Steve Hillage declined the invitation, Steffi Sharpstrings does stellar job in tacking the guitar parts but SHAPESHIFTER is not a very guitar oriented album for the most part. There's even a techno track ('Dog-o-Matic')

SHAPESHIFTER was actually my very first exposure to the whacky wild antics of GONG so it does have a special place in my heart for being my gateway drug into an alternative pixie fueled universe that i had no idea existed. After my initial exposure however, i kind of moved on to the 70s stuff and haven't really returned to this one for quite some time. Having been impressed by my initial listening session, i do have to admit that it doesn't hold up quite as well after the impressive parade of stellar sui generis psych rock / jazz-fusion that is unmistakably GONG. While SHAPESHIFTER does fall short in a few arenas compared to the past, namely it's not quite as funny, it's not quite as brilliantly laid out and the tracks aren't as amazingly perfect in terms of compositional flair. However, the album flows nicely and the musicians are on the top of their game. This is an album that needed to be made but i do wish that was made better. The album should've been cut down by ten minutes. The tracks needed more attention paid to the hooks and earworms and all but overall this is a decent album.

3.5 stars but i'm rounding up since this was the magical album that got me into GONG.

 Expresso II by GONG album cover Studio Album, 1978
3.71 | 257 ratings

Expresso II
Gong Canterbury Scene

Review by siLLy puPPy
Collaborator PSIKE, JR/F/Canterbury & Eclectic Teams

3 stars Continuing the post David Allen era of GONG, Pierre Moerlen took on the role as band leader and steered the band in a completely new direction, namely a vibraphone rich jazz-fusion smorgasbord that borrowed from past greats and added new updated sensibilities brought to the work table by the myriad musicians who came and went. Three albums in past the "Radio Gnome Invisible" found the transition from the whimsical psychedelic rock tinged Canterbury jazz to the more earnest entirely instrumental guitar fueled fusion workouts, GONG found yet another cast of musical members departing and a whole new crew joining the ranks which at this point seems like a rotating cast.

While top dog Pierre Moerlen led the way once again, on GONG's ninth album EXPRESSO II, he not only continued his role as percussionist in chief with yet more stellar workouts on drums, glockenpiel, xylophone, tubular bells, tympani and the divine vibraphone but expanded their roles. While "Gazeuse!" was already a percussion rich paradise of intrigue polyrhythms, EXPRESSO II takes all the prior album's cues and adds even more as both fellow percussionists Mirielle Bauer and Benoît Moerlen return adding even more of the same percussive instruments to give one their percussive drive money's worth. As if that wasn't enough hammering and pounding, Françoise Causse joins in on congas. Another album, another bassist. This time Hansford Rowe takes the reins from a recently departed Francis Moze, who unfortunately took his fretless bass work along with him.

EXPRESSO II is named such because the previous album "Gazeuse!" was released in the US as "Expresso," which explains the mystery for those of us who didn't know that all this time. This was the last album for VIrgin Records who demanded the GONG brand fulfill its contract hence the band carrying on under Moerlen's helm under the GONG moniker despite it being a completely new project. Starting with the following "Downwind," the band would be called PIERE MOERLEN'S GONG and signed on Arista Records. The old Daevid Allen GONG would be resurrected but not until 1992's "Shapeshifter." In the meantime the GONG universe splintered into myriad forms producing a dizzying wealth of GONGdom: Mother Gong, Gongzilla, Planet Gong, Gongmaison.

While "Gazeuse!" went full-on jazz fusion mode that somewhat resided in between the tender soft airy style of Weather Report and the more rambunctious freneticism of Mahavishnu Orchestra (especially in the violin parts), EXPRESSO II takes a noticeably more jazzed up funky groove approach. Without Moze's stellar slinky fretless bass slides, Rowe takes the completely different approach by offering up an incessant supply of crisp chunky funk riffs that provide a sinewy zest that allows the spruced up percussion have a heyday as it whizzes around the main groove. While Allan Holdsworth didn't entirely stick around for the sequel, he did contribute his guitar work to four of the six tracks. The other two shared by Bon Lozaga and the introductory track "Heavy Tune" showcasing the Rolling Stones' own Mick Taylor providing the most rock oriented track on the album.

While EXPRESSO II is a decent enough album, for me its a step down in terms of the jazz-fusion qualities. While "Gazeuse!" delivered stellar time signature changes and jazzy chops from the divine, EXPRESSO II tends to chug along in funky groove territory for much of the time and exhibits a much more accessible and dare i even say commercial approach that tames the wild aspects while retaining the percussion and other instrumental accoutrements including the occasional violin which has been relegated to a mere two track by Darryl Way. It seems many find the EXPRESSO II era to be the strongest of the Moerlen led GONG years but personally i find this one a major step down from "Gazeuse!" in just about every way. While this one is a decent listen with more rock elements included, i miss the sheer intricacy that created the magic on "Gazeuse." "The tracks "Sleepy" and "Boring" do have a little truth in advertising as this one becomes monotonous at times whereas "Gazeuse! remained an enigmatic jazz-fusionistic tour de force. Still though, this one's not bad.

3.5 rounded down

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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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