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Canterbury Scene definition

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Canterbury Scene Top Albums

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

4.27 | 1088 ratings
4.32 | 511 ratings
Wyatt, Robert
4.27 | 622 ratings
4.30 | 451 ratings
Hatfield And The North
4.28 | 409 ratings
4.24 | 613 ratings
4.21 | 652 ratings
Soft Machine, The
4.16 | 472 ratings
4.19 | 356 ratings
Hatfield And The North
4.29 | 170 ratings
Quiet Sun
4.20 | 235 ratings
National Health
4.10 | 428 ratings
4.13 | 268 ratings
Hillage, Steve
4.11 | 250 ratings
4.23 | 135 ratings
4.24 | 127 ratings
4.11 | 225 ratings
National Health
4.06 | 340 ratings
Soft Machine, The
4.02 | 302 ratings
Soft Machine, The
4.05 | 187 ratings
Picchio Dal Pozzo

Canterbury Scene overlooked and obscure gems albums new

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Hopper, Hugh
National Health
Moving Gelatine Plates

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Latest Canterbury Scene Music Reviews

 Third by SOFT MACHINE, THE album cover Studio Album, 1970
4.21 | 652 ratings

The Soft Machine Canterbury Scene

Review by BatBacon

3 stars Easley one of the trickiest records I have in my collection and always makes me feel confused and disorientated. Those who know the genre Canterbury Scene know it stands for long, stretched out jams, weird melodies and that strange fuzzy organ sound. Its almost pop, but at the same time not even close. Almost jazz, but mutated into something beyond recognition. Soft Machine is Canterbury Scene at its most extreme and I don't know their records that well because I rarely have the energy to listen to them. To be completely honest I think this was the first time I listened through whole this record, I can't really recall having heard the last track before. A bit strange and funny, but at the same time, how could I tell? It sounds pretty much as the rest of the record.

Just the opening is enough to scare most people off, its about four minutes of weird organ noises. Only people looking for something slightly disturbing to listen to would sit through this intro (Yes, I had one of those nights, so I was pretty stimulated). Then comes the bass and drums and starts of some kind of jam, which is kind of nice for the first couple of minutes. But soon you realise this jam goes on for the rest of the 18 minutes long song and nothing really happens.

I admit it, this record has a lot of great moments, but most of the time it doesn't sound like the musicians are reflecting over what they are playing. All the four songs are over 18 minutes, but I don't think there is enough interesting ideas to stretch any of them that much. Except from a moment in the third song "Moon in June", which has a bit of vocals (Robert Wyatt's voice is fantastic!), its all mostly just a long and a bit annoying jam. A lot of organs and saxophone, noises and wild rhythms, but nothing really happens.

I would recommend this to anyone who thought National Health or Matching Mule (other Canterbury Scene bands) wasn't extreme enough. But for those who love Robert Wyatt's solo material or Caravan I have to say: Be careful around Soft Machine.

 To the Highest Bidder by SUPERSISTER album cover Studio Album, 1971
4.23 | 135 ratings

To the Highest Bidder
Supersister Canterbury Scene

Review by sinslice

5 stars Slowly Grow on Me.

Supersister include a select group of bands that did not attract me too much ( if anything ) the first times I heard, it was not ' love at first sight '. Although in most cases a complex and elaborate musical product needs time to be fully appreciated and gradually discovering it, with this Dutch band I almost give up. But fortunately I did not.

When I first heard it over twenty years ago, I was expecting a Camel style with guitars (no guitars here) and similar emotions conveyed in the music. It was a mistake. While it was a good influence to Latimer, Bardens and company, Supersister is more inclined to a Canterbury sound, to give a reference, but with a personal touch.

The sound of the first two albums is similar, but here the songwriting is stronger, almost no fillers, and ironic humor is less present. There are good tunes, well-structured and more than acceptable vocals.

" A Girl Named You" is the best work of the band, from my perspective. Ten minutes of musical ecstasy. Start with great energy, a driving hammond and electric piano, an electrifying Bass and perfect jazzy drums. Paragraph for the great performances of flute, wich is heard in the background accompanying almost all song.

"No tree will grow" contains an intriguing atmosphere and is more psychedelic, starting with keyboards to create suspense. Then Robert Jan Stips starts singing with a piano accompanying beautiful and skillfully; the song progresses slowly in intensity, without losing the initial atmosphere.

"Energy (Out of Future)" begins with a percussive base, then keyboards and flute. The rest is pure instrumental delight; accurate, with many changes and some interesting vocals. An experimental and space end.

Higher is as simple as beautiful.

Simply Essential.

 Caravan by CARAVAN album cover Studio Album, 1968
3.67 | 345 ratings

Caravan Canterbury Scene

Review by sinslice

4 stars Great debut from the best band in Canterbury!

Highlights include Place of my Own, Where But For Caravan Would I Be?, Love Song with Flute and Magic Man. Is no doubt that there is still some degree of immaturity and in the following steps of the band would see clarity and decisiveness in their innovative ideas. Still, it´s a transcendent work taking into account the time it was produced.

Distinctive experimentation in the final track. A distorted organ and bold. Fortunately, Caravan deepen beautifully in this type of sound and arrangements. Psychedelic, jazzy, symphonic, melodic. In addition to the outstanding organ performance by Dave Sinclair, Recently deceased Richard Coughlan stands in Drums. There eloquent progressive tendencies, but can not qualify as a masterpiece in the genre.

 Leave It Open by GONG album cover Studio Album, 1981
2.99 | 36 ratings

Leave It Open
Gong Canterbury Scene

Review by Anon-E-Mouse

4 stars The ugly duck of the pond? Perhaps not, but this album appears to be rather unloved in comparison with Pierre Moerlen's other works. Sure, in many places it's a lot more laid-back, almost meditative and different to masterpieces like "Gaseuse!", "Expresso II", or "Downwind", whilst retaining elements of those, nevertheless.

The musicianship is excellent, tight drums, great "angelic" vibraphones, good guitar bits and the surprise contribution by eminent Jazz veteran Charlie Mariano (saxes) fail to achieve a lasting impression. Just how is that possible?

There is nothing wrong with the music. I can only assume that the sonic qualities of the mix are perhaps too slick and rather thin, something that my old vinyl LP also displays. A real pity as it appears that the dynamics had been badly compromised in order to produce a crisp and overly transparent end product .

I like this work very much, but a thoughtful remaster would make it much more enjoyable. 4 stars as it is.

 Iskander by SUPERSISTER album cover Studio Album, 1973
3.59 | 63 ratings

Supersister Canterbury Scene

Review by Warthur
Prog Reviewer

4 stars Iskander represents Supersister taking a more serious turn than usual, delivering a Canterbury concept album about Alexander the Great's Eastern conquests ("Iskander" being how Alexander was known in some of the regions he conquered) that draws more from the third Soft Machine album (sans Moon In June) than the whimsy-heavy first two. Those who prized Supersister's playfulness and sense of fun in their previous albums may find this stab at serious prog rock credibility dull by comparison, but to my ears they actually do a decent job of delivering a quieter and more thoughtful take on their sound which doesn't deserve to be in the shadow of Pudding en Gisteren.
 Manna/Mirage by MUFFINS, THE album cover Studio Album, 1978
4.07 | 61 ratings

The Muffins Canterbury Scene

Review by apps79
Special Collaborator Neo Prog Team

3 stars In 1976 Michael Zentner and Stuart Abramowitz decided to leave The Muffins and the remaining trio recruited talented drummer Paul Sears.Four years after their formation the band still struggled to find some success, even if they had built an underground following in the narrow limits of the Maryland area.In 1977 the quartet decided to move to a house in Rockville, which they transformed into their own studio.Next step was to establish their own record label, thus Random Radar Records was born with the help of Steve Feigenbaum, future leader of Cuneiform Records.Their debut was eventually in the making at the Catch-A-Buzz Studio with four members playing multiple instruments and receiving help by Steve Feigenbaum on guitar, Doug Elliot on trombone, Larry Elliot and Greg Yaskovich on trumpet and John Schmidt on horns.It was entitled ''Manna mirage'', released in 1978.

The short opener ''Monkey with the golden eyes'' followed the trends of laid-back Canterbury Prog ala CARAVAN/NATIONAL HEALTH with smooth electric piano, melodic flutes, some sax breaks and great clarinet parts, developing into a melancholic outro.For half of its part ''Hobart got burned'' sounds like a hybrid of Experimental Rock and R.I.O. with torturing saxes, dissonant bass lines and abstract drumming, but the after-middle offering is a masterful, dramatic, instrumental Progressive Rock with bombastic saxes, furious electric piano and a powerful rhythm section, among the best segments ever composed by the group, with strong VAN DER GRAAF GENERATOR and SOFT MACHINE influences.Closing side A is the 16-min. ''Amelia Earhart'', dedicated to the first ever female aviator to fly across the Atlantic Ocean.Again the Canterbury inspirations are more than apparent through the jazzy rhythm sction, the growing and nervous keyboard plays and the unexpected sax breaks.''Amelia Earhart'' will eventually present The Muffins' beloved style in full display.This is complex, jazzy Progressive Rock with saxes, flutes and electric piano in evidence, passing though odd meters, dreamy textures, bombastic interplays and atonal soundscapes, even featuring a hypnotic, ambiental section towards the end with somber saxes and trippy synthesizers.

Very much known for their long, epic instrumentals, The Muffins' debut could not be an exception.''The adventures of Captain Boomerang'' captures the whole flipside of the original vinyl, being another example of over-the-top instrumental Prog with interesting moves, stunning interplays and influences from Jazz, R.I.O. and Canterbury Fusion.This time their style is flavored with pure passages coming from Electric Jazz, led by saxes and piano, but the sound is now more balanced, including relaxed flute-driven themes and atmospheric keyboard soundscapes.The vast majority though is driven by the passion of the band for complex and adventurous music.So this comes as another proposal of highly technical Progressive Rock with numerous shifting tempos, sharp Canterbury-styled interplays, Fusion instrumental battles and excessive sax soloing.The result is often too chaotic, but the tons of changing climates with the superb instrumental lines are definitely a thing to admire.

''Manna mirage'' belongs among the very good albums of late-70's Progressive Rock coming from the States.File next to other quirky US Prog groups such as HOWEVER and FRENCH TV, a strongly recommended album...3.5 stars.

 The Unauthorised Breakfast Item by CARAVAN album cover Studio Album, 2003
3.24 | 76 ratings

The Unauthorised Breakfast Item
Caravan Canterbury Scene

Review by MJAben

1 stars I would like to give this album a higher rating, it isn't bad. In truth it is quite pleasant and I never truly regret listening to the album. Despite this the album is ultimately dull and contained, a mere shadow of the once great Caravan. By saying that I don't imply that the album isn't nice enough, nor that Caravan (as a band) haven't aged well... Compared to many classic prog bands they've aged extraordinarily well. The issue that I have with this album (and for that matter all Caravan albums since 'For Girls Who Grow Plump in the Night') is that it's safe, it's catering to a fan base and producing material that, like it or not, we've all heard before.

This isn't entirely a bad thing, and when done well can produce an album with a great deal of merit but the question is, is it done well on this album and the answer to that question is sometimes. At the album's height it can sound interesting, a softer 80s Rush to my ears... At its low points however it feels like I'm listening to a Bon Jovi album in which they forgot to write pop songs. At many points the album sounds inane and predictable such as with the opening track Smoking Gun, the title track and Tell Me Why.

There are some minor peak moments in this album the interesting and evolving It's Getting a Whole Lot Better is to me the highest point on the album, giving a fresh and expansive feel to the overall sound. Moments like this are, for me, few and far between however however and don't grant the album a strong recommendation to say the least. To collectors of Caravan (or fans of Bon Jovi) I can recommend this, it is a pleasant listen most of the time... To fans of prog or anyone looking for an album that hasn't completely sold itself into the well-written but dull soft rock category stay clear there is very little that one can take away from this album.

1.5 rounded down to 1 star because I'm not quite sure how people think this is a 4-star album... Maybe I'm missing something.

Personal rating would probably be 3 stars as it is a nice enough album.

 Brave New World by ZYMA album cover Studio Album, 1979
3.84 | 10 ratings

Brave New World
Zyma Canterbury Scene

Review by Suedevanshoe

4 stars A very good album that features a wide range of instruments and styles. Zyma, a six-piece amalgamation of styles, uses its diversity as its cornerstone. "Brave New World" sounds mainstream soundtrack-meets as yet unheard new wave-meets disco-meets Ruphus (vocals and fiddle and groove very reminiscent). "Sundays" starts with killer dissonance featuring keys, percussion, and trumpet. A superb mood piece riding a wave of jazzed out bliss for six minutes and change. Funk permeates halfway through, sounding like Il Baricentro on "Trusciant". Wordless vocals add to the Canterbury feel. "Lunch Time" is a short piano solo throwaway. "Sunday Fever" starts in grand National Health style, tossing in the funk through the meat of the song. More scat wordless vocals enter the picture. An open groove, plenty of room for the band to stretch out. Very tight. "Transit" is a happy jazzfunk instrumental of the highest caliber. More scat and wordless add color. "Colours" is the longest track on the album, an 8 and a half progressive tour de force for violin. Synths add color and deep funk basslines sink in. Pastoral and majestic. "A nice way to say Hello" seems out of place at the end, but a good happy skipping through the meadow type of song that sounds like it could be from a mid-70's Hal Ashby movie. Light, cheerful, and creative, this recording gets four stars in my collection easy. The Canterbury mixed with jazz fusion mixed with campy soundtrack vocals plus obscurity and a great album cover make for a treasure album in my house.
 Paradise Filter by CARAVAN album cover Studio Album, 2013
2.83 | 30 ratings

Paradise Filter
Caravan Canterbury Scene

Review by Rivertree
Special Collaborator Psych/Space Team & Band Submissions

2 stars There are some rare bands underway which still can hold up the spirit they were able to offer when starting the fire long ago. Unfortunately though, at least when it comes to this studio album, the current CARAVAN incarnation can't be counted amongst them. Okay, they are free to record what they like to play, no question. But this definitely is not what I was waiting for. When comparing with their earlier productions, 'Paradise Filter' appears far away from what I would call progressive rock music. Ten songs are given, blues and folk pop rock tinged, I can't hear any canterbury context anymore.

Simple straightforward compositions, not remotely close to suites like 'Nine Feet Underground' and 'For Richard' for instance. I'm missing any surprises, twists and turns, or improv parts featuring this typical intriguing guitar, keyboard and violin interaction from the earlier days. Only on Trust Me I'm A Doctor and the title track there is a slight reminiscence to the successful times to recognize. Although Pye Hastings' charming voice nearly has gone on some tunes you can hear that the musicianship is already there basically. But when it comes to the compositions they are playing it utterly safe here. Hence - with deep respect for the musicians and their legacy - this songs won't light my fire, sorry.

 Rock Bottom by WYATT, ROBERT album cover Studio Album, 1974
4.32 | 511 ratings

Rock Bottom
Robert Wyatt Canterbury Scene

Review by LinusW
Special Collaborator Italian Prog Specialist

4 stars Intimate, fragile, unstable and delicate - Rock Bottom is a reserved but bustling musical odyssey inwards. A perfect marriage of the personal and the abstract.

While never outright showy, there's just a subdued shimmering and hazy richness and gentle grandeur that make this album positively simmer in a unique and self-contradictory hallucinatory clarity.

A freely flowing, kaleidoscopic enigma of intimate beauty in predominantly colder colours, it's made full by layer upon layer of droning, eerie ambience, psychedelically immaterial or squealing guitars and the entirety of the zany zoological garden of sounds you find on the Canterburian experimental side. Sweetly innocent and clear melodies alongside Wyatt's almost tangible, vulnerable and very personal vocals fuse with darker streaks of wavy and diverse keyboards or a low-intensity jazz glow with gently crackling drums and unpredictable, fiery, but ultimately restrained woodwind and brass. Substantial, melodic, but sometimes detached, freely roaming and wilfully strange piano and importunate, entrancing percussion and imploring saxophone. Viola, concertina...there's room for so much. Every track is a new adventure, rewarding patience and attention in order to fully soak up all the nuances and minute twists and turns in the crisp and clear atmosphere.

The songs drift away into the unknown on a steady, patiently repetitive beat, but soon develop into isolated and hypnotic universes of their own when all the restless instrumental opulence gradually kicks in. It's fractured and jumbled, undependable and shaky, free-form, but often bent towards naked melancholia and sadness or even sinister, looming danger. And there's even room for a twisted sense of fun, creating a schizophrenic tension that never really goes away, and which only further adds to the vibe of uncertainty. But in the end it's always so wondrously, surprisingly, controlled. The emotion and instrumentation are like embers in the dark, with a constant deep red intensity that says it all without ever having to resort to wildly dancing flames.

While the charms of this one eluded me for a long time, the more I've listened to it the more I've come to adore it. It's an intense and intruding, but simultaneously restrained and naked affair, which if you let it in under your skin can cause exhilarating dizziness and lasting shortness of breath. And that's a good thing.

4 stars.


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Canterbury Scene bands/artists list

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

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