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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 19/4/2020:
George (historian9)
Scott (Evolver)
Phil (Man With Hat)
Mike (siLLy puPPy)
Maciej (HarryAngel746)

Canterbury Scene Top Albums

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

4.30 | 1800 ratings
4.28 | 909 ratings
Wyatt, Robert
4.28 | 814 ratings
Hatfield And The North
4.25 | 1069 ratings
4.25 | 1042 ratings
4.27 | 743 ratings
4.19 | 1037 ratings
Soft Machine, The
4.26 | 458 ratings
National Health
4.21 | 591 ratings
Hatfield And The North
4.16 | 768 ratings
4.14 | 704 ratings
4.26 | 278 ratings
4.13 | 432 ratings
4.12 | 449 ratings
Hillage, Steve
4.13 | 409 ratings
National Health
4.30 | 163 ratings
Moving Gelatine Plates
4.13 | 330 ratings
Quiet Sun
4.09 | 386 ratings
Soft Machine, The
4.05 | 519 ratings
Soft Machine, The
4.16 | 225 ratings

Canterbury Scene overlooked and obscure gems albums new

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

National Health
Miller, Phil
Moving Gelatine Plates
Picchio Dal Pozzo

Latest Canterbury Scene Music Reviews

 Radio Gnome Invisible Vol. 3 - You by GONG album cover Studio Album, 1974
4.25 | 1042 ratings

Radio Gnome Invisible Vol. 3 - You
Gong Canterbury Scene

Review by A Crimson Mellotron

5 stars The cheerful silliness of this band has held me captive enjoying their one-of-a-kind musical expressionism ever since I first discovered Gong. And this album stands high on the ladder of quirky, odd, but overly enjoyable music created by this multi-national cohort of 'pothead pixies'.

'You' is the last entry in their Radio Gnome Trilogy, and this phenomenal album consists of intertwining shorter narrative pieces and longer acid jazz and psych-prog mostly instrumental pieces. This happens to be last album for a long time to be released by Daevid Allen's version of the band. Alongside him, on 'You' the listener gets to hear Gilly Smyth's space whisper, Didier Malherbe handling the wind instruments, Tim Blake on keys, Steve Hillage and Mike Howlett on lead and bass guitar respectively, then Pierre Moerlen on drums, with Mireille Bauer and Benoit Moerlen on percussion, and Miquette Giraudy on additional vocals, listed as 'wee voices and chourousings'.

So, a 10-piece band, one would really expect something grandiose, trippy, and gay. And the Gong addict would get exactly this. Opening up the album is the silly 'Thought for Naught', followed by another short song 'A P.H.P.'s Advice' which transitions into the 'Magick Mother Invocation' - a 2-minute space whisper recording that introduces the first big song on the album, the unforgettable 'Master Builder', which is one of the absolutely legendary composition in the band's catalogue. After it, comes the 9-minute psychedelic acid fest 'A Sprinkling of Clouds', closing side one.

'Perfect Mystery' is among the shorter narrative pieces on 'You' and flows into the big 'The Isle of Everywhere' - a surreal psychedelic jazzy song that really takes the listener on another planet... quite likely on Planet Gong! Then comes the final and longest track 'You Never Blow Yr Trip Forever'. This is the album culmination, and also a grandiose showcase in all of Gong's flavors.

'You' is a masterpiece of progressive and psychedelic rock without a doubt, the spacy atmosphere is sharply penetrated by the haunting wind instruments of Malherbe, the slide and gliss guitars pervade the imagination, and the space whisper is gently spread all over this fabulous trippy soup that is Gong!

 Smith by WINSTONS, THE album cover Studio Album, 2019
3.84 | 23 ratings

The Winstons Canterbury Scene

Review by Corcoranw687

4 stars How did I miss the follow-up to the absolutely delightful Winston's debut from 2016, one of the most beloved albums of the year on this very website? Is it possible that everybody who loved that album missed this one, evidenced by ZERO reviews over a year after release and only 21 ratings? How about the fact that this album is better in every way? Could I continue an entire opening full of questions like, how is a group from 2016 based out of Italy considered "Canterbury Scene", before noticing Richard Sinclair on vocals and wondering what on earth have I missed?

The Winstons are a trio from Italy that, if I had to draw two comparisons, I would say they sound like a cross between Van Der Graff Generator and The Zombies. This is a collection of fun songs that never get boring and stick in your head for days. If you enjoyed their debut, you will love this. A few highlights; Tamarind Smile/Apple Pie is so cool. Around a Boat truly evokes the feeling of being "surrounded on both sides by open seas". Blue Traffic Light shows the full potential of this band... I get memories of Camel, Caravan, even so far as 80s Cardiacs. Richard Sinclar returns for "50 years of songs about insecurities with women" with "Impotence", and it's just as good as any Caravan song just with a rambling old man. This is not a bad thing. Soon Everyday is my favourite on the whole album though... I can't get enough. Rocket Belt at the end would be a great single, I don't know who Nic Cester is offhand but he is a good addition to the band.

This is great fun. Highly recommended to fans of Camel, VDGG, Cardiacs and Caravan.

 If I Could Do It All Over Again, I'd Do It All Over You by CARAVAN album cover Studio Album, 1970
4.25 | 1069 ratings

If I Could Do It All Over Again, I'd Do It All Over You
Caravan Canterbury Scene

Review by VianaProghead
Prog Reviewer

5 stars Review Nº 388

Caravan is an English progressive rock band from the Canterbury scene. For many aficionados of the creative progressive rock music that surfaced in the heady days of the 70's, the bands that surfaced from the English provincial city of Canterbury produced some of the best and most consistently interesting progressive rock music of that period. Of the all bands that emerged from the Canterbury scene, none was quite so original and as enduring as Caravan was.

Caravan was founded by the former Wilde Flowers' members David Sinclair, Richard Sinclair, Pye Hastings and Richard Coughlan in 1968. Caravan grew out of the breakup of the Wilde Flowers, a also Canterbury based group formed in 1964 as an R&B based outfit with a jazzy edge. The band was originally based in Whitstable, Kent, a place near Canterbury, but soon they relocated to London due to their musical career. They were a leading exponent of the Canterbury sound.

"If I Could Do It All Over Again, I'd Do It All Over You" is the second studio album of Caravan and was released in 1970. The line up on the album is Pye Hastings (vocals, 6 and 12 string electric guitars, 6 string acoustic guitar, claves, worn leather strap, impersonation of a friendly gorilla and assorted ashtrays), David Sinclair (organ, piano and harpsichord), Richard Sinclair (vocals, bass guitar, tambourine and hedge clippers) and Richard Coughlan (drums, congas, bongos, maracas, figer and cymbals). The album had also the collaboration of Jimmy Hastings (saxophone and flute).

Caravan's self-titled debut album had held some promise but it was only "If I Could Do It All Over Again, I'd Do It All Over You" that brought a much more assured and distinctive sound. Indeed, this album perfectly bridges that awkward gap between psych and prog. This is really the album where the band had found their ultimate style. Jazz, pop, rock and classical music melted together in the usual prog way but far less pretentious than many other progressive rock bands. The classic Caravan sound was characterised by the vocals of Pye Hastings and Richard Sinclair, twisted and fuzzed organ, very typical for many Canterbury bands, and there was usually some wind instruments too, mostly flute and sax.

"If I Could Do It All Over Again, I'd Do It All Over You" has eight tracks. The first track is the title track. It's a short, fast, humorous piece, which draws its charm mainly by the vocal contrast of the two singers. Nice is also the organ solo in the middle. This is a fine opener to the album, but it isn't representative of the band, or even the album. The second track "And I Wish I Were Stoned ? Don't Worry" starts off something in the slightly 60's pop influenced style, which also influenced Caravan's debut album. The first half of the song is kept at a slow pace, then it gets faster, and Hastings even lays down a short solo. The guitar doesn't play a big role in the early sound of Caravan, really. The third track "As I Feel Die" is stylistically still in the tradition of the previous album. First, it begins very slowly and melancholy, then it goes abruptly into a brisk part with a beautiful organ. The fourth track is the suite "With An Ear To The Ground You Can Make It/Martinian/Only Cox/Reprise". It shows for the first time the slightly jazzy style sometimes interspersed with folky accents, which should also characterize the two great successors "In The Land Of Grey And Pink" and "Waterloo Lily". The long flowing instrumental parts, where sometimes the organ, sometimes saxophone or flute steps into the foreground, without pronounced solos. The singing is used sparingly but effectively. The fifth track "Hello Hello" is a very simple song but it's pretty good. It's a perfect example of how Caravan was able to beat many of their progressive contemporaries, creating shorter and more accessible songs. The sixth track "Asforteri 25" is another short and sweet song with great vocals from Hastings and Sinclair. It leads the way for the next track. The seventh track is the suite "Can't Be Long Now/Françoise/For Richard/Warlock". It's not just the highlight of the album, but one of the best pieces in Caravan's entire repertoire. After a gentle lyrical upbeat with a beautiful flute and nice vocals by Hastings, follows a long instrumental part. Organ, saxophone and flute entwine, again and again, one of these instruments comes to the fore for a short time to be replaced by another, to which bass, guitar and drums provide a solid rhythmic foundation. The eighth track "Limits" is a lighter piece, in which Hastings once again shines on flute. It's a nice close to the album.

Conclusion: This is a great album, a true masterpiece. It shows the intricacy with which Caravan's compositions are sculpted around some of the finest instrumental improvisation in British rock at the time, or arguably since. Caravan's uncanny ability to create a montage that effortlessly maneuvers through acoustic folk and electric progressive rock is really impressive, indeed. It's epic but never pretentious, psychedelic but never adrift, jazzy but never impenetrable. It has a lightness of touch and a complex magic the band never repeated. This is the first great highlight in the creation of Caravan and for those who are interested in the Canterbury sound is absolutely indispensable and for everyone else who love great music is strongly recommended, especially for the lovers of the classic prog scene of the early 70's.

Prog is my Ferrari. Jem Godfrey (Frost*)

 Dogged By Dogma by GHOULIES, THE album cover Studio Album, 1982
3.32 | 10 ratings

Dogged By Dogma
The Ghoulies Canterbury Scene

Review by Uruk_hai

3 stars As my first review I choose an album that hasn't been reviewed yet, also an album which even when it's none of my favorites, it is a quite nice record and I truly believe deserves more attention by Prog Rock listeners. Canterbury Scene, among other Progressive Rock styles, had an explosion in the late sixties and early seventies having as their most "important" (I think a better adjective would be popular) exponents bands like Soft Machine, Gong and Caravan, bands that made remarkable albums experimenting with a whole bunch of instruments and being able to create really interesting mixtures of psychedelic rock and free Jazz without losing the characteristic sound that Canterbury style has itself.

Dogged by dogma was recorded the next decade. Even when there is not too much info about this band online, we can find two well-known names of the Canterbury Scene of the seventies: Dave Stewart (Arzachel, Egg, Khan, Hatfield and The North, National Health, Bill Bruford Band) and Pip Pyle (Delivery, Khan, Gong, Hatfield and the North, National Health, Soft Heap, Daevid Allen Band) among with a bunch of non-so-well- known musicians under the leadership of a guitar/organ player named Charlie Summers who is not very easy to find info about online but he managed to form this interesting project.

The album is filled with really short songs (at least short in Progressive Rock measures), not a lot of instrumental passages and not very hard or improvised musical structures, however, the harmony of the music makes this album quite enjoyable and not at all boring. Probably if the band would have recorded more albums they would have created a strong cult of followers and maybe even opened the doors for more eighties Canterbury bands in Europe, sadly this was their first and last work.

Nor a very famous record, neither a masterpiece but truly an album that, as I said before, deserves more Prog-Rock fans to discover it and enjoy its uniqueness. If you haven't heard it yet, don't think about it twice, you could get a nice surprise.

 The Unauthorised Breakfast Item by CARAVAN album cover Studio Album, 2003
3.32 | 128 ratings

The Unauthorised Breakfast Item
Caravan Canterbury Scene

Review by sgtpepper

2 stars The name of the album is promising but the contents is disappointing. The music has not gotten any muscles from the best Caravan era and melodies don't achieve the heights of the songs from the 70's. The only piece that can somewhat keep pace with average songs from the 70's is "Head above the clouds", which has a irresistible positive Canterbury feeling but very safely taken arrangements with a far cry from potential solos.

"Nowhere to hide" has a decent synth solo towards the end. The only other distinctive track is "Linders field" with again key-based instrument convincing the listener - this time it's the piano, it's a mellow instrumental track.

Recommended to completionists only.

 Cunning Stunts by CARAVAN album cover Studio Album, 1975
3.15 | 354 ratings

Cunning Stunts
Caravan Canterbury Scene

Review by sgtpepper

3 stars Caravan was producing soft rock/pop albums with little risks, relying on decent vocals, good melodies and restrained instrumental legacy.

Caravan with Hastings learnt well how to craft harmonic positive songs and decorate them with contemporary instruments like rhodes, moogs and brass that didn't sound dated at that time.

"Jack and Jill" has a soothing but cheesy melody but quite good keyboard arrangements. The same holds for Hammond in "Can your hear me".

"All the way" is the only song with a bit of epic spirit but mainly due to its length, there is nothing adventureous about this song.

It's regrettable to say that Caravan went so much away from progressive rock already in 1976 where most other bands were at least rooted with 1 foot in the art rock realm.

 For Girls Who Grow Plump in the Night by CARAVAN album cover Studio Album, 1973
4.16 | 768 ratings

For Girls Who Grow Plump in the Night
Caravan Canterbury Scene

Review by sgtpepper

4 stars This is the last good and progressive Caravan album. We still have long tracks, we have flute/violin/moog which bring good sophistication to the sound.

"Memory Lain, Hugh-Headloss" has very good instrumental section, not really in the Canterbury style but still having satisfactory moog, drums and flute playing.

"Hoedown" has an irregular rhythm and a bit country feeling, this all packed into a melodic song with 3 minutes. "Surprise surprise" is a polished pop song with good vocals but too conventional instrumentation save cello.

"L'auberge du sanglier" is a pure progressive pleasure with complex rhythm and each instrument contributing. Ranging from dynamic anxious first part transformed into the second majestic and lush part, this is a great track and one of the best by Caravan even though not close to their typical Canterbury sound.

This album deservers 3.5 stars

 Waterloo Lily by CARAVAN album cover Studio Album, 1972
3.76 | 581 ratings

Waterloo Lily
Caravan Canterbury Scene

Review by sgtpepper

4 stars Having lost their keyboard player, Waterloo Lilly still manages to capture most of the Canterbury spirit of the band with updated sound. Electric piano emerges in the keyboard array. Organ is not that dominant any longer. Some tracks are grooving. We can hear pleasant saxophone soloing.

The good thing that there are fewer radio-friendly tracks than on previous records so less pop.

"Nothing at all" is a mixture of pieces, from grooving almost funky feeling to quiet moments and also progressive complex last part.

"The love in your eye" is a decent Canterbury deputy on this album, helped with flute, strings.

Still quite a decent album before turning to soft rock.

 In the Land of Grey and Pink by CARAVAN album cover Studio Album, 1971
4.30 | 1800 ratings

In the Land of Grey and Pink
Caravan Canterbury Scene

Review by sgtpepper

4 stars Probably the peak of Caravan's discography due to the important Canterbury track and one of the most famous ones out of this genre. This album was the last one in the original line-up for a long time so we can enjoy Sinclair's keyboard art with organ or piano. The first couple of short tracks share a good sense for melody but are non-essential.

"Golf girl" is so cheesy that it's hard to believe it is coming from one of the premiere Canterbury bands. "Winter wine" saves the first side by including organ solos and mascular bass. "Love to love you" sounds similar to some Gong stuff with a bit of psychedelia.

"Nine feet underground" can be called as fully representative track for the Canterbury genre. Organ playing is set to excellence, there are typical jazzy sections with busy drums and bass. I am missing more advanced guitar playing. The end of the track is quite intensive and finally shows shows guitar riffs.

 If I Could Do It All Over Again, I'd Do It All Over You by CARAVAN album cover Studio Album, 1970
4.25 | 1069 ratings

If I Could Do It All Over Again, I'd Do It All Over You
Caravan Canterbury Scene

Review by sgtpepper

4 stars Caravan made an artistic and sophisticate move with their sophomore effort as some songs got longer, complex and feature instrumental moments.

The short melodic tracks no longer have the essential value as on the first album because the longer tracks overshadow them. Honestly, I haven't been a big friend of radio-friendly Caravan tracks.

"I wish I were stoned, don't worry" has a better music than its title with the typical organ soloing and balance of sung vs instrumenta passages.

"As I feel I die" has a jazzy trademark Canterbury drums/bass/guitar wandering motive, very pleasant and also intensive. "With an ear to the ground" is another highlight with a more accessible instrumental offering including piano and flute.

"Hello hello" is notable for its irregular rhythm and "drops" of organ.

"Can't be long now, Francoise" is a great and complex mainly instrumental piece, thanks to saxophone also closer to jazz than usual.

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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
ZOPP United Kingdom
ZYMA Germany

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