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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 | 1620 ratings
4.31 | 805 ratings
Wyatt, Robert
4.25 | 956 ratings
4.25 | 938 ratings
4.28 | 663 ratings
4.26 | 736 ratings
Hatfield And The North
4.22 | 927 ratings
Soft Machine, The
4.27 | 396 ratings
National Health
4.20 | 523 ratings
Hatfield And The North
4.16 | 684 ratings
4.23 | 296 ratings
Quiet Sun
4.13 | 623 ratings
4.27 | 237 ratings
4.16 | 387 ratings
4.13 | 397 ratings
Hillage, Steve
4.14 | 359 ratings
National Health
4.23 | 202 ratings
4.34 | 131 ratings
Moving Gelatine Plates
4.06 | 457 ratings
Soft Machine, The
4.12 | 258 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

Miller, Phil
National Health
Muffins, The
Greaves, John

Latest Canterbury Scene Music Reviews

 Radio Gnome Invisible Vol. 3 - You by GONG album cover Studio Album, 1974
4.25 | 938 ratings

Radio Gnome Invisible Vol. 3 - You
Gong Canterbury Scene

Review by GruvanDahlman
Collaborator Heavy Prog Team

4 stars Even if you don't like Gong that much you've got to love them for the music they created back in the day. The progressive folly of the band is such a delight that it is hard not to smile. On the other hand, do not be mistaken. The folly is not all madness and laughter. There is a serious intent behind it all and the musicianship is not to be taken lightly. The sprawling and fanciful genius of Daevid Allen & Co. is breathtaking and to me the brilliance is at it's absolute peak on the Radio Gnome Invisible Trilogy. It is definately one of the great concept albums of the whole era and delicious to partake in.

While the first installment of the trilogy sounds a bit primitive recording wise (the sound is not pristine) it is the album I like the most. It marks the beginning and if you listen to the whole trilogy you will find that there is a clear progression in how the music is shaped and performed. While the first part is somewhat goofy the third part is more "serious" prog, if that makes sense. The second part of the story lies somewhere in between.

The third part starts off in familiar Gong-ish fashion with Allens chant-like singing on "Thoughts for naught". With a middle eastern flavor it kicks off the album and the rolling R:s of the vocal bit reminds me somewhat of the zeuhl of Magma. Anyway... The second track is whimsical but great and leads into "Magick mother invocation" which really is the intro to the first really great song of the album, "Master builder". That song, which really is a spacey jam with a hypnotic groove, builds in intensity throughout its duration. Lovely.

One thing about this album that differs from the other two in the trilogy is the way jamming seems to have been used as a means for cosmic awareness. (Really?) Sounds, bleeps and boinks that lead you in to the very depths of the universe. Listen to "A sprinkling of clouds", for instance. Such a hypnotic and amazing track. It is a great example of the very thing I just talked about.

The spaciness of "A sprinkling of clouds" is put on hold with "Perfect mystery". Enter goofy Gong. It is a brilliant track. Askew and very british sounding it does indicate that spaceship Gong has landed. No, no, no. We're still up there. My favorite of the album is the really groovy "Isle of Everywhere". A great bassline accompanied by percussion and space whispering that leads into a really mezmerising jam. Listen to this with headphones on and you will find yourself floating away in the galaxies. It all ends with "You never blow your trip forever". It has a real punky feeling to it but it encapsulates everything that is Gong. Just listen as the waltz away into the universe.

It may be a challenge to get it right, listening to Gong. There is alot of trickyness and sprawling ideas on their albums and while they at first may seem severely disjointed you'll soon find out just how to connect the dots. It is brilliant, it is goofy, it is exciting and the very blend of it all makes this (and the other two parts) quite the essential listen. Obviously Gong stands with one foot in the Canterbury tradition (as is evident on the first track) but there is also this completely unique paradise of Gong that defies defenition. It has to be heard to be believed. And while the trilogy as a whole is a five star experience I award this particular album with its spacy fusion four glowing and pulsating stars.

 Rest Of The World by MANNA / MIRAGE album cover Studio Album, 2018
4.04 | 5 ratings

Rest Of The World
Manna / Mirage Canterbury Scene

Review by BrufordFreak
Collaborator Honorary Collaborator

4 stars Dave Newhouse and friends are moving a bit further away from the poppiness of their previous Canterbury association and more into experimental and avant jazz. This is most overtly on display in the attention-grabbing drumming coming from Sean RIckman.

1. "Catawampus" (7:32) multiple winds herald the opening of this song (and album) before moving bass and tight drums kick in to support the song's establishment. At 1:10 a baritone sax synth buzzsaw interjects its two notes into the equation (as the chorus?). Jarring but interesting. After the second "chorus" the song downshifts into a looser, more laid back pace within which electric guitarist Mark Stanley has a chance to show their chops. Then Dave shows off a more subdued organ solo before acoustic guitar and keys finish it off over decaying drum play. Interesting with new sounds and combinations but, overall, nothing too exciting or revolutionary. (8/10)

2. "Zed He Said" (4:22) Jerry King's simple, arpeggiated acoustic guitar chord sets the scene for Michele King's multi- tracked singing. Very nice melodies, friendly, inviting pace and structure, the instrumental mid-section is quite engaging and pleasant with some great melodies from the winds over the Vince Guraldi-like music. (8.5/10)

3. "Alchemist In The Parlor" (3:56) odd Beat-like song structure (to match the 1964 era of singer Carla Diratz's story?) turns mini-big band as the horns and keys bank together for the "chorus" sections between and after Carla's recitations. Fun music and song--kind of Jim Jarmusch-ish. Interesting story. (8.5/10)

4. "30 Degrees Of Freedom" (7:18) long introduction of keyboard rumbling and rolling as cymbols play turns into a smoother, more laid back and melodic piece at the two-minute mark. From that point on it is a very melody- oriented, two-chord groovin' song with drums and multiple horns and organ playing at complex harmonic chord play. Wailing electric guitar floats behind, panning around for a minute, before settling into a note-bending solo display in the sixth minute. Sounds really cool when the full ensemble of horns, bass tones, and keys are playing in full clutter behind. Sean Rickman is a madman! He must claim Keith Moon and The Muppets' Animal as influences! (9.25/10)

5. "Gonzalo's Paints" (2:42) very laid back, melodic, even bucolic full-band start eventually wends its way into very rich, cool, multi-track harmonies with a few instruments breaking off to solo here and there. Just a very cool, very rich tapestry, start to finish. (10/10)

6. "Miracle Walking" (3:14) three tracks (and later, more) of Dave's saxes weaving a kind of short-time rondo into chords. At the 90 second mark one sax veers off to go after a crazy free-jazz solo before returning to the fold just as the accordion makes it's debut. Nice construction! (8.5/10)

7. "Mini Hugh" (4:44) opening drum vamp as bass and, eventually, horns establish themselves. By the half-minute mark all have gelled into a steady jazz structure while the drums continue to be on full display. Sean Rickman can play! Organ, horn banks, and individual solos from alto sax, electric piano, fuzzed up bass guitar, and --all the while Sean keeps travelling over his kit as if he were on walkabout. I hear some John Coltrane, Elvin Jones, and Jimmy Garrison in this music. (8.5/10)

8. "That Awful Sky" (4:49) kind of DAVID TORN (or ROBERT FRIPPertronics) and MAX ROACH/PAPA JO JONES meet STEVE REICH and PETER GABRIEL. Very cool, mesmerizing, haunting song. (9/10)

4.5 stars; a near-masterpiece of jazz fusion/progressive rock. The music on Rest of the World is interesting-- especially rhythmically, harmonically, and in its sound palette. It is diverse, melodic, deeply harmonic, and full of fun and even tongue-in-cheek jocularity. Highly recommended!

 Swi▀ Chalet by COS album cover Studio Album, 1979
2.43 | 18 ratings

Swi▀ Chalet
Cos Canterbury Scene

Review by YourJefa

3 stars Clearly not one of the best COS's albums. Well, this albun was released in the early eighties and they were obviously trying to get into the New Wave era, but this album has nothing to do with the first three albums.

The influence of bands of the New Wave era like Talking Heads, Joy Division, The Cure, The Clash, The Smiths or even Blondie is notorious, but there is nothing left of the classic Canterbury Scene sounds we can appretiate in "Babel".

Some sounds like Post Punk, Reggae at some moments, sometimes it reminds me even to some eighties pop groups like Huey Lewis and The News.

It has nothing to do with the first three albums by COS, but that does not suggest it is a bad album, it's just not in the Progressive Rock/Canterbury Scene line that someone would expect after listening to those albums.

Three stars

 The Last Harvest by KENTISH SPIRES, THE album cover Studio Album, 2018
3.09 | 4 ratings

The Last Harvest
The Kentish Spires Canterbury Scene

Review by BrufordFreak
Collaborator Honorary Collaborator

3 stars An interesting intersection of sounds and styles as bluesy rock, pastoral folk, quirky jazz, goth female vocals, and retro sound engineering all are brought together.

1. "Kingdom of Kent" (11:10) the stew here almost works but, unfortunately, it all ends up still tasting like its component parts. The section surrounding the electric guitar solo in the fourth minute is the best--and where Lucie's voice is most integral--as a Clare Torrey background instrument. (8.5/10)

2. "Clarity" (Bonus Track Mixed By Rob Reed) (3:58) campy medieval jazz-folk? It's no Monty Python or Gryphon. (7.5/10)

3. "Sprit Of The Skies" (sic) (4:22) a great Sixties flower power sound and style is spoiled by a weak chorus. (9/10)

4. "TTWIG" (3:48) too weird to be taken seriously; maybe in the 1960s this would have worked. (7/10)

5. "Introception" (7:17) sounds like something from The Bay Area 1960s psychedelic movement--but from a band that we never heard of cuz they just weren't good enough to make it to Monterey or a record label. (7/10)

6. "Clarity" (3:58) the band's own more mediŠval version of this bluesy song is in my opinion much better than the one above. (8/10)

7. "The Last Harvest" (13:09) opens as a quite ordinary plodding rock standard before exploding into an interesting jazz fusion extravaganza at the 3:58 mark. Unfortunately, this too becomes tedious in its foundational singularity despite an stop-and-start pseudo-bridge in the seventh minute. Just before the seven minute mark we regress into the Procul Harum-like plod of the opening section over which Lucie tries to scream us out of our malaise and boredom. Guitar solo is too familiar--technically competent but we've heard it before. Sax and background chorus of "ohh/ahh's" as well. (7.5/10)

8. "Hengist Ridge" (4:30) a smooth jazz start to this one is at least engaging, sax and pretty rhythm support (especially the jazzy guitar). It even seems to give Lucie a little more reason to sound and feel genuine in her performance. heck! She's packing the power of a soul/R&B diva on this one! Easily the best song on the album. (9/10)

The final song seems the direction I would strongly urge this band to explore more of: we need to fill the void left by the absence of EVERYTHING BUT THE GIRL, SADE, and SWING OUT SISTER. But Canterbury sound? I don't hear it.

3.5 stars; a good, competent though rather inconsistent and scattered effort.

 I See You by GONG album cover Studio Album, 2014
3.94 | 164 ratings

I See You
Gong Canterbury Scene

Review by Warthur
Prog Reviewer

4 stars Though my dips into previous attempts to delve back into the Radio Gnome mythology by latter-day Gong lineups - Shapeshifter and Zero to Infinity - had left me a bit cold, I was much more impressed with this release, which proved to be the final Gong release that Daevid Allen and Gilli Smyth would be credited with in their lifetimes.

Indeed, Gilli is credited as a guest rather than a full band member, suggesting that she may have already been unwell enough to hamper her capacity to contribute fully. It's notable also that Orlando Allen, Daevid and Gilli's son, is sat on the drum stool for this one and also joins his dad at the producer's console. Orlando had popped up on some Allen solo releases as a child - there's a track on 1977's Now Is the Happiest Time of Your Life which has Allen trying to explain the Radio Gnome mythology to Orlando and his sister - and there's something comforting in the fact that he was able to help his parents bring this last major creative project to fruition.

If this album is a passing on of the torch, however, it isn't Orlando who's ended up holding it in the long term - on the more recent Rejoice! I'm Dead! he's absent, having gone back to concentrating on his own musical projects. Instead, the core of the next Gong generation is the creative unit of Kavus Torabi and Fabio Golfettio on guitar, Ian East blowing away on saxophones, flutes, and whistles, and Dave Sturt on bass and computer sampling.

Sturt joins the father-and-son Allen team on production duties here, and it's perhaps in the production where the magic truly happens. Sturt's expertise in sampling is put to work, weaving in elements of classic Gong albums into a brand new context even as the more traditional performances work a new psychedelic magic. The psychedelic agenda of classic Gong remains very much present, but now advanced with modern electronic and ambient techniques worked into the repertoire seamlessly, and with a bit of a more overtly angry political tone coming in here and there too. The Gong sense of humour is still there, but the new unit is clearly unafraid to get serious.

On the whole, this manages to work in a healthy appreciation for Gong's past legacy whilst still keeping an eye on the future and not descending into nostalgia for nostalgia's sake. More importantly, the expertise of the new lineup allows the music to sound like it is actively participating in the sounds of today, rather than scrambling to keep up with current trends. It's about as solid a foundation for a new incarnation of the band as could be found.

 Alive & Well - Recorded in Paris by SOFT MACHINE, THE album cover Live, 1978
2.87 | 70 ratings

Alive & Well - Recorded in Paris
The Soft Machine Canterbury Scene

Review by WFV

4 stars This underrated record is a nice entry into the late golden period fusion scene. I'd label it inconsequential but that wouldn't do it justice because the music is quite good. It's a favorite in my library primarily because it doesn't have any reeds and it's not real experimental like their early stuff. If Allan Holdsworth were still there to wail away this would be a landmark along with the best 11th House records. Still, this quirky release is a nice late night snack for inclined parties. The Nodder is an especially effective slab of the finest guitar keyboard out in front locked in rhythm section fusion.
 Postaeolian Train Robbery by COS album cover Studio Album, 1974
4.23 | 101 ratings

Postaeolian Train Robbery
Cos Canterbury Scene

Review by Kingsnake

5 stars What a wonderful surprise. I never have heard of this band, nor did I realize there are Belgian progrockbands in the seventies. I absolutely adore this music. It has a jazzfusion, krautrock and a canterbury sound. The (wordless) vocals are perfect, and the instrumentation and production superb.

It is less sophisticated as Focus and Supersister but playful enough to keep me happy. The songs have great tempos and I cannot compare this music to anything I have heard before. Sometimes it has a kind of brazilian feel to it (maybe the vocals and flute).

Anyhow, great psychedelic canterburyesque progrock from Belgium that can please any fan of Focus, Supersister, Caravan and Kraan. Highly recommended!

 Babel by COS album cover Studio Album, 1978
3.72 | 48 ratings

Cos Canterbury Scene

Review by YourJefa

5 stars My favourtite COS album. Babel is the third album by COS, and I have to say this is their most experimental album as well. The bases for this album are completely Canterbury Scene, it has much similarities with some British bands from that sub-genre like Soft Machine, Soft Heap, Gilgamesh or Matching Mole, but also it is very similar to some RIO and Zeuhl bands like Henry Cow, Magma or even Univers Zero. (I used this references in another COS review as well).

It is a very interesting experience, even there's a song that sounds like Disco Music, and still sounds proggy. Maybe this was their last Prog Rock album, because in the eighties they changed their sound a lot, so I guess this is a very fancy way to close their Prog discography.

If you like Canterbury Scene you will love this album, if you like RIO you will love this album and if you like Zeuhl you will love this album.

Five stars!

 Viva Boma by COS album cover Studio Album, 1976
4.23 | 202 ratings

Viva Boma
Cos Canterbury Scene

Review by YourJefa

4 stars This was the first album of COS that I've ever heard, it was like four or five years ago and since then I think it's great but it could have been better. I enjoy it every time I listen to it, but I always feel like it needs something to get me into it, to make me feel that I'm listening to an amazing masterpiece of Prog Rock.

If I compare "Viva boma" with "Postaeolian train robbery" and "Babel", this album is not that great like the other ones; even so, I do believe it's wonderful. The album gets interesting at some points but loses it at other moments, maybe a couple of songs more would have made it better.

Four stars.

 Postaeolian Train Robbery by COS album cover Studio Album, 1974
4.23 | 101 ratings

Postaeolian Train Robbery
Cos Canterbury Scene

Review by YourJefa

5 stars This is an extraordinary album! "Postaeolian train robbery" is one of the most interesting albums that I've ever heard. It goes from the Canterbury Scene classic sound to some weird fusion/acid Jazz and very strange and powerful riffs that make a very unique Prog Rock album. Pascale Son's voice is beautiful; reminds me to Gilli Smyth at some moments and Stella Vander in others.

I don't understand why is COS considered as a Canterbury Scene band: their sound is much more like the classic RIO/Avant-Prog music from bands like Samla Mammas Manna, Henry Cow or even Zeuhl bands like Magma or Zao. The drums and the bass are very disciplined in some moments but also it has very free lines. This album is a whole piece of art, amazing from the start until the end.

Complex album, but very enjoyable; this is one of those albums that make Prog Rock so interesting.

Five stars!!

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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
VOLAR╔ United States
ROBERT WYATT United Kingdom
ZYMA Germany

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