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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)

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Canterbury Scene Top Albums

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

4.32 | 1994 ratings
4.29 | 993 ratings
Wyatt, Robert
4.29 | 816 ratings
4.26 | 1138 ratings
4.27 | 885 ratings
Hatfield And The North
4.25 | 1174 ratings
4.28 | 518 ratings
National Health
4.19 | 1152 ratings
Soft Machine, The
4.22 | 655 ratings
Hatfield And The North
4.17 | 871 ratings
4.26 | 320 ratings
4.14 | 773 ratings
4.31 | 192 ratings
Moving Gelatine Plates
4.12 | 487 ratings
4.13 | 457 ratings
National Health
4.11 | 502 ratings
Hillage, Steve
4.12 | 472 ratings
Soft Machine, The
4.12 | 368 ratings
Quiet Sun
4.11 | 316 ratings
Picchio Dal Pozzo
4.14 | 242 ratings

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
Greaves, John
National Health

Latest Canterbury Scene Music Reviews

 Unending Ascending by GONG album cover Studio Album, 2023
4.08 | 21 ratings

Unending Ascending
Gong Canterbury Scene

Review by Warthur
Prog Reviewer

4 stars This is the fourth album issued by the current incarnation of Gong - a line-up hand-picked by Daevid Allen to keep the band's legacy going into the future - and it's the third they put out without significant involvement from Allen himself, who died after contributing to I See You. With Rejoice! I'm Dead! and The Universe Also Collapses, Sturt, Torabi and the gang proved themselves an interesting musical prospect in their own right, working in a style combining the modern approach of the members' other musical projects with the ethos of classic-era Gong.

They lack the distinctive sense of humour Daevid Allen brought to proceedings, but frankly that's for the best - the last thing they should be trying to do is imitate Allen's inimitable persona, which was the main thing which sold the jokier side of classic Gong anyway. Instead, they're offering a trip through the spacier side of the Canterbury, or perhaps the jazzier side of space rock - in this part of the musical map, the boundaries get fuzzy.

If The Universe Also Collapses was their take on the approach of You, erring as it did towards longer compositions, this takes a different approach, focusing more on shorter songs which are nonetheless part of a song cycle. It's a terse release at less than 40 minutes, but that just suggests they're applying sensible levels of quality control rather than jamming endlessly, and certainly I found the whole thing enjoyable. It's not as eye-opening as the band's classics, nor is it as ambitious as The Universe Also Collapses, but it certainly suggests that the creative spark is still flickering away at the heart of Gong.

 Pulsing Signals by GONG album cover Live, 2022
3.94 | 13 ratings

Pulsing Signals
Gong Canterbury Scene

Review by Warthur
Prog Reviewer

4 stars This is the first live album to be put out by the Gong lineup responsible for albums like Rejoice! I'm Dead! and The Universe Also Collapses - albums which emerged after the death of Daevid Allen, and saw Torabi, Sturt, and the gang take up the mantle from the previous generation and carry it into the future. As one might expect, there's a lot of emphasis on material from those albums - all but one song from The Universe Also Collapses is performed here - and the deepest dive we take into the band's back catalogue consists of an improv-heavy take on You Can't Kill Me (a song which becomes more menacing than humourous in the new group's hands, but which thematically could handle that) and a spin of Master Builder from You. 1974's You was the Gong album which, in its exploration of spacey, jazzy Canterbury soundscapes comes closest to what the current incarnation of Gong is going for, so picking Master Builder - one of the choicest cuts from it -t o perform was an excellent call.
 Other Doors by SOFT MACHINE, THE album cover Studio Album, 2023
3.60 | 37 ratings

Other Doors
The Soft Machine Canterbury Scene

Review by Mellotron Storm
Prog Reviewer

4 stars 4.5 stars. After hearing of John Marshall's passing I ordered this record just to have the last studio album that John played on. Is it sad that he passed after announcing his retirement after this record? He got to do what he loved right to the end which I think is pretty cool. Loved him when he was with NUCLEUS and it was 1972 when he joined SOFT MACHINE and I really feel he is the king of drum solos. His rhythm partner of late Roy Babbington retired after the previous studio album "Hidden Details" but returns to play bass on "Penny Hitch" which he did originally on "Seven" plus he plays a duet you could say with the new bass player Fred Baker on "Now! Is The Time". Fred by the way has played in the past on solo albums by Pip Pyle, Phil Miller and Dave Sinclair so very much qualified to be here.

The only thing keeping me from giving this 5 stars is that 3 of 4 song section beginning with "Joy Of A Toy" from the debut and included "Whisper Back" and "The Stars Apart" which are all fine just not in the same league as the rest of the album in my opinion. The rest of the album is subtle and chilled. Feels like some improvizing is going on at times with the drums, bass and whoever else isn't the soloist during these passages. Surprisingly trippy and atmospheric and Theo Travis helps with this adding electronics throughout the album. Attention to detail and I love Marshall on here, he seems like he's playing random stuff a lot but man with the Fender Rhodes, those guitar expressions, electronics and flute I just love the mood. It really was when I sat down and really listened to this album that it clicked big time.

The spirit of "Softs" is very much a part of this record in fact this would have been a great followup to it. This is headphone music, just so much going on and yet it is a reflective recording as well. I am blown away by most of these tracks but I think my favourite is "Fell To Earth" where we get some grit in that guitar and the opening sax could be Mel Collins from his "Island" performance. Some experimental stuff going on here, I mean check it out 2 minutes in. The closer "Back In Season" is a highlight with the electric piano in fact "Softs" really comes to mind here. Love the flute too.

Again the flute and Fender Rhodes are incredible on the opener "Careless Eyes", some soaring guitar leads too. Love "Penny Hitch" from one of my favourite SOFT MACHINE albums "Seven" and "Crooked Usage" the longest piece on here at 8 1/2 minutes. This song encapsulates what this album is about with the improv sounding bits with no melody, the flute and electric piano all shine and it's experimental late. "The Visitor At The Window" reminds me of the covid situation where many meeting apparently were done this way. I like it but I like "Maybe Never" even better. It's so chilled with the fluttering flute and guitar expressions along with the electronics, bass and drums.

With Marshall and Babbington out of the picture I was thinking it might be time to put SOFT MACHINE to bed and then I heard this album. Keep them coming boys!

 The Universe Also Collapses by GONG album cover Studio Album, 2019
3.75 | 82 ratings

The Universe Also Collapses
Gong Canterbury Scene

Review by Warthur
Prog Reviewer

4 stars Kavus Torabi and pals had been assembled by Daevid Allen on I See You to form the nucleus of a new Gong line-up which could carry the band's legacy into a new era following Allen's demise - something which duly occurred after the completion of that album. Allen's ghost haunted the subsequent album - Rejoice! I'm Dead! - with some vocals and lyrics from him making their way on there, but on The Universe Also Collapses he has been exorcised more or less entirely.

As on the preceding album, the group make no attempt to mimic Allen's distinctive sense of humour, perhaps wisely - that was sufficiently personal to Allen that attempts to copy it would fall flat. That said, attempts to do "Gong without Daevid Allen" are by no means new - it happened on Shamal, it happened in numerous spin-off projects using the name, and on Rejoice! I'm Dead! it happened once more.

Torabi and Sturt still, however, need to do something which is distinctly Gong-like with the project, even if the humour and the Pothead Pixies mythology is set aside, but I think they absolutely succeed here. If you had to answer the question "What is Gong?" without making reference to Allen's persona, humour, and mythology, you could say "They're the most enduringly psychedelic and spacey of the original wave of Canterbury bands" and I think most Gong fans would agree with that. After all, isn't one of their most celebrated albums You, in which the Allen-inspired humour drifts away in favour of intense instrumental workouts?

That's pretty much what you get here - jazzy, psychedelic, spacey Canterbury, using modern instrumentation and textures to produce a 21st Century equivalent of, say, the longer tracks on You. If you're into that side of Gong, you'll find a lot to like here, and I suspect that goes for most Gong fans - I know more people who tolerate the Allen whimsy for the sake of the space-Canterbury workouts than I do people who sit through the latter wishing the band would get back to the teapot jokes.

 Live at The Baked Potato by SOFT MACHINE, THE album cover Live, 2020
4.42 | 26 ratings

Live at The Baked Potato
The Soft Machine Canterbury Scene

Review by Mellotron Storm
Prog Reviewer

4 stars This is a live document of the 50th anniversary World tour SOFT MACHINE performed starting early in 2019. This show was from February 1st 2019 in LA at The Baked Potato. Love that late 50s early 60's cover art that is actually from Las Vegas.

The band offers a big thankyou to Moonjune Records owner Leonardo Pavkovic suggesting the tour and album would not have happened without his tireless effort and support. I was glad to have spent time with "Hidden Details" recently, that 2018 record, as it does get represented here as being the most recent SOFT MACHINE release.

The highlights for me are not surprising as we get plenty of nods to the past on this one hour recording and I will list those songs but the one track from "Hidden Details" I'm kind of taken with is "Life On Bridges" and it will just make my top five here. The song reminds me of NUCLEUS when they were at their melancholic best.

Number one song though is "The Tale Of Taliesin" from "Softs" and an all time favourite for me from this band. I don't have this as a live track except here so it certainly adds to the value of this recording for me. Etheridge is awesome, come on! The first 3 minutes are stunning. The other three tracks that stand out for me are "Out-Bloody-Rageous", "Hazard Profile Pt.1" and "The Man Who Waved At Trains" all SOFT MACHINE classics.

You know down the road we're going to get some archival releases from this period and later but as of right now this is the last record of John Marshall playing live. We get his short 2 minute drum solo called "Side Burn" but I like his performance on "The Tale Of The Taliesin" the best. I'll say it again Theo Travis deserves a lot of credit for taking the SOFT MACHINE bull by the horns and being the main composer and producer. A solid 4 stars.

 R.S.V.P. by SINCLAIR, RICHARD album cover Studio Album, 1994
3.36 | 24 ratings

Richard Sinclair Canterbury Scene

Review by Timka

3 stars In my humble opinion it is a very beautiful, strange, "philological", mature album; but above all: RELAXED! (which is strange for Mr. Sinclair and co.) The intentions are clear right from the start with the "anti-Canterburian" "What's Rattlin'?" written together with Pipi Pyle, wonderful song with an exceptional swing bossa riff, which mocks the entire aforementioned "scene" (today highly praised). Pip and Rich affectionately mock the Caravans, the Softs, the (untouchable) Henry Cow and even the Hatfields (their wonderful creation): "I'm bored with cups of tea (referring to the Gongs) and riff in 13/8 a la Heatfield and the North".

There are wonderful anthems like "Videos", "Barefoot" and 10. "What in the World" and then the twisted "Out of the Shadows" which runs over twelve minutes and which recalls Ed Wynne's Ozric Tentacles in its electric moment.

The Line-up is an incredible combo of "Sacred Monsters" Didier Malherbe, Tony Coe, Jimmy Hastings, Hugh Hopper, Andy Ward, Pip Pyle.

Overall, an unmissable album!!!

...but just 'cos "I tray to break through and do some fresh and new", this is not exactly a progressive album ...or is it?

 Rejoice! I'm Dead by GONG album cover Studio Album, 2016
3.93 | 184 ratings

Rejoice! I'm Dead
Gong Canterbury Scene

Review by Warthur
Prog Reviewer

4 stars In his final years, Daevid Allen sought to secure the future of Gong by putting together a new lineup, primarily focusing on younger musicians who could carry the torch into the future. I See You saw this new grouping given a test run, with Allen still very much unboard; this album, finds the lineup of Dave Sturt, Kavus Torabi, Fabio Golfetti, Ian East, and Cheb Nettles face the truly major test which is "Can we make something authentically Gong-like away from Daevid's supervision?"

The answer is an emphatic "yes". Allen is not wholly absent here - some vocals are used on Beatrix, some lyrics of his make it in - but these contributions are thin scraps, Allen passing through as a ghost at the gig rather than being a full participant in the album's creation. The end result is very much the product of the current lineup.

The obvious question is "Does the classic Gong sense of humour survive?" and the answer is "Not really, but that might be for the best." The fact of the matter is that the humourous side of Gong was very much an expression of Allen's personality; in pretty much every Gong lineup and off-shoot that hasn't involved Allen, it's not been present. That isn't to say that all such projects are po-faced and humourless - Steve Hillage's solo work certainly has its lighter moments - but it is the case that Daevid was such a unique and characterful presence in any of the Gong incarnations he was involved in that once he's gone, it just ain't the same.

That being the case, a forced attempt to mimic Allen's comic-mystic persona would be doomed to failure - it would be wrong for Sturt and company to try and do that, just as it would have been wrong for Gong in the 1970s to do it when they were making Shamal, the first Dave-less Gong effort. Instead of trying to do a limp impersonation of Allen's humour, the current Gong concentrate on being worthy successors to the Gong musical heritage - and that means jazzy, psychedelic Canterbury prog, cut through with some of the more modern post-punk influences also found in Torabi's other projects such as Guapo or Cardiacs. (This, too, is appropriate - what were Planet Gong or New York Gong if not Allen's bid to embrace a somewhat more punkish/new wave ethos back in the day?)

If you're the sort of Gong listener who politely sat through Daevid's whimsy for the sake of getting to the proggy musical workouts, you'll probably love this; if you're the sort of Gong listener for whom without Daevid's humour the band has nothing to offer you, you probably won't like this, though you were probably expecting that what with him being too dead to take a full part in the recording process. If you're the sort of listener who digs both sides of Gong's music, you'll probably realise that things have shifted here - but you probably also have broad enough tastes to realise why that's a good thing.

 Floating World Live (Bremen 1975) by SOFT MACHINE, THE album cover Live, 2006
3.84 | 54 ratings

Floating World Live (Bremen 1975)
The Soft Machine Canterbury Scene

Review by Warthur
Prog Reviewer

4 stars This live performance by Soft Machine took place after the studio sessions for Bundles, but before that album came out; Allan Holdsworth is still with the band, and the setlist is very much focused on material from that album plus additional improvisations, rather than delving to any great depth into the band's back catalogue - a symptom, perhaps, of their radically reconfigured musical direction, with Holdsworth's guitar being brought to the fore.

To my ears, there's only one real clunker here, and that's JSM - a drum solo from John Marshall which manages to be everything everyone dislikes about 1970s drum solos. Sure, sure, it's technically adept, but it's fairly soulless stuff, a demonstration of dextrous proficiency without any compositional substance behind it, and it drags on for ten horrid minutes. Trim it off and you'd have four and a half stars easy, because the rest of this absolutely cooks - as it is, it's at the low end of the four star range.

 Live at the Gong Family Unconventional Gathering by GONG album cover Live, 2021
4.48 | 6 ratings

Live at the Gong Family Unconventional Gathering
Gong Canterbury Scene

Review by Warthur
Prog Reviewer

4 stars The climactic performance at the 2006 Gong Family Unconventional Gathering - following on from various performances from solo projects and bands in the wider Gong universe - found a range of Gong veterans taking to the stage for a triumphal trip through the hits. The focus is very much on the Radio Gnome Invisible trilogy and Camembert Electrique, which most would say constitute the best material of the band's first era, prior to Daevid Allen's first departure.

This is, to be honest, exactly what you want out of a reunion exercise like this - let later lineups and other projects in the wider galaxy go more experimental and strive for novelty. Most of the lineup here would come together again in the studio to put together 2032, which can be seen as the final chapter of "old Gong" - after that, Allen and Gilli Smyth used the I See You album to pass the torch to a much younger and more or less entirely new lineup, who have kept the spirit of the group going after Allen and Smyth's deaths. 2032, though, seems to have had a fairly tepid reception. Perhaps this is a better way to remember the early 1970s veterans of the group - together again, playing the material which won over the hearts of their fanbase, and at peace with each other after the ups and downs of prior years.

 Fish Rising by HILLAGE, STEVE album cover Studio Album, 1975
4.11 | 502 ratings

Fish Rising
Steve Hillage Canterbury Scene

Review by Boi_da_boi_124

5 stars Review #138!

Ethereal, spiritual, magical. Incredibly fluid (the non- Newtonian kind!) and solid at the same time, flowing Incredibly well through every second of each suite, yet rocking and jazzing incredibly hard at its core. Funky, psychedelic, stoned, jazzy, absolute insane masterpiece. Steve Hillage and his guitar are inseperable, them playing together in harmony at every key and every note. I liked this more than any thing (and they have some billion albums out, that means a lot) the Gong ever done! And in my opinion, that is for all the right reasons. Here Steve Hillage seems more free than he ever was before. This honestly seems like a lost Gong relic or some mysterious outtake collection from Santana's spiritual jazz period that just didn't make the cut. 'Solar Musick Suite' is a masterful guitar-led jazz-rock, 'Fish' is a goofy one-minute ditty, 'Meditation...' is an ethereal guitar solo with synth undertones, 'The Salmon Song' is a slow- building, pure rock (borderline post-metal!) jamming mini- suite, and 'Aftaglid' is a hard-rocking eclectic groove-session of a song. What I'm trying to get at 8s that this album is mad. Mad amazing! Prog on.

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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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