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CANTERBURY SCENE

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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 7/1/2022:
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

4.31 | 1938 ratings
IN THE LAND OF GREY AND PINK
Caravan
4.29 | 972 ratings
ROCK BOTTOM
Wyatt, Robert
4.26 | 1109 ratings
RADIO GNOME INVISIBLE VOL. 3 - YOU
Gong
4.29 | 799 ratings
SPACE SHANTY
Khan
4.28 | 871 ratings
HATFIELD AND THE NORTH
Hatfield And The North
4.25 | 1152 ratings
IF I COULD DO IT ALL OVER AGAIN, I'D DO IT ALL OVER YOU
Caravan
4.28 | 506 ratings
OF QUEUES AND CURES
National Health
4.19 | 1119 ratings
THIRD
Soft Machine, The
4.22 | 641 ratings
THE ROTTERS' CLUB
Hatfield And The North
4.17 | 850 ratings
FOR GIRLS WHO GROW PLUMP IN THE NIGHT
Caravan
4.26 | 310 ratings
TO THE HIGHEST BIDDER
Supersister
4.14 | 753 ratings
RADIO GNOME INVISIBLE VOL. 2 - ANGEL'S EGG
Gong
4.14 | 447 ratings
NATIONAL HEALTH
National Health
4.13 | 472 ratings
THE POLITE FORCE
Egg
4.31 | 185 ratings
THE WORLD OF GENIUS HANS
Moving Gelatine Plates
4.10 | 484 ratings
FISH RISING
Hillage, Steve
4.10 | 447 ratings
BUNDLES
Soft Machine, The
4.12 | 359 ratings
MAINSTREAM
Quiet Sun
4.04 | 579 ratings
VOLUME TWO
Soft Machine, The
4.11 | 305 ratings
PICCHIO DAL POZZO
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

SPLIT SECONDS
Miller, Phil
BEFORE A WORD IS SAID
Gowen - Miller - Sinclair - Tomkins
ABBIAMO TUTTI I SUOI PROBLEMI
Picchio Dal Pozzo
HOPPER TUNITY BOX
Hopper, Hugh

Latest Canterbury Scene Music Reviews


 Fancy Nancy by SUPERSISTER album cover Singles/EPs/Fan Club/Promo, 1970
2.27 | 7 ratings

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Fancy Nancy
Supersister Canterbury Scene

Review by Matti
Prog Reviewer

2 stars And here's the other non-album single appearing as a bonus in the CD reissue of Supersister's debut album Present from Nancy (1970). If 'Spiral Staircase' annoys me by its "horror humour", 'Fancy Nancy' annoys me with a 50's rock and roll imitation, up to silly Elvis Presley manners in the vocals. Luckily it's very short, under two minutes.

'Gonna Take Easy' continues in the humorous direction, this time reminiscent of Frank Zappa's parodic songs (that I dislike). I don't like the tinkling piano either. There's some nice organ for a little while. Over-extended in nearly three minutes, judged against the musical substance, this throwaway song is something I prefer forgetting.

I am being kind and give a second star for this Dutch band not taking themselves too seriously and toying around with various styles, even though my personal rating would be one star for the annoyment.

 She Was Naked / Spiral Staircase by SUPERSISTER album cover Singles/EPs/Fan Club/Promo, 1970
3.10 | 2 ratings

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She Was Naked / Spiral Staircase
Supersister Canterbury Scene

Review by Matti
Prog Reviewer

3 stars This single was released the same year as the debut album (Present from Nancy) of this Canterbury-styled Dutch band. The album however doesn't contain either of these songs, but naturally they appear on the CD reissues.

'She Was Naked' is related to the album's 8˝-minute prog highlight 'Dona Nobis Pacem' but they really are very different pieces. 'D.N.P.' is an instrumental and pretty esoteric organ-centred piece slightly reminiscent of 'Sauceful of Secrets' by Pink Floyd. At its peaceful beginning 'She Was Naked' has a CARAVAN reminding elegance with lots of flute and tender vocals not so far from the style of Richard Sinclair (or Rick Wright in his early non-album Floyd songs). Then at 1:40 the intensity suddenly speeds up with a faster tempo and a fuzz guitar, and soon slightly Gregorian-inspired vocals sing briefly in latin ("Dona nobis pacem..."). Some frenzy instrumental playing finishes this peculiar song that seems to end too suddenly. Keyboard player and vocalist Robert Jan Stips (later a member of NITS, which I always like to mention) and his band were most clearly influenced by The Soft Machine, Caravan and the late 60's Pink Floyd.

'Spiral Staircase' is a rather annoying piece of humorous intentions. The music in itself is silly with the staccato electric piano, but the mock-horror narrative read in a monotonous voice is nothing but a joke that wears out quickly. 3˝ stars for the A side and 1˝ stars for the B side, but for the non-album contents I round the ratio upwards.

 To the Highest Bidder by SUPERSISTER album cover Studio Album, 1971
4.26 | 310 ratings

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To the Highest Bidder
Supersister Canterbury Scene

Review by WJA-K

4 stars I never knew about Supersister. Except for the fact that Stips - a locally famous Dutch musician and singer - used to be part of this group. Wow. I truly missed out.

Because Supersister embodies the type of prog a favour: quirky, playful, beautiful.

To the highest bidder has been my first real intro to Supersister. A relatively short album with four tracks.

A girl named you - starts playfully and keys, bass and drums go wild. When the song shifts gear and mellows out, it's truly atmospheric. 9/10

No tree will grow (on too high a mountain) - This is a beautiful slow song about a sad topic. The laughter at the end is far removed from the atmosphere of the song indeed 9/10

Energy (Out of future) - This is the highlight of the album as they are firing from all registers 9.5/10

Higher - This song is a nice closing of a near-perfect album 8.5/10

I love this. The chauvinistic me wishes to grant 5 stars, but 4 stars is a better depiction of my praise for the album.

 Andiamo in Giro di Notte e ci Consumiamo nel Fuoco by HOMUNCULUS RES album cover Studio Album, 2020
3.94 | 84 ratings

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Andiamo in Giro di Notte e ci Consumiamo nel Fuoco
Homunculus Res Canterbury Scene

Review by Mellotron Storm
Prog Reviewer

4 stars While you wouldn't normally associate Italy with Canterbury just don't tell that to PICCHIO DAL POZZO, THE WINSTONS or this incredible band HOMUNCULUS RES. The latter have had a consistent five piece lineup since their second release and they offer up this happy, melodic, sophisticated, whimsical brand of music that softly screams Canterbury. This album is so uplifting and while I feel the first two records are slightly better, this one is a keeper.

I just feel the first two were more consistent and it's interesting that this is their first album of the four they have released not to have Ske on here helping out as he did on their first three. Lots of guests still, in fact ten adding viola, clarinet, oboe, french horn, vibes, bassoon, sax, flute, electric piano and more. Ten tracks over 48 minutes and I did feel it waned somewhat early in the second half but this is a solid 4 star recording all the way.

By the way it was interesting having Dave Newhouse from THE MUFFINS and Jarrod Gosling from REGAL WORM helping out on that second record which at the time I reviewed it I said I liked it slightly better than the debut. Well in doing my favourite Canterbury albums of all time it was the debut I picked for that list so in my opinion both are essential. I love the cover art for this one and have found their album art to always be at least interesting.

All the lyrics are in Italian including all the info in the liner notes. That opening number might be the most joyful song they've created. Everyone is just so happy. The dissonant sax is a nice contrast to this. I like the vocal melodies after 6 minutes on the third tune and while that fourth song might sound the most Canterbury it also features viola, oboe and french horn. One of my favourite opening sounds is the sixth track and the guest electric piano on the ninth song is really good.

A solid 4 stars and for Canterbury fans.

 Volume Two by SOFT MACHINE, THE album cover Studio Album, 1969
4.04 | 579 ratings

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Volume Two
The Soft Machine Canterbury Scene

Review by JohnProg

3 stars As with their debut album, Soft Machine makes another chaotic, messy, unfocused and to some extent experimental work, with several interesting but only sketchy ideas (such as the great "Hibou, Anemone and Bear" which is the prelude to their next album) that could have been great pieces had they been more elaborate. Even so, this album adds elements that its predecessor did not have and that would be very characteristic of the band: wind instruments -mainly saxophones, with their interesting way of harmonizing-, quite rhythmic piano and sounds closer to Jazz than to pop and the rock of his first album.
 The Soft Machine by SOFT MACHINE, THE album cover Studio Album, 1968
3.98 | 634 ratings

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The Soft Machine
The Soft Machine Canterbury Scene

Review by JohnProg

3 stars Work totally indebted to the experimental spirit that surrounded the bands of that time: from its free flow - without an apparent structure -, where the band slips between pop/rock songs (I hear small references to Procol Harum and The Kinks) and pseudo-jazz improvisations , even direct experimentation with sound, especially the one carried out with the Hammond organ (which will have a characteristic sound in the band): all this with a strong presence of Robert Wyatt -both on drums and on vocals-.

In spite of everything, or perhaps as a result of this experimentation, it is an irregular work, with interesting moments -like the start of the album- and other less impressive ones (especially at the end with the extended song 'Why Are We Sleeping?).

 Greaves, Cunningham by GREAVES, JOHN album cover Studio Album, 1991
3.96 | 4 ratings

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Greaves, Cunningham
John Greaves Canterbury Scene

Review by Matti
Prog Reviewer

4 stars Such a long artist bio for John Greaves (b. 1950), but in short, his primary instrument is bass, and the best known bands he has been a member in are HENRY COW and NATIONAL HEALTH. As a vocalist he came to my radar long ago on a charming National Health song 'Binoculars'. His voice is slightly reminiscent of another Canterbury stalwart Kevin Ayers, but with a dark depth similar to the Neo Prog figure Geoff Mann (Twelfth Night) or to the one who sang in the New Wave band Human League. As a musician he seems have some kindred spirit to David Sylvian (JAPAN, solo), not only as a vocalist.

After the collapse of National Health in 1982 John Greaves released two solo albums which were followed later by La Petite Bouteille de Linge (1991). The same year 1991 he made this collaborative album with David Cunningham, a Northern Irish producer and sound architect who as a composer approaches minimalism. On this album John Greaves sings and plays bass, keyboards and percussion. David Cunningham handles the production and plays guitar, treatments, keyboards and percussion. This music doesn't actually sound at all like what you'd expect in the Canterbury category. It's ambientish and introspective, minimalistically oriented, alternative/art rock. Spacey and tonally experimental. Quite timeless, ie. not recognizably from a certain period of time. Maybe the various modern King Crimson related collaborations serve as references, such as David Sylvian & Robert Fripp. That said, Jakko M. Jakszyck (guitarist in the modern times King Crimson) guests as a vocalist on three tracks.

Further references I come to think of include BRIAN ENO at his most introspective, and the Dutch art pop band NITS at their most minimalistic and experimental, on albums such as Omsk (1983), minus their humorous tones, though. Some vocal tracks -- there are plenty of instrumentals too -- may also bring the early 80's/latter day PETER HAMMILL in the listener's mind, mainly for the atmosphere. Mostly the tempo is slow and keyboards dominate the spatial soundscape. If my attempt to describe the nature of this music sounds promising, I believe you'll find this album very interesting and gratifying, definitely much more so than the obscure soundtrack Ghost Dance by Michael Giles, Jamie Muir and David Cunningham that I reviewed some while ago.

 Live in Rome by WINSTONS, THE album cover Live, 2016
3.29 | 9 ratings

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Live in Rome
The Winstons Canterbury Scene

Review by Mellotron Storm
Prog Reviewer

3 stars 3.5 stars. I do have the DVD as well but haven't watched it. One of the biggest surprises of 2016 for me was THE WINSTON's self titled debut. An Italian trio sounding like an early 70's Canterbury band and sounding so authentic. It's mainly because of the vocals which are very Wyatt-like but organ and drums lead the way here long with those vocals. This live record was released the same year as the studio album and is 68 minutes long including that bonus track. Right from the first spin I felt this recording sounded a little flat. It was missing that energy that so many bands have when playing live as they feed off the crowd. It sounds like there's a dozen people in the audience, there's probably way more than that but I don't know. The studio album has this bright and passionate sound to it and I find that that is missing here.

Love all the black and white photos in the liner notes, especially the ones where the band members are smoking their cigarettes. It's refreshing to see. I don't smoke tobacco but am old enough to remember when smokers had it made. You walk into a restaurant with clouds of smoke as almost everyone is smoking including the waitress and cook. Just a different time where smoking was glorified in the movies and all the cool people did it. So yes it's no surprise that the opener is "Nicotine Freak" haha. A top three and sounding almost perfectly like the studio version to start and when it kicks in with vocals I'm smiling. A catchy and energetic start like you want with a live opener.

This is a very playful album and the band thanks Wyatt, Allen, Hopper and Waters in the liner notes among others. "She's My face" is a top three with the opening strummed guitar as beats and vocal melodies join in, organ too then vocals. A jazzy vibe to this one. Fun stuff. I'm a huge fan of "Number Number" as well. Just a more serious sound to my ears and the vocals are completely different. It brightens some a minute in with vocal melodies and organ leading as drums beat away. I just like those organ sounds on here more, again a more serious vibe. Themes are repeated. Sung and partly composed by Japanese artist Gun Kawamura who did the backdrop for the stage that night and the cover art on the debut album. He also helped compose "Diprotodon" and those two songs have japanese titles besides the english ones.

I just get a lot more enjoyment out of the studio album which I consider to be a top 30 Canterbury album by the way. Still it hurts not giving that fourth star as there's so much good stuff on here. And I'm not a big fan with the way it ends with "Tarmac" a stripped down version of the band with vibes, vocals and piano only, just sayin'.

 It's None of Your Business by CARAVAN album cover Studio Album, 2021
3.27 | 61 ratings

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It's None of Your Business
Caravan Canterbury Scene

Review by Warthur
Prog Reviewer

4 stars For a good while now, Caravan have been putting out only one studio album every decade or so; if they stick with that model, their 2020s offering is It's None of Your Business. As has been the case since at least as far back as Better By Far, the band are very much not trying to produce any prog epics here - this is, once again, an album indulging their less complex side.

Not, however, their lighter side - there's an extra shot of energy here. It's not Caravan going heavy metal (or even hard rock) by any stretch of the imagination, but there's just a bit more oomph to proceedings, making this a striking contrast from the fairly laid-back approach they have taken in their recent history.

 De Lorians by LORIANS, DE album cover Studio Album, 2019
4.06 | 61 ratings

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De Lorians
De Lorians Canterbury Scene

Review by Progfan97402
Prog Reviewer

5 stars This is probably the finest Canterbury album I've ever heard that wasn't a British band and wasn't from the 1970s. A Japanese band of twenty-somethings really pulled it off and created nothing short of a masterpiece every bit as great as their 1970s UK counterparts. Upon listening to this, I can't help but be reminded of Soft Machine circa Third. A lot of that same Elton Dean-type sax (and saxello), Mike Ratledge-type organ and electric piano, that strange fuzz bass. While Third concentrated on lengthy jams, De Lorians tended to a more compact approach, with a quirkier approach that many would compare to Zappa. I guess a lot of wind instruments have a lot to do with that. The album does provide a nice challenging listen. At times Hyozo Shiratori would play keyboards in the Dave Stewart circa Egg vein. Guitar playing reminds me of Phil Miller. There isn't a single note wasted. If you didn't know any better, you'd think this came out in the early 1970s or it was some sort of lost Soft Machine recording, taken from the Third sessions. Japan certainly had its share of RIO type groups and even Zeuhl, but surprisingly few bands in that country playing Canterbury but De Lorians is that one example. This album, is simply nothing short of a masterpiece. Those who want a new band playing classic Canterbury, but not bothered that they're not British, this album is a total must have!
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Canterbury Scene bands/artists list

Bands/Artists Country
DAEVID ALLEN Australia
AMOEBA SPLIT Spain
ANTIQUE SEEKING NUNS United Kingdom
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
GOWEN - MILLER - SINCLAIR - TOMKINS United Kingdom
JOHN GREAVES United Kingdom
NICHOLAS GREENWOOD United Kingdom
GRINGO United Kingdom
HATFIELD AND THE NORTH United Kingdom
HENRYTENNIS Japan
STEVE HILLAGE United Kingdom
HOMUNCULUS RES Italy
HOPPER - DEAN - TIPPETT - GALLIVAN United Kingdom
HUGH HOPPER United Kingdom
JAKKO M. JAKSZYK United Kingdom
THE KENTISH SPIRES United Kingdom
KHAN United Kingdom
THE LODGE United States
DE LORIANS Japan
MAGIC BUS United Kingdom
MANNA / MIRAGE United States
MASTER CYLINDER United States
MATCHING MOLE United Kingdom
MILLER & COXHILL United Kingdom
PHIL MILLER United Kingdom
MOLESLOPE Japan
MOOM United Kingdom
MOVING GELATINE PLATES France
MR. SIRIUS Japan
THE MUFFINS United States
NATIONAL HEALTH United Kingdom
OCARINAH France
PANTHEON Netherlands
PAZOP Belgium
JOHN G. PERRY United Kingdom
PICCHIO DAL POZZO Italy
THE POLITE FORCE United Kingdom
PIP PYLE United Kingdom
QUANTUM JUMP United Kingdom
QUIET SUN United Kingdom
SHORT WAVE United Kingdom
RICHARD SINCLAIR United Kingdom
SOFT HEAP United Kingdom
SOFT MACHINE LEGACY United Kingdom
THE SOFT MACHINE United Kingdom
SOFT MOUNTAIN Multi-National
SOFT WORKS United Kingdom
STUBBS Japan
SUPERSISTER Netherlands
SUPPLY DEMAND & CURVE Ireland
TORTILLA FLAT Germany
TRAVELLING France
VOLARÉ United States
THE WILDE FLOWERS United Kingdom
THE WINSTONS Italy
ROBERT WYATT United Kingdom
ZOPP United Kingdom
ZYMA Germany

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