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Interviews & articles

 The Impressionist - Mojo - N°47 - October 1997



A venerable artist returns with his most colourful canvas in some time.

By Ben Thomson

Robert Wyatt
Shleep / Rynodisk

Soft Machine and Matching Mole legend makes triumphant return. Sterling work from all-star supporting cast Paul Weller, Brian Eno, Evan Parker, Annie Whitehead and Phil Manzanera.

FAR FROM the old friends benefit it might have been, Robert Wyatt's first album since 1991 's Dondestan is a fresh and fully-rounded work. It combines all the best qualities of his earlier recordings - the happy balance of simplicity and complication, frailty and resilience - with a sense of purpose that feels newly minted. A trio of beautiful bird songs (September The 9th, Alien, and Out Of Season), co-written by Wyatt and his wife Alfreda Benge, form the hub of the album, but there are even greater pleasures in the hinterland. Wyatt's voice resonates as eloquently as ever, but on the bewitching Free Will And Testament it takes flight to a higher realm of unhistrionic poignancy. The exquisite Eno-flavoured opener Heaps Of Sheeps must be the most tranquil song ever written about insomnia, and Blues In Bob Minor - a suitably warped mirror-image of Dylan's Subterranean Homesick Blues - gives Paul Weller the cue for his most free-spirited guitar blow out since the heyday of The Style Council.


Robert Wyatt talks to Ben Thompson.

Your feathered friends seem to have been a great source of inspiration.

"Well, they outnumber us 10 to one, and I really love watching them, which isn't always true of people. I'm not like a twitcher, in the sense that a bird doesn't have to be rare for me to be interested in it - I really like the ones that just hang about. I think sparrows, for example, are extremely witty and amusing to watch, though that's very anthropomorphic of me, because I know they're really busy struggling for survival."

Was it that sympathetic attitude that led you to offer Paul Weller a way out of his pub rock impasse?

"Haha! With some people I'm just like a normal pop fan - judgement is completely suspended, and Paul is one of those. I've always liked the cut of his jib, and having spent so much time struggling around trying to do different things myself, I really identify with some of the adventures that he's had."

People might be surprised by an avant-garde avatar like yourself teaming up with the arch populist loafer-wearer?

"Someone who knows my track record shouldn't be surprised at me working with anybody, really. In any case, we musicians think differently about these things - inside the brotherhood."

What's Blues In Bob Minor about?

"The original vocal was a bit influenced by those adverts: 'Papa!' 'Nicole!' I was just singing 'Oh Alfie' and I thought it was dead good and minimalist, but when I tried it out on my wife she said I was just being lazy and not bothering to write proper words. So, after I'd slammed the door a few times and smashed a couple of plates, I thought, I'll stuff it with words! I was trying to copy the Dylan original but I couldn't remember the lyrics, which was a good thing because it finished up as Robert Wyatt rather than Bob Dylan. Alfie thinks he might object. If he does we'll just bluff it out and say, 'Borrowing is a vital part of the folk tradition'."

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