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 Expressions of Robert - Sounds - March 23, 1974

Robert Wyatt has set out to make albums of songs before. The first was “End Of An Ear”, a solo, album while he was still with Soft Machine, and that didn't turn out anything like an album of songs. The second was “Matching Mole”, which got neater — he got through half the first side before he re-realised, as he rationalised it later, that making music is a cooperative process and it became a Matching Mole album.

Now he's started the next Robert Wyatt album, he's not saying “this time I'm going to make an album of love songs” as he's said in the past, and this time it might turn out to be much closer to that idea.

He turns away from the microphone where he's just been making “a tentative stab at a vocal” and stares out of the window in silence at the Wiltshire country-side for what seems like ages. “It's funny doing a song you wrote a year ago — almost like doing someone else's material. You get a different perspective on it, not better necessarily, but you put more into it in a way than you do on something hot from the presses.”

But then a year ago the song would have been part of a re-arranged Matching Mole repertoire. Now it's Robert singing over his own . backing track of organ, piano and conga drum, all recorded in the living room of a cottage in, Wiltshire, onto the Manor Mobile truck.

Matching Mole made two albums and played a number of gigs before all-too-familiar music business maladies forced them into a corner, which for a while seemed certain to put an end to the project. But they rallied, and a new version of Matching Mole was about to emerge last Spring. Then, at a party for Gong on June 1 last year, Robert fell from a window and broke his back, spending the rest of the year in Stoke Mandeville hospital.

Now out of hospital, he uses, wheels instead of legs and picks up his music again — if not where he left off, exactly, as near to it as time, circumstances and the fast-racing flow of his own ideas dictate. He's with Virgin Records now — “where all my mates are” — and is spending a week recording on the Manor Mobile before he and his lady Alfie move to a flat nearer London and he completes the album with production by the Floyd's Nick Mason.

He's always played keyboards, always sung, and always had a broad vision of the way he creates,. music in a studio: after “End Of An Ear” he said he saw himself as much an arranger as anything else, and when he was with Soft Machine he described himself as an “out of work singer, currently on drums with the Soft Machine”, I've always rated him. an outstanding drummer, but while that  didn't detract from me also thinking of him as an outstanding singer – certainly the most innovative and moving singer in this country that I've heard – and a man who could create staggeringly beautiful musical environments on record, the fact that so much of his work was behind a drum kit on stage prevented more than a part of his potential being realised.

Post-accident, he has absolutely. no plans to form a band, which' as he thinks back to the ratio of gigs he actually enjoyed against those that were a constant source of irritation, is a matter. of some relief to him. It is possible for him to do gigs of course, and he will – there's a Hatfield and the North concert at the Roundhouse coming up at which he'll probably appear, and there are plans for Robert to work out a short set within Hatfield's set which can happen whenever it seems convenient.

But without the structures of a band, Robert's energies seem to have come much more sharply into focus than ever before. Though the music may have been conceived a year ago, he has obviously modified it to suit his new situation, and what he's done so far sounds the strongest, most direct music he's ever done. The things he's done down in Wiltshire, of course, have been totally his own, but they achieve — even in the rough mixes — an intense sense of purpose within an  extraordinarily wide range of sounds and ideas.

On one track the beat is sustained by four-to-the-bar done by beating a tin tray with a torch battery — it was originally just a time track but sounded so good that he kept it. On another, there's a churning guitar track which Robert describes as fake Dave Gilmour, though he was trying to do someone else. The song he was working on the day I was there was an affectionate song for Alfie, with sort of Edward Lear nonsense lyrics. All of them have obvious influences, but equally all of them are quite definitely Robert Wyatt — the music has. a quality quite unlike anything else. Even his singing style has moved on from the one that Richard Sinclair reproduced so successfully on the Hatfield album, to encompass a much broader range of expression. There will, be other people on the album though — as he gets deeper into it he'll find which sections would benefit from different minds and playing styles, and he's drawn up a guest list of people he'd like to invite. to play on particular segments.

But the way it looks at the moment, the album will be the most complete expression of Robert as a musician he's ever achieved, and should bring his reputation out of the tight circle of friends and playing acquaintances. he's had since before the Soft Machine to people who might know of it; but who've not had the chance to experience it.

It's about time.

Steve Peacock

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