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Christmas (Lindsay Cooper on Robert Wyatt) - Tone Clusters - Mar/Apr 2000


I spent the entire holiday period alone. In early December there was a concert of works by Robert Wyatt that a lot of his friends were giving so I arranged to go. Two of my friends offered to take/wheel me and I was really looking forward to it. It was going to be in the Royal Festival Hall, which was built the same year I was born and my father had a job doing admin there.

I spent a lot of my childhood there and remember it very clearly — it still appears in my mind's eye like a '50s black and white film. I was introduced to Sir Thomas Beacham when I was 4 and I imagine a lot of my later interest in music came from those years. I'm very proud that Robert Wyatt's last live appearance was in the Piazza Navona in Rome with Henry Cow. We continued to have a very productive relationship. When we were recording the second News from Babel album and needed another singer we asked Robert. Chris Cutler asked him to contribute to a record that was being made to raise money for the striking miners, and was very pleased that he agreed to do it and wrote the song in only a few hours. These things are very pleasurable but quite dangerous to look back on later: one imagines that a new song is going to come as quickly as the Miners' song did.

When I was stuck for who to ask as a bass player in OH MOSCOW, Sally Potter suggested I pick the first record out of my collection and see if that gave me any ideas. The first record I picked was ROCK BOTTOM by Robert and I couldn't understand why I hadn't thought of Hugh Hopper before. A quick call to Robert established Hugh's correct telephone number and the rest of the story is... the rest of the story. As I was sitting in the Royal Festival Hall to see the show my mind was full not only of images from the '50s but the entire Canterbury School. I've never liked being included as part of that but it certainly brings you a few friends.

Annie Whitehead, whose trombone playing I like a lot, had put an incredible group together to play Robert's music and included in it was Didier Malherbe, who I used to know when he played with GONG (the Canterbury School, you see, lives on), and Harry Beckett, who I've always thought of as a marvelous trumpet player. The vocals were provided by Julie Tippetts and Ian Maidman, who both sounded so spookily like Robert, I found it incredibly enjoyable. The drums were played by Liam Genocky and the piano by Janette Mason, who I hadn't come across before. More saxes were provided by George Khan, who I hadn't encountered since his days in the Westbrook Brass Band.

After a very successful show I went back to the dressing room and had a long chat with (amongst others) Julie Tippetts. I've always liked her work, particularly the stuff she does with Maggie Nicols and although we have played together several times there's never been the chance to talk. I wonder how many other musicians are affected by hardly anything being said.

I think David Jones and John Cumming did a wonderful job of putting the London Jazz Festival together. Just after the concert Robert and Annie had space to sign a lot of CDs and a lot of Robert's fans were made very happy indeed. Annie made very intelligent arrangements of Robert's songs, rangiong from old records like ROCK BOTTOM and RUTH IS STRANGER THAN RICHARD through to his most recent CD, the excellent SHLEEP.


(Lindsay Cooper, multi-instrumentalist, composer and essayist, is the author of this regular TC column. She welcomes Email comments at cooper@cooper.sonnet.co.uk.)

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