Canterbury scene

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The Canterbury scene (or Canterbury sound) is a term used to loosely describe the group of progressive rock, avant-garde and jazz musicians, many of whom were based around the city of Canterbury, Kent, England during the late 1960s and early 1970s. Many prominent British avant-garde or fusion musicians began their career in Canterbury bands, such as Hugh Hopper, Steve Hillage, Dave Stewart (the keyboardist), Robert Wyatt, Kevin Ayers, Daevid Allen, Mike Ratledge, Fred Frith, and Peter Blegvad.[1][2] Over the years, with band membership changes and new bands evolving, the term has been used to describe a musical style or subgenre, rather than a regional group of musicians.

Definition[edit]

The Canterbury scene is largely defined by a set of musicians and bands with intertwined members. These are not tied by very strong musical similarities, but a certain whimsicality, touches of psychedelia, rather abstruse lyrics, and a use of improvisation derived from jazz are common elements in their work.[1] “The real essence of 'Canterbury Sound' is the tension between complicated harmonies, extended improvisations, and the sincere desire to write catchy pop songs.” “In the very best Canterbury music...the musically silly and the musically serious are juxtaposed in an amusing and endearing way.” [3]

There is variation within the scene, for example from pop/rock like early Soft Machine and much Caravan to avant-garde composed pieces as with early National Health to improvised jazz as with later Soft Machine or In Cahoots. Didier Malherbe (of Gong) has defined the scene as having "certain chord changes, in particular the use of minor second chords, certain harmonic combinations, and a great clarity in the aesthetics, and a way of improvising that is very different from what is done in jazz."[4]

There is debate about the existence and definition of the scene. Dave Stewart has complained at the nomenclature as he and many other musicians identified with the Canterbury scene never had anything to do with Canterbury, the place. The former Soft Machine bassist Hugh Hopper, who lived in Whitstable, near Canterbury, said: "I think it's a rather artificial label, a journalistic thing... I don't mind it, but people like Robert [Wyatt], he in fact hates that idea, because he was born somewhere else and just happened to go to school here. In the time when the Wilde Flowers started we hardly ever worked in Canterbury. It wasn't until Robert and Daevid went to London to start Soft Machine that anything happened at all. They weren't really a Canterbury band [...] if it helps people understand or listen to more music then it is fine." [4]

Hopper's family, however, lived in the city and the Wilde Flowers did play many of their early gigs in Canterbury, notably at the Beehive Club, in Dover Street, and the city's various colleges. It was at a Students Union-organised event at Canterbury Technical College that Soft Machine gigged with Pink Floyd – twice, before and after Floyd were signed to a record deal, and it was in a house in Whitstable (within the Canterbury City Council area) that Caravan went into rehearsal for some months before moving to London and a recording contract.

History[edit]

The scene had one main root in the Wilde Flowers, a band formed in 1964 which, at various times, was home to most of the founding musicians of both the Soft Machine and Caravan, bands which in turn provided the musicians of several later bands. The genesis of the Canterbury Sound may, in part, be traced back to 1960, when Australian beatnik Daevid Allen lodged at Robert Wyatt's parents' guest-house in Lydden, ten miles to the south of Canterbury. Allen brought with him an extensive collection of jazz records, a different lifestyle, and the jazz drummer George Niedorf who later taught Wyatt the drums. In 1963, Wyatt, Allen and Hugh Hopper formed the Daevid Allen Trio (in London) which metamorphosised into the Wilde Flowers when Allen left for France. Wyatt, Allen, Kevin Ayers (from the Wilde Flowers) and Mike Ratledge (who had played on occasion with the Daevid Allen Trio) formed Soft Machine in 1966.

The Wilde Flowers survived, however, led by Pye Hastings – often joined by brother Jimmy who guested with WF and Caravan when not busy with his other, jazz, engagements. From this second WF incarnation was born prog rocking Caravan – initial line up: Pye Hastings (vocals, lead guitar), Richard (bass) and David (keyboards) Sinclair and Richard Coughlan (drums). Although enjoying success in the UK, holding their own with respectable album sales, they really came into their own in mainland Europe, particularly France, Holland and Germany, where they achieved star status in the 1970s and played some of those countries' largest and most prestigious venues. They went quiet during the 1980s, but Caravan reappeared, still led by Hastings, in the 1990s and were gigging into the 2000s, at home and abroad, including in the US.

Other key early bands were Delivery and Egg, whose members blended into the Canterbury scene in the early 1970s. For example, Phil Miller of Delivery went on to found Matching Mole with Robert Wyatt, and Hatfield and the North with Dave Stewart of Egg. Both were later in National Health, while Steve Hillage, who dropped out of a degree course at the University of Kent at Canterbury, had worked with the members of Egg in a previous band, Uriel, was later in Gong with Allen.

The Canterbury scene is known for having a set of musicians who often rotated into different Canterbury bands. Richard Sinclair, for example, was at different points of his career, in the Wilde Flowers, Camel, Caravan, Hatfield and the North and, briefly, Gilgamesh; he also worked with National Health. His cousin Dave Sinclair was in Caravan, Camel, Matching Mole and, briefly, Hatfield and the North. Robert Wyatt was a member of the Wilde Flowers, Soft Machine, Matching Mole, and also did work as a solo artist. The late Pip Pyle was in Delivery, Gong, Hatfield and the North, National Health, Soft Heap and In Cahoots. Hugh Hopper was in Soft Machine, Isotope, Soft Heap, In Cahoots and, with Pyle and Allen, Brainville, as well as doing numerous of his own group and solo projects and working with non-Canterbury bands. Multi-instrumentalist Mike Oldfield started his professional career in Kevin Ayers' band The Whole World in 1970 as the bass and lead guitarist; some musicians of the Canterbury scene contributed to Oldfield's mid-1970s solo output, such as Lindsay Cooper (on Tubular Bells and Hergest Ridge) and Steve Hillage, Mike Ratledge and Fred Frith (in a 1974 BBC live performance of extracts from Tubular Bells).

Other individuals peripheral to the scene but with connections include Bill Bruford (briefly drummed in Gong and National Health and employed Dave Stewart in his late 1970s band, Bruford), Allan Holdsworth (who worked with Soft Machine, Gong in their jazz rock period, and the band, Bruford, which played a style of jazz fusion heavily influenced by Canterbury scene artists) and Andy Summers (who was briefly a member of Soft Machine, and also worked separately with Kevin Ayers). Lady June has been regarded an "honorary member" of the Canterbury scene for having performed and recorded with some of the members, and being a "landlady" to many in her flat in Maida Vale, London.[5][6]

Components[edit]

Bands[edit]

The origin of the Canterbury scene:

Five bands were central to the Canterbury scene:[7]

Other bands:

Musicians[edit]

Record labels[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Canterbury Scene at AllMusic
  2. ^ Canterbury Scene definition. Available at http://www.progarchives.com/subgenre.asp?style=12
  3. ^ RareVinylNetwork. Article entitled “The Canterbury Scene.” Available at: http://www.rarevinyl.net/canterbury.htm
  4. ^ a b What is Canterbury music? at Calyx, a website about the Canterbury scene. Available at: http://calyx.perso.neuf.fr/index/whatis.html
  5. ^ Unterberger, Richie. "Lady June's Linguistic Leprosy". Allmusic. Retrieved 21 May 2012. 
  6. ^ Salewicz, Chris (11 June 1999). "Obituary: Lady June". The Independent. Retrieved 21 May 2012. 
  7. ^ Canterbury bands at Calyx: The Canterbury Website

External links[edit]