Canterbury scene

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The Canterbury scene (or Canterbury sound) was a musical scene centred on the city of Canterbury, Kent, England during the late 1960s and early 1970s.[1] Associated with progressive rock,[2] the term describes a loosely-defined, improvisational style that blended elements of jazz, rock, and psychedelia.[1]

These musicians played together in numerous bands, with ever-changing and overlapping personnel, creating some similarities in their musical output. Many prominent British avant-garde or fusion musicians began their career in Canterbury bands, including Hugh Hopper, Steve Hillage, Dave Stewart (the keyboardist), Robert Wyatt, Kevin Ayers, Daevid Allen, and Mike Ratledge.[3]

Definition and history[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.[3] "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."[4]

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."[5]

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 [Allen] 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."[5]

In the 21st century, the Canterbury group Syd Arthur have been seen as latter-day practitioners.[6]


Poet, painter, and singer Lady June was 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.[7][8]


  1. ^ a b "Canterbury Scene – About". AllMusic. Retrieved 24 November 2019.
  2. ^ O'Dair, Marcus (2015). Different Every Time: The Authorized Biography of Robert Wyatt. Counterpoint LLC. p. 99. ISBN 978-1-61902-676-6.
  3. ^ a b "Canterbury Scene". AllMusic. Retrieved 2 January 2018.
  4. ^ "The Rare Vinyl Network :: The Canterbury Scene". Archived from the original on 29 December 2006. Retrieved 18 October 2006.
  5. ^ a b "What Is Canterbury Music?". Retrieved 7 January 2021.
  6. ^ "New band of the day – No 726: Syd Arthur". 15 February 2010.
  7. ^ Unterberger, Richie. "Lady June's Linguistic Leprosy". AllMusic. Retrieved 21 May 2012.
  8. ^ Salewicz, Chris (11 June 1999). "Obituary: Lady June". The Independent. Retrieved 21 May 2012.

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