Canterbury scene

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The Canterbury scene (or Canterbury sound) is a term used to describe a loosely defined style of music created by a number of progressive rock, avant-garde and jazz musicians, many of whom were based in the city of Canterbury, Kent, England during the late 1960s and early 1970s. 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.[1][2] Over the years, with outside musicians joining Canterbury bands, and new bands all over the world adopting a "Canterbury sound," the term has come to describe the musical style rather than a regional group of musicians.


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.


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 Soft Machine and Caravan, which in turn provided the musicians for several later bands. The genesis of the "Canterbury Sound" may, in part, be traced back to 1960, when 22-year-old Australian beatnik Daevid Allen lodged at 15-year-old 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 the following year 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 two years later in 1966.

The Wilde Flowers survived, however, led by Pye Hastings – often joined by his brother Jimmy Hastings who guested with Wilde Flowers and Caravan when not busy with his other, jazz, engagements. From this second Wilde Flowers incarnation was born the band Caravan with an initial line up of Pye Hastings (vocals, lead guitar), Richard Sinclair (bass), Dave Sinclair (keyboards) 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, the Netherlands 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 (recorded as Arzachel), and 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 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]


A set of four CDs of archival recordings from the early Canterbury scene (1962-1972), entitled Canterburied Sounds, Vol.s 1-4 was released by Brian Hopper on Voiceprint Records in 1998. A film about the Canterbury scene, entitled Romantic Warriors III: Canterbury Tales was released by Zeitgeist Media in 2015.



The origin of the Canterbury scene:

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

Other bands:


Record labels[edit]

A Canterbury sound discography[edit]

Note: Not every release by every Canterbury band qualifies as having the “Canterbury sound” — and many non-Canterbury bands do — so this list is based on SOUND not on GEOGRAPHY. Please keep this in mind when adding entries.
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Earliest Recording Date Artist(s) Title Country Notes
1962 various artists Canterburied Sounds, Vol.s 1-4 England Earliest known recordings
1965 The Wilde Flowers The Wilde Flowers England The Canterbury Sound archetype
1967 Soft Machine Jet Propelled Photographs England The April De Lane Lea Studios demo recordings, released under many different titles
1968 Soft Machine The Soft Machine England Debut album from SM
1969 Soft Machine Volume Two England
1970 Soft Machine Third England
1971 Soft Machine Fourth England
1972 Soft Machine Fifth England
1973 Soft Machine Six England
1974 Soft Machine Seven England
1975 Soft Machine Bundles England
1976 Soft Machine Softs England
1981 Soft Machine Land of Cockayne England Last studio album from SM
1967 Soft Machine Triple Echo England Compilation from all their recordings to date
1977 Soft Machine Alive & Well: Recorded in Paris France
1970 Soft Machine Live at the Proms 1970 England Also released as Live At Royal Albert Hal
1969 Soft Machine Turns On: Paradiso The Netherlands Also released as Live at the Paradiso
1969 Soft Machine The PeelSessions England
1971 Soft Machine BBC Radio 1 Live in Concert 1971 England
1972 Soft Machine BBC Radio 1 Live in Concert 1972 England Also released as Softstage
1976 Karl Jenkins Rubber Riff England Released on CD as a Soft Machine album
1972 Soft Machine Live in France France Also released as Live in Paris
1969 Soft Machine Spaced England
1970 Soft Machine Live 1970 England Also released as Live in Europe 1970
1970 Soft Machine Noisette England
1967 Soft Machine Turns On vol. 1 England
1967 Soft Machine Turns On vol. 2 England
1963 Soft Machine Man in a Deaf Corner England
1970 Soft Machine Backwards England
1970 Soft Machine Facelift England
1967 Soft Machine BBC Radio 1967-1971 England
1971 Soft Machine BBC Radio 1971-1974 England
1970 Soft Machine Breda Reactor The Netherlands Also released as Live at Het Turfschip
1970 Soft Machine Somewhere in Soho England Also released as At Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club
1971 Soft Machine Soft Machine & Heavy Friends England
1967 Soft Machine Out-Bloody-Rageous England Compilation
1970 Soft Machine Orange Skin Food England Previously released live recordings
1975 Soft Machine British Tour ’75 England
1967 Soft Machine Middle Earth Masters England
1975 Soft Machine Floating World Live England
1970 Soft Machine Grides England
1971 Soft Machine Drop England
1970 Soft Machine Live at Henie Onstad Art Centre Norway
1973 Soft Machine NDR Jazz Workshop Germany
1974 Soft Machine Switzerland 1974 Switzerland
1963 Soft Machine Tanglewood Tales England Same tracks as Canterburied Sounds
1968 Robert Wyatt ’68 England
1968 Caravan Caravan England Debut Caravan album
1970 Caravan If I Could Do It All Over Again, I'd Do It All Over You England
1971 Caravan In the Land of Grey and Pink England
1972 Caravan Waterloo Lily England
1973 Caravan For Girls Who Grow Plump in the Night England
1975 Caravan Cunning Stunts England
1976 Caravan Blind Dog at St. Dunstans England
1977 Caravan Better by Far England
1980 Caravan The Album England
1994 Caravan Cool Water England
1995 Caravan The Battle of Hastings England
2003 Caravan The Unauthorized Breakfast Item England
1974 Caravan Caravan and the New Symphonia England
1975 Caravan BBC Radio 1 Live in Concert England
1990 Caravan Live 1990 England
1970 Caravan Songs for Oblivion Fishermen England
1975 Caravan Ether Way England
1997 Caravan Live: Canterbury Comes to London England
1976 Caravan Surprise Supplies England
1969 Caravan Green Bottles for Marjorie: The Lost BBC Sessions England
1974 Caravan Live at the Fairfield Halls, 1974 England
1968 Caravan The Show of Our Lives – Caravan at the BBC 1968–1975 England
1976 Dave Sinclair Moon Over Man England
2003 Dave Sinclair Into The Sun England
2003 Dave Sinclair Full Circle England
1976 The Polite Force Canterbury Knights England
1974 Hatfield and the North Hatfield and the North England
1975 Hatfield and the North The Rotters' Club England
1977 Camel Rain Dances England
1977 Camel Unevensongs England
1978 Camel Breathless England
1978 Camel A Live Record England
1980 Hatfield and the North Afters England
1981 Alan Gowen, Phil Miller, Richard Sinclair & Trevor Tomkins Before A Word Is Said England
1982 Caravan Back to Front England
1983 Hugh Hopper & Richard Sinclair Somewhere in France France Released 1996
1989 Phil Miller Cutting Both Ways England
1989 Phil Miller Split Seconds England
1991 Phil Miller Digging In England
1991 In Cahoots Live ’86-’89 England
1992 Phil Miller & Fred Thelonius Baker Double Up England
1993 In Cahoots Live In Japan Japan
1993 In Cahoots Recent Discoveries England
1996 In Cahoots Parallel England
2003 In Cahoots All That England
2000 In Cahoots Out of the Blue England
2006 In Cahoots Conspiracy Theories England
2011 In Cahoots Mind Over Matter England
1990 Hatfield and the North Live 1990 England
1990 Hatfield and the North Classic Rock Legends England DVD
1990 Caravan Classic Rock Legends England DVD
1992 Caravan of Dreams Richard Sinclair's Caravan of Dreams England
1993 Caravan of Dreams An Evening of Magic England
1994 Richard Sinclair R.S.V.P. England
1996 Richard Sinclair, David Rees & Tony Coe What in the World England
2002 Richard Sinclair Live Tracks England
2003 Camel Live Tracks England
2003 Theo Travis Earth to Ether England
2005 Hatfield and the North Hatwise Choice: Archive Recordings 1973—1975, Volume 1 England
2006 Hatfield and the North Hattitude: Archive Recordings 1973-1975, Volume 2 England
1993 Short Wave Short Wave Live England
1978 Soft Head Rogue Element England
1978 Soft Heap Al Dente England released 2008
1979 Soft Heap Soft Heap England
1982 Soft Heap A Veritable Centaur England released 1996
1975 Quiet Sun Mainstream England
2000 Phil Manzanera Manzanera Archives: Rare One England Includes 4 previously unreleased Quiet Sun demos
2011 Quiet Sun Mainstream England Deluxe book presentation with 4 bonus tracks
1985 Pip Pyle's Equipe'Out Pip Pyle's Equip'Out England Released 1999
1991 Pip Pyle's Equipe'Out Up! England
1991 Pip Pyle 7 Year Itch England
2002 Pip Pyle's Bash Belle Illusion England
2004 Pip Pyle's Equipe'Out Instants England
1972 Matching Mole Matching Mole England
1972 Matching Mole Matching Mole's Little Red Record England
1972 Matching Mole BBC Radio 1 Live In Concert England
1972 Matching Mole Smoke Signals England
1972 Matching Mole March England
1970 Robert Wyatt The End of an Ear England
1974 Robert Wyatt Rock Bottom England
1975 Robert Wyatt Ruth Is Stranger Than Richard England
1985 Robert Wyatt Old Rottenhat England
1991 Robert Wyatt Dondestan England
1997 Robert Wyatt Shleep England
2003 Robert Wyatt Cuckooland England
2007 Robert Wyatt Comicopera England
1975 The Muffins Chronometers USA
1978 The Muffins Manna/Mirage USA
2005 Glass Illuminations USA Features Phil Miller, Richard Sinclair & Hugh Hopper
2007 Glass Glass Live at Progman Cometh USA Features Elton Dean
2003 Brian Hopper (with Robert Fenner) Virtuality England
2004 Brian Hopper If Ever I Am England
2006 Brian Hopper & Robert Fenner Just Desserts England
2005 Soft Machine Legacy Live in Zaandam The Netherlands
2006 Soft Machine Legacy Soft Machine Legacy England
2006 Soft Machine Legacy Live at the New Morning England
2007 Soft Machine Legacy Steam England
2013 Soft Machine Legacy Burden of Proof England
1970 Supersister Present from Nancy The Netherlands
1971 Supersister To The Highest Bidder The Netherlands
1972 Supersister Pudding en Gisteren The Netherlands
1973 Supersister Iskander The Netherlands
1974 Supersister Sweet Okay Supersister The Netherlands
2001 Supersister M.A.N. The Netherlands
2001 Supersister Supersisterious The Netherlands
1972 Khan Space Shanty England
1975 Gilgamesh Gilgamesh England
1979 Gilgamesh Another Fine Tune You've Got Me Into England
2000 Gilgamesh Arriving Twice England
1978 National Health National Health England
1978 National Health Of Queues and Cures England
1982 National Health D.S. al coda England
1990 National Health Complete England
1996 National Health Missing Pieces England
2001 National Health Playtime England
1969 Arzachel Arzachel England
1970 Egg Egg England
1971 Egg The Polite Force England
1974 Egg The Civil Surface England
1985 Egg Seven Is a Jolly Good Time England
2007 Egg The Metronomical Society England
2007 Arzachel Arzachel Collector's Edition by Uriel England


  1. ^ a b Canterbury Scene at AllMusic
  2. ^ Canterbury Scene definition. Available at
  3. ^ RareVinylNetwork. Article entitled “The Canterbury Scene.” Available at:
  4. ^ a b What is Canterbury music? at Calyx, a website about the Canterbury scene. Available at:
  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]