Thursday, 12 January 2012

Robert Wyatt Interview in The Daily Yomiuri on 26th October 2007

Grandfather Robert Wyatt sings out against war
Stephen Taylor / Daily Yomiuri Staff Writer

Wyatting: The practice of deliberately selecting annoying or extreme music on an MP3 jukebox to cause irritation. There can't be many musicians whose names have made it into the online Urban Dictionary, but Robert Wyatt sounds less than impressed with the honor.

"Whilst I'm proud to be the present participle of a new verb...I would never do Wyatting myself," the former member of progressive rock pioneers the Soft Machine tells The Daily Yomiuri by telephone from his home in Lincolnshire, northern England.

"I'm not into the avant garde as provoking or disturbing people. To me, the avant-garde is only valuable insofar as it disinters undiscovered beauty or finds beauty where people hadn't previously looked for it. I'm not the slightest interested in upsetting or disturbing people," he says.

The only people who might be upset or disturbed by Comic Opera, Wyatt's first studio outing since Cuckooland in 2003, are supporters of the war in Iraq.

Divided into three acts, it looks suspiciously like one of those dreaded concept albums that, with a few exceptions, such as the Who's Tommy and Quadrophenia, ended up in bargain bins by the end of the 1970s. The 62-year-old grandfather reveals that the original idea was much looser.

"Once I'd done an hour's music it seemed to fall into three sort of areas of preoccupation, in terms of the lyrics anyway.

"It has lots of different characters in it and I split it up into these three parts. The first one's more to do with love and lust and the second part more to do with [being] out and about pottering around England and having a think and the last bit is..."

Wyatt describes himself as a "lefty" who remembers Sept. 11 as, "the date [in 1973] upon which the United States backed a fascist coup in Chile to overthrow the democracy there and install a brutal dictator called Pinochet," so perhaps it is not surprising that "the last bit" finds him in antiwar mode.

"At the end of the second bit I'm pulled up short by remembering that we're still going around the world dropping bombs on people and going to war with people who never attacked us in the first place.

"I suddenly want to distance myself from Englishness so I stop singing in English entirely for the last third and speak in tongues," he explains.

Yet Comic Opera is not depressing, and the musical tenderness of "A Beautiful War" is a far cry from the ironic antiwar sentiment of the song's lyrics.

Though Wyatt's first love is jazz, he is well aware of the importance of more commercial music.

"I've got a lot of respect for pop music...Really good tunes are noticeable. Whether they come from Tchaikovsky or John Lennon, a good tune is a good tune and I've always liked doing them," he says.

And it was a cover of "I'm a Believer," originally recorded by perhaps the ultimate pop group, the Monkees, that earned him a spot on BBC TV's Top of the Pops in 1974. But Wyatt--a paraplegic as the result of a fall from a window in June 1973--found his wheelchair an unwelcome accessory in the studio of the popular music show.

"The producer of the program--he's dead now so he won't be offended if I call him a bit of a t--t--he didn't think it looked groovy and hip on his hip and groovy pop program," he says without a hint of bitterness.

Though Wyatt has never visited Japan, he has worked with Japanese musicians, none more prestigious than Ryuichi Sakamoto.

"It was a song ["We Love You"] by some English rock group [The Rolling Stones]. I didn't particularly like the original but I thought his version made it better than it almost deserved. I thought he did it beautifully, it's wonderful. It was very nice to work with him," he says.

More recently, musicians with Japanese connections have been appearing on Wyatt's albums.

"A violinist called Chikako Sato--who lives in England now and whose mother I believe is a very important and serious traditional Japanese performer--lived in our little town for a while and played violin and stuff on a few tracks I've done in the past," he adds.

Ironically, Dave Sinclair, who plays piano on "A.W.O.L." on Comic Opera took the opposite route to Sato.

"I used to work with him in Matching Mole and he now lives in Japan and is married to a Japanese woman. Either the country or his wife, or both, are obviously very good for him because he's the only one of all the people I've worked with who doesn't look as if he's aged at all. He's exactly the same as when I knew him in the '70s--it's quite disconcerting," he says.
(Oct. 26, 2007)

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