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
"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,"
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)