Robert Wyatt, born Robert Ellidge, in Bristol, UK on 28 January 1945, is an English musician, and a former member of the influential Canterbury scene band Soft Machine.
As a teenager, he lived with his parents in a fourteen-room Georgian guest-house, Wellington House, in Lydden near Canterbury. Here he was taught the drums by visiting American jazz drummer George Niedorf.
In 1962, Wyatt and Niedorf moved to Majorca where they stayed with the poet Robert Graves. The following year, Wyatt returned to England and joined the Daevid Allen Trio with Daevid Allen and Hugh Hopper. Allen subsequently left for France, and Wyatt and Hopper formed the Wilde Flowers with Richard Sinclair, Kevin Ayers and Brian Hopper. Wyatt was initially the drummer in the Wilde Flowers, but following the departure of Ayers, he became lead singer.
In 1966, the Wilde Flowers disintegrated, and Wyatt and Mike Ratledge formed the Soft Machine with Ayers and Allen. Here Wyatt both drummed and sang, an unusual combination for a stage rock band.
In 1970, after chaotic touring, three albums and increasing internal conflicts in Soft Machine, Wyatt released his first solo album, The End of an Ear, which combined his vocal and multi-instrumental talents with tape effects.
A year later, Wyatt left Soft Machine and formed his own band Matching Mole (a pun on "machine molle", the French for Soft Machine), a largely instrumental outfit. After two albums and a split, Matching Mole were about to embark on a third record when, on 1 June 1973, during a drunken party, Wyatt fell from a third floor window. He was subsequently paralysed from the waist down (paraplegia) and confined to a wheelchair.
The injury led Wyatt to abandon the Matching Mole project, and his drumming. He promptly embarked on a solo-career, and with a collective of session musicians (including Mike Oldfield, the poet Ivor Cutler and Henry Cow guitarist Fred Frith), he released his acclaimed solo album Rock Bottom. Later that same year he put out a single, a cover version of "I'm a Believer", which hit number 29 in the UK chart. There were strong arguments with the producer of Top of the Pops surrounding his performance of "I'm a Believer," on the grounds that his wheelchair-bound appearance 'was not suitable for family viewing', the producer wanting Wyatt to appear on a normal chair. Wyatt won the day and 'lost his rag but not the wheel chair', but gave a performance that could be described as disgruntled.
Wyatt's next album, Ruth Is Stranger Than Richard, was more jazz-led, with free jazz influences and nods to African music. These solo recordings were all produced by Nick Mason of Pink Floyd.
Throughout the rest of the 1970s, Wyatt guested with various acts, working with the likes of Henry Cow (documented on their Henry Cow Concerts album), Hatfield and the North, Carla Bley and Michael Mantler. His solo work during the early 1980s was increasingly politicised, and Wyatt became an outspoken member and supporter of the British Communist Party. In 1983, his interpretation of Elvis Costello's anti-Falklands War song "Shipbuilding", the last in a series of political cover-versions (collected as Nothing Can Stop Us), reached number 35 in the UK singles chart. In the late 1980s, after collaborations with other ex-Canterbury acts such as News from Babel, he and his wife Alfreda Benge spent a sabbatical in Spain, before returning in 1991 with a comeback album Dondestan, considered by many to be his best work since Rock Bottom. His 1997 album Shleep was also highly acclaimed.
An uncredited Wyatt contributed the haunting "Masters of the Field", as well as "The Highest Gander", "La Forêt Rouge" and "Hors Champ" to the soundtrack of the acclaimed 2001 film Winged Migration. He can be seen in the DVD's Special Features section, and is praised by the film's composer Bruno Coulais as being a big influence in his younger days.
In 2001, Wyatt was curator of the Meltdown festival, and in 2003 he put out his album Cuckooland.
In 2004, Wyatt collaborated with Björk on the song "Submarine" which was released on her fifth album Medúlla.
In October 2007 he released Comicopera, a 16-track album, his first for the Domino label.
It was produced by Wyatt himself, and recorded at his home in Louth as well as Phil Manzanera's Gallery Studio.
Comicopera is divided into three acts - 'Lost in Noise', 'The Here and The Now', and 'Away with the Fairies'. Featured musicians include previous collaborators Brian Eno, Paul Weller and Phil Manzanera. Wyatt said he was keen to capture the sound of a group of musicians playing in the room together, but more importantly to have friends playing together.
"Music isn't just an abstract pleasure, it is a company, when you play a record. Why I like Duke Ellington and Charles Mingus, the big bands - is because every character in the band is identifiable as that person - there's this group of humans in a room".
"He lives in Louth, Lincolnshire and he has equipment in his bedroom where he records himself and his albums. We brought a G4 and Pro Tools and recorded it in like one afternoon. He's such an extraordinary singer. Before he left, he insisted to give us a scale of his voice, where he sings all the tones – and he has the most amazing range, like 5 or 6 octaves. What's really interesting about his range is that each octave is of a totally different character. We actually ended up using that later for 'Oceania', we used what he calls the 'Wyattron'." — Björk, XFM 25 August 2004