EPs - Robert Wyatt
Rock & Pop - StudioRecording - 5 CD(s) - Label: Hannibal Records - Distributor: ADA/Arvato Services - Released: 22/02/1999 - 31257144025
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Review of "EPs - Robert Wyatt"
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Although I’m not a fan of jazz, perversely one of the artists I adore is free jazz influenced Robert Wyatt. His EPs album is the collection of many of the singles that Wyatt released during his career. Unfortunately, I understand the great man at 70 has pretty much retired so there is probably no further output to come.
Robert Wyatt – unlikely pop starWyatt is perhaps (sadly) most famous for falling out of an upstairs window at a party and becoming a wheelchair user as a result. In 1974 after the accident, Wyatt’s great friend Nick Mason (from Pink Floyd) produced and played instruments on a solo album (the amazing Rock Bottom) and a couple of singles. The first was a sardonic but straight cover of the Monkees I’m A Believer which improbably hit the top 30 of the UK pop charts. There is a famous story that the Top of the Pops producer wanted Wyatt to perform while sitting on a standard chair as he though the wheelchair would scare the kids watching the program. Wyatt won after throwing a fit. Meantime, it seems the producer didn’t have any suspicions about the sexual predatory behaviour of some of his presenters. The story does show that while we still have a considerable way to go with bringing disability into the mainstream we have come a long way.
Follow up track was a surprisingly contemporary and strangely cod reggae version of 1960’s hit Yesterday Man. The track was pulled from release (there were a number of singles which suffered this fate; a result of the oil shortage and three day working week of the time). Both tracks are very atypical Wyatt and had the single become a further hit, it could have seen Wyatt move towards the dark side of popular and accessible music. Personally, I’m much happier that Wyatt stayed with the political statements and cutting edge tunes.
Robert Wyatt – a man to annoy your friends withWikipedia refers to the practice of Wyatting, which is apparently the act of putting obscure and unlistenable tracks onto the pub jukebox. Wyatt has quite the reputation for producing obscure music, and there are some examples on Eps, including the live version of Calyx. This contains a good example of Wyatt using his voice as an instrument rather than singing in the traditional way. This is a slow lazy jazz number.
Pigs (in there) is another track that was seriously ahead of its time; it’s an anti animal farming song and has a spoken Wyatt lamenting where pigs are housed. It has a rather funky dance beat going on in the background.Maryan is a pretty, understated track with something of an edge to it. It’s gentle rolling jazzy feel doesn’t irritate but it would probably attract the desired interest at a pub jukebox. Thank goodness for those internet powered jukeboxes that offer a choice of almost anything. A Sunday in Madrid has an up tempo dance style beat but is another track with no discernible chorus.
Robert Wyatt – principled political campaigner
However, when Wyatt put his mind to it he was fully capable of producing something both beautiful and mainstream. His cover of Elvis Costello’s Shipbuilding is a perfect example and gave Wyatt another minor hit in the early 1980’s. The lyrics are some of the most powerful known to man and which offered the contradiction of the Falklands conflict killing our young and the business and work the replacement ships were giving to the depressed shipyards of the North East. I don’t suppose Margaret Thatcher chose it for her stint on Desert Island Disks. Strangely enough Mark Bedford (of Madness fame) played double bass on this track. The b-side to the original Shipbuilding single is also here, a sublime and eerie version of the 1930 standard, Memories of You.I’m really pleased to see Wyatt’s mid 1980’s Spanish sung offerings on the CD too; I seem to recall these were songs of loss from the Spanish Civil War but I may be wrong. Wyatt’s Spanish is a little ropey but the songs are beautifully sad and tragic; Yolanda and Te Recuerdo Amanda.
As I listen to the album from end to end, then it reminds me of a history of political protest from the left. In the 1980’s many an idealistic teen went on a few anti racism demonstrations which culminated with a sit down on the street outside South Africa House. On one such event I was delighted to spot Robert wheeling his way through the route with other like minded souls. For this reason, Wyatt’s haunting cover of Peter Gabriel’s Biko, a tribute to the young man beaten to death in a South African jail never fails to put shivers down my spine. The event of Biko’s brutal murder and the protest (in no small part fuelled by the song) was a large nail in the coffin for South Africa’s filthy immoral regime. Let us not forget that in those days Thatcher and her cabinet described Nelson Mandela as a terrorist.Another song of note is Amber and the Amberines a mournful song which nevertheless pays tribute to trade unions and political struggle. Longest track on the album is the rather jarring The Animals Film; a largely instrumental piece which accompanied the anti vivisection film of the same name.
Full Tracklist – Eeps 1999
I'm a Believer (previously unreleased extended version) 5:00
Yesterday Man 3:15
Sonia (alternate version) 4:06
Shipbuilding (Remastered in 1998) 3:08
Memories of You 3:00
Round Midnight 4:13
Pigs...(In There) 2:41
Te Recuerdo Amanda 3:36
Amber And The Amberines 4:11
The Animals Film 19:38
Was a Friend 5:52
A Sunday in Madrid 7:03
Free Will and Testament 4:33
Summing UpAs an album Eps is a rather jarring clash of styles and moments recorded through 30 years of Wyatt’s musical career. Individually there are some classic tracks and as a body of work it shows how well Wyatt lives and breathes his views and politics into his work. Wyatt’s voice is something of an acquired taste, but personally I think his sardonic, weary and depressed delivery is vastly under appreciated. Even without voice and political activism, the innovative free jazz and funk in his musical arrangements are amazing on their own.
While I wouldn’t particularly recommend Eps as a first introduction to Wyatt’s music because the body of work doesn’t sit particularly well together, anyone can dip into a dozen of the tracks and find some real strange funk going on.I have to go for 4 stars for the inclusion of Shipbuilding, Biko, Memories Of You, Pigs (in there) and the couple of Spanish language ditties alone.
Product Information : EPs - Robert Wyatt
Manufacturer's product descriptionRock & Pop - StudioRecording - 5 CD(s) - Label: Hannibal Records - Distributor: ADA/Arvato Services - Released: 22/02/1999 - 31257144025
Listed on Ciao since: 30/04/2005