Could you describe life at Wellington House….
A large number of rooms with crooked doors and whole walls of fabulous books. Robert's mum, Honor Wyatt, always behind her typewriter, intelligent, good humoured and with an academic concentration on the tasks at hand. Usually writing compassionate journalistic pieces for BBC Women's Hour. Radio 3 always on making interesting listening or otherwise off. Benson & Hedges. Tea. Left wing, tweed jacketed, piano playing and pipe smoking George Ellidge, wheelchair, dryly humourous. Overall atmosphere thoughtful tolerant and reasonable. There was never anything that could not be discussed at any time.
What were your first impressions of the sixteen year old Robert Wyatt?
Autumn 1960. I was looking for a room & board for minimum money so I could write paint and practice guitar. I advertised in NEW STATESMAN and Honor replied. I hitched down from London and met Honor and Robert together. We were all instant hits with each other. Robert immediately showed me his records and 70% were identical to mine.
Could you see he had the potential for greatness even then?
It was immediately obvious he was ahead of the game because he was 14 and I was 21 yet our minds connected as equals. Was he interested in the fact that you'd rented out Allen Ginsberg old room at the Beat Hotel, and met Terry Riley and Burroughs? This was 1960 and I had only been away from home for six months. Beat Hotel etc was later in 1962. But I had my beat poetry book collection featuring HOWL.
What albums were in the suitcase full of jazz records?
Multiples of Thelonius Monk, Charlie Mingus, Ornette Coleman, Eric Dolphy, Sonny Rollins, Coltrane, Cecil Taylor, Ray Charles, Art Blakey Jazz messengers, Miles, Parker, Wes Montgomery. Also Benjamin Britten, Stravinsky, Darius Milhaud, Eric Satie, Stockhausen, Bartok, Shostakovich, John Cage, Music of Bali, Indian Ragas. Chinese Noh Theatre.Spike Milligan. Stan Freburg.
Was it really Jim N teaching Robert drums in one, Kevin Ayers playing guitar in another and Dada-ist happenings at the weekend? Any examples?
George Neidorf came to visit me in 1961, stole my girlfriend and taught Robert drums. Hugh and Brian Hopper, Kevin, Pye, came and went with ideas to discuss. I hung out with a gypsy guy in his caravan a lot.
You've talked about writing poetry on the cliffs
I was a 21 year old Australian beatnik poet & I was in love with the romance of olde england being so lush and soft. I wandered about the fields in gardens and pretty much wherever I wanted without a worry. My hair was long enough that people never knew what gender I was. People were unsettled by my appearance. Wherever I was I was either writing or reading or getting drunk.
The locals putting eggs in your pint of Fremlins ? (why so?)
I would challenge them to drink as much as myself. They thought by putting eggs in my Fremlins they would get me pissed more quickly but I ate raw eggs for fun. With my australian training I mostly beat everyone at those games anyway except for my gypsy mate who could outdrink everyone.
Was there magic in the air in Lydden and Canterbury?
For me there was but most people seemed to be cynical about it, still in grim survival mode and post war poverty which wastefully numbed their responses and kept a lid firmly on imagination and original thought. But I loved the english sense of humour and thrived on that.
If so, can it be explained? Is it a link to Canterbury's past?
Canterbury was always a stuck up bourgois religious protectorate and as such was deeply repressed and fearful of extravagent personalities.
Soft Machine broke every musical boundary. Robert Wyatt calls the band 'fearless'. Was that the intention, to create a new kind of music?
I was only vaguely interested in pop and rock. Nor was I all that interested in getting rich. I was essentially an arts person who preferred jazz and the more esoteric forms of music. But Kevin's point was that the UK music scene had reached a point where we could do anything we wanted and possibly make a living simply by calling it Popular Music.
Can you see elements of the band and 'The Canterbury Scene'in music/art/literature today?
In art and literature, no. I hope there is but I doubt it. Encouragingly however, there are a wave of younger bands who carry the complex flavour of the canterbury scene.
Did you have any dealings with Pye Hastings and Caravan during this period?
Back then Pye was the first person I ever saw play guitar with a light bulb.
What do you think of the band and their subsequent output?
Not really my cup of light bulbs. But, along with National Health, Hatfield and the North, they carried the banner of complexity and compositional brilliance with pride. These days they have very shiny proper shoes.
Looking back, was being forced to stay in France as serendipitous as meeting Robert Wyatt at Wellington House?
Exactly! I will be touring this year with acoustic band MAGICK BROTHAS and with the psych punk band: UNIVERSITEA OF eRRORS from August to October. Next year we will be back with gong 2012.