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Robert Wyatt - Nothing Can Stop Us (1982)

Una extraordinaria compilación de canciones políticas interpretadas por el gran artífice de Soft Machine y Matching Mole, para seguir musicalizando el descontento.

Artista: Robert Wyatt
Álbum: Nothing Can Stop Us
Año: 1982
Género: Jazz Rock / Fusión / Folclores
Duración: 42:57
Nacionalidad: Inglaterra


Lista de Temas:
1. Born Again Cretin
2. At Last I Am Free

3. Caimanera
4. Grass
5. Stalin Wasn't Stallin'
6. Shipbuilding
7. Red Flag
8. Strange Fruit
9. Arauco
10. Trade Union
11. Stalingrad

Alineación:
- Robert Wyatt / Voz (excepto 10 y 11)
- Bill MacCormick / Bajo (3, 9)

- Harry Beckett / Fliscorno (3)
- Mogotsi Mothle / Contrabajo (2, 8)
- Frank Roberts / Teclados (2, 8)
- Esmail Shek / Tabla (4, 10)
- Kadir Durvesh / Shehnai (4, 10)



Lanzado en 1982, Nothing Can Stop Us incluye diversos sencillos grabados por Wyatt entre fines de los 70 y principios de los 80, cuando su música alcanzaba un estilo jazzístico muy particular y sus ideas se politizaban llevándolo hacia reflexiones sociales que lo pusieron definitivamente del lado de los movimientos contra todo tipo de opresión, proceso que culminó con su afiliación al partido comunista del Reino Unido (cabe decir aquí que el pensamiento progresista inglés es uno de los más consistentes en aquellos años, representado muy especialmente por la New Left Review, que hasta hoy sigue siendo un referente fundamental en la oposición al capitalismo rampante que conocemos con el eufemismo de neoliberalismo).

La única composición de Wyatt es la primera pista: "Born Again Cretin", en la que parece querer sintetizar el proceso de cambio por el que ha pasado recientemente (aislándose del negocio musical), como lo indica en una entrevista de 1983: "No es un acto de hostilidad; de hecho estoy muy agradecido a la escena de la música. Más bien es en contra del desagradable narcisismo cultural que se da cuando se reúnen en una escena personas que piensan de manera similar. Me asustan todas esas ventanas que se empañan y se transforman en espejos" (más abajo copio la entrevista completa en inglés).




El resto de los temas es el producto de la labor de Wyatt como observador y editor. De orígenes muy diferentes, el factor común es su posición política: el movimiento obrero, las dictaduras militares latinoamericanas, movimientos de protesta y liberación de todas partes, abordados por este genio comprometido. Dice el autor de la entrevista citada que "tal vez el álbum se pueda describir mejor como una primera edición de la visión del mundo de Wyatt, expresada con total despreocupación con respecto al ego y a la moda; es más una fascinación por la política mundial y por cierto tipo de música universalmente poderosa que solo los villamelones clasificarían como folclórica".

"At Last I Am Free", escrita por Bernard Edwards y Nile Rodgers para Chic, es un tema procedente de la música disco, reelaborado por Wyatt como una especie de tesis que lo lleva a abrazar los nuevos movimientos musicales; no es casualidad que esta pista apareciera un par de años antes en la compilación Wanna Buy a Bridge? de la disquera Rough Trade, que estaba representando a lo más importante de la escena post-punk británica del momento (Stiff Little Fingers, The Pop Group, Cabaret Voltaire, Young Marble Giants y Scritti Politti, entre otros). Wyatt canta aquí con esa voz suave y aguda que lo acerca a la vocalización jazzística, expresando casi como un lamento la frase "Por fin soy libre".

"Caimanera" de Carlos Puebla, primer cantor de la revolución cubana, es la "Guantanamera" politizada: la canción guajira cubana por excelencia convertida en canto de denuncia: Guantánamo está tomada por los estadounidenses; Caimanera es entonces la primera frontera de resistencia ante esa invasión que persiste.

La sigue "Grass", de Ivor Cutler, notable poeta y humorista inglés. Se trata de una versificación más o menos libre, sobre percusión india, en la que Cutler (y Wyatt) juega con la idea de "hacerte entender": "sentémonos juntos en el pasto para que pueda darte un golpe en la cabeza de modo que logres entenderme". Más o menos como cuando tratas de explicarle algo a un neoliberal.

"Stalin Wasn't Stallin'" es un divertido ejemplo de coros al estilo de los grupos vocales estadounidenses de los años 30 y 40; todas las voces en esta versión son cantadas por Wyatt. La canción es de Willie T. Johnson, el compositor y líder del Golden Gate Quartet, una de las agrupaciones vocales afroamericanas más importantes de esos años. Escrita en 1943 resulta interesante porque, escrita desde los Estados Unidos en plena guerra, coloca al líder soviético en la posición de héroe y desde ahí cuenta humorísticamente la historia de la Segunda Guerra Mundial: "Stalin no alardeaba / cuando le dijo a la bestia de Berlín / que no descansarían en paz / hasta sacarlo de la tierra".

"Shipbuilding" es una balada blues maravillosa, escrita por Elvis Costello (letra) y Clive Langer (música) en 1982, durante la guerra de las Malvinas. El tema plantea con dolorosa ironía los beneficios para la industria naval inglesa que trajo la guerra a través de la demanda de barcos (y soldados) para suplir aquellos que pudieran resultar perdidos en el conflicto. Si bien no se plantea el punto de vista de la Argentina en esa guerra o el absurdo de la "posesión" británica de territorios en aguas ajenas y lejanas, ironiza claramente sobre la abyección de la guerra como motor del progreso económico. La versión de Costello, de 1983 (con una bellísima participación del trompetista Chet Baker) es más conocida, pero la de Wyatt es deliciosamente íntima.

"Red Flag" es el himno del socialismo inglés, en el partido laborista, el partido socialdemócrata y laborista de Irlanda del Norte y el partido laborista irlandés. La letra original fue escrita en 1889 por Jim Connell. La versión de Wyatt se apoya en acordes agudos de teclado, simulando juego de flautas dulces, que permiten dar más brillo a la voz de Wyatt cantando en una tesitura un poco más grave de lo normal. El resultado es casi una canción de cuna, pero una canción de cuna que promete mantener ondeando el símbolo por excelencia de la lucha obrera: "Aunque tiemblen los cobardes y nos desprecien los traidores / Mantendremos la bandera roja ondeando aquí ... la bandera brillante, el símbolo pleno / del derecho humano, de la victoria humana".

"Strange Fruit" no necesita presentación: es el poema de Abel Meerepol que inmortalizó la primerísima gigante del blues y el jazz, Billie Holiday, dando con este tema su voz a la temprana lucha por las libertades y los derechos civiles en los Estados Unidos. Meerepol escribió el poema para protestar por los linchamientos de afroamericanos, a partir de una fotografía en la que dos hombres aparecen colgados de las ramas de un árbol: "un cuerpo negro balanceándose con la brisa sureña / extraña fruta que cuelga de los álamos ... una fruta para que picoteen los cuervos / para que la lluvia recoja y el viento absorba / que se pudra con el sol y el árbol la deje caer / he aquí una extraña y amarga cosecha". En la lánguida voz de Wyatt las palabras del blues encuentran un callado dolor por la injusticia de la que habla este tema clásico, campeón entre las canciones de protesta del siglo XX que la revista Time calificó como la canción del siglo.

"Arauco" es la versión de Wyatt para un gran tema de Violeta Parra: "Arauco tiene una pena", en la que la poeta chilena llama a todos los líderes mapuches a levantarse contra las injusticias que no se detienen desde la llegada de los españoles hasta los años 60 (cuando Violeta la escribió) y más allá, hasta la era Pinochet, cuando Wyatt la grabó. El ritmo de cueca está transformado con un bajo continuo y son muy interesantes los solos de piano que dan un aura de lejanía a la canción.

Los dos últimos tracks se insertan por decisión de Wyatt aunque él mismo no participe en ellos. "Trade Union", interpretada por el grupo bengalí Dishari es un llamado a la unión de los trabajadores bengalíes en un sindicato para defenderse de la explotación inglesa. El autor, Abdus Salique, exiliado de Paquistán por su posición política, continuó su trabajo en Londres. En 1978, después de ataques racistas contra bengalíes en esa ciudad, escribió "Trade Union".

El último track, originalmente el lado B del sencillo "Stalin Wasn't Stallin'", es el poema "Stalingrad" de Peter Blackman, uno de los más importantes representantes del movimiento afrocaribeño en Londres en los 40 y 50, leído por el propio autor (el sencillo salió como acoplado de Wyatt y Blackman). "Stalingrad" es una elegía a la victoria rusa sobre Alemania en Stalingrado durante la Segunda Guerra Mundial. El poema completo se puede leer aquí: https://21centurymanifesto.wordpress.com/2013/08/21/peter-blackman-reads-stalingrad/

Queda, pues, este discazo para deleite de los cabezones, y, para aquellos que quieran, como un motivo más para mantener la mirada alerta y la disposición a la lucha y a la protesta bajo la inspiración de uno de nuestros músicos más admirados: el gran Robert Wyatt.




Notas recopiladas por ahí:

Wikipedia:

Nothing Can Stop Us is a compilation album by Robert Wyatt released in 1982.

Consisting primarily of tracks released as singles and B-sides during the late 1970s and early '80s, it only contains one Wyatt composition (the opening track "Born Again Cretin"). The rest of the songs are cover versions, a selection of musically and thematically disparate songs by a very varied collection of original artists, including Ivor Cutler, 1940s protest songs, Billie Holiday, "The Red Flag", and Spanish-language numbers (including a version of "Caimanera/Guantanamera"). There is a rendition of Chic's "At Last I Am Free". The two songs not issued as singles are "Born Again Cretin" (taken from an NME compilation cassette) and "The Red Flag" (which was previously unreleased.) This was the only full-length LP released by Wyatt in the ten years between 1975's Ruth Is Stranger Than Richard and his fourth solo studio album Old Rottenhat.

In America, Nothing Can Stop Us was released on CD paired with Old Rottenhat under the title Compilation.

AllMusic (Richie Unterberger):

This compilation of early-'80s singles includes some of Wyatt's finest work. Aside from "Born Again Cretin" (whose vocals recall the Beach Boys at their most experimental), all of it's non-original material that Wyatt makes his own with his sad, haunting vocals. You could hardly ask for a more diverse assortment of covers: Chic's "At Last I Am Free" (given an eerie treatment with especially mysterious, spacy keyboards), the a cappella gospel of "Stalin Wasn't Stallin'," political commentary with "Trade Union," the Billie Holiday standard "Strange Fruit," Ivor Cutler's "Grass," and a couple of songs in Spanish. The tracks have since been reissued a few times, with bonus tracks such as the "Shipbuilding" single; the best option for U.S. consumers is Compilation, which pairs Nothing Can Stop Us with Old Rottenhat.

En el Telegraph, una buena nota sobre "Shipbuilding" por Robert Sandall:

During the Falklands war, Elvis Costello wrote a passionate elegy for a lost way of life that still resonates today, says Robert Sandall

Few pop records are so poignantly steeped in a sense of time and place as Shipbuilding. A slow, haunting piano tune written by the producer Clive Langer with lyrics by Elvis Costello, sung by Robert Wyatt, it was released here as a single in August 1982. Two months earlier, Britain had just won the Falklands War.

Insofar as it took sides, Shipbuilding was an anti-war song - not a popular stance at a time when bellicose patriotism ruled. The fact that it only scraped into the top 40 said much about public receptivity to its downbeat mood and message. That it has been more cherished since than any of the 35 tunes that beat it in the charts in its first week is a testimony to its deceptive toughness and durable, unsentimental truths.

Shipbuilding offered an uncomfortable reminder to a country still celebrating victory in the South Atlantic that things at home were not looking good for the communities whose young men had done most of the fighting. The song's first line "Is it worth it?" sounded like the intro to a standard lament for lives lost at war. But it wasn't. Costello was weighing the benefits of jobs temporarily saved in a dying industry - new clothes for the wife, a bike for the kid - against the human cost of the fruits of all that labouring.

Of the 255 British dead in the Falklands conflict, the majority had been killed at sea, in warships built in Northern ports like the one in which the young Declan MacManus (aka Elvis Costello) grew up, in Liverpool. For some of those struggling shipyards, the naval adventure in the Falklands had come as a last hurrah.

The beauty of the song lay in its ambivalence. Shipbuilding sounded as much as an elegy for the passing of a way of life as a belated call for peace in our time.

By 1982, it had become clear that the old centres of heavy industry were undergoing seismic change. Unemployment had risen above three million for the first time since the Great Depression. Two years before the miners' last stand against a new, more abrasive caring brand of Toryism, Costello's lyrics mourned the predicament of a British working class that had recently become expendable both on the battlefield and off it. The lines about the guy who gets "filled in" for raising a lone voice against the shipbuilding conveyed the angry, sometimes vicious intolerance of Britain in the early 1980s in one of pop's all-time genius rhymes.

An unusual degree of teamwork went into the making of the Shipbuilding single. Langer, a much in-demand producer in 1982, had been approached by Costello to work on his and the Attractions' next album. By then, Costello was starting to move into a jazzier area. Langer had written a tune on the piano whose slowly ascending chords had a late-night jazz feel. But he couldn't come up with lyrics that sounded right for them.

At a party hosted by Nick Lowe, Langer played the tune to Costello. Within days, Costello had come up with a set of words he once described as "the best lyrics I've ever written". Nowadays, he declines to talk about them because, he says, he's said everything he wants to say in the song. You do wonder, though, whether in his current über-muso phase, Costello finds the political posturing of his youth ever so slightly embarrassing.

He was, in 1982, very much the angry young socialist. Pills and Soap, a UK hit that Costello issued under the pseudonym of "The Imposter" in 1983, was a scathing attack on the changes in British society brought on by Margaret Thatcher's government and its harsh economic rigour. Costello released the song in the run-up to the 1983 UK general election. (Though he never formally joined the Red Wedge grouping of Left-wing pop artists who backed Neil Kinnock, Costello remained, for most of the 1980s, a staunch supporter of Old Labour.)

For Shipbuilding, he called in one of the great maverick politicos of British rock, the former Soft Machine drummer, and now paraplegic singer, Robert Wyatt. This proved to be an inspired move, and not just because of Wyatt's well-advertised communist sympathies.

When a demo of the song arrived in the post, with guide vocals by Costello, Wyatt was trying to kick the smoking habit that limited the range of his fragile and reedy voice. For most of 1982, Wyatt, vocally, was on top form. "My first thought was, 'Ooh, I can't sing that.' But then I thought, because I'd been making slower records recently, and I quite liked to sing long notes, that it might work."

Strangely, the message of the song was never discussed. "Musicians tend not to talk about things like that," Wyatt says. "We try to make everything as non-verbal as we possibly can. Elvis was very nervous about interpreting what he'd written." Although Wyatt clearly viewed the song as "about the way the conservative Establishment glorifies the working class as 'our boys' whenever they want to put them in uniform", he insists that the thing he most loved about it was "Clive's beautiful chords. I hadn't really thought about the issues. Plus I'm not good at anger. I saw my role as a messenger, just a canary really. The singer's job is not to interfere. I simply shadowed the demo."

With Costello coaching him in the studio - "Elvis was very rigorous with my pitching" - Wyatt knocked off the vocal one afternoon in west London. He was surprised later to discover that nothing else on the original demo had been re-recorded. The accompaniments by Steve Naïve on piano and Mark "Bedders" Bedford from Madness, guesting on double bass, went straight on to the record. Their confident, one-take freshness lends the track much of its charm.

As a mark of deference to Wyatt, the song's creators Costello and Langer let him put it out on his own Rough Trade label. For their part, Geoff Travis's team at Rough Trade designed a lovely sleeve, from a painting by Stanley Spencer, and made a video, which cost more than the record and turned the project into a money-loser.

The melancholy beauty of the Wyatt version of Shipbuilding has never been surpassed, despite several attempts. Costello himself recorded the song on his Langer-produced 1983 album Punch the Clock. But even with a trumpet solo by the mighty Chet Baker, Costello's vocal doesn't inhabit the bashed-up character describing his wartime job prospects as touchingly as Wyatt's.

None of the song's other interpreters - who have included Suede, Hue and Cry, Tasmin Archer, and Graham Coxon - were anywhere near as close.

It has often been remarked that nobody now writes songs that engage as passionately as Shipbuilding does with the social and political issues of our time, and that - with the honourable exception of Neil Young - rock has pretty much turned its back on the unfolding tragedy in Iraq.

Back in 1982, before pop ate itself, railing against stuff was standard and the bitter arguments of punk were fresh in everybody's minds. It's actually the dry-eyed, sotto voce restraint of what Elvis Costello, Clive Langer and Robert Wyatt did in Shipbuilding that pins you to the spot when you hear it today.

George Chesterton de The Guardian escribe sobre "At Last I Am Free":

Robert Wyatt - At Last I Am Free, in which a hero of the English counterculture embraces the hedonistic disco of Chic, and plays a blinder.

This song involves a lot of heroes and is, in a way, about heroism itself. A ballad of psychological manumission, it was written by Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards for Chic's second album, 1978's C'est Chic. Chic were not merely masters of the disco sound, they embodied the best qualities of the disco ethos: unerring positivity, hope and – in the old fashioned sense of the word – the fantastic.

Rodgers and Edwards were two of my earliest musical heroes. The band's heavily cultivated image of sophistication and affluence was in part a response to the economic and social depression of late-70s New York, but this can't muddy the luminous wonder of their songwriting, musicianship and production, which went on to enhance – in some cases rescue – the careers of Sister Sledge, Diana Ross, David Bowie, Madonna, Duran Duran and many others (not to mention their huge influence on hip-hop).

I remember watching Top of the Pops open-mouthed as they mimed to I Want Your Love. Rodgers glued their sound together with his distinctive and often-copied rhythm guitar, Tony Thompson was that most unusual of beasts, a chic drummer, Alfa Anderson and Luci Martin provided the ice-cold vocals while all around them the piano and strings whirled and purred. The person who stood out the most was the much-missed Edwards, who played the bass with the élan of a funkified praying mantis.

So it seems a long journey from Chic's original seven minutes of At Last I am Free to the version by Robert Wyatt, which appeared on his 1982 singles and B-sides compliation, Nothing Can Stop Us. Wyatt is one of the great heroes of British counterculture, like a cross between an old English sheepdog and Pan. His blend of political commitment, an endearing folk twang and a sense of musical experiment and liberty has led to career of almost unrivalled range and influence. On this song he brings the heartbreaking honesty most people will recognise from his version of Shipbuilding, with a voice that somehow is at once shrill but deeply soulful and communicative. Around the central pillar of the vocals fall piano, organ and percussion lines that gently splish and splash then dissipate like ripples in water.

The lyrics speak of a failing relationship but the way Wyatt sings it could be about anything – any momentous parting or new beginnings. The line "I can hardly see in front of me" is one of those phrases in pop music that come along from time to time that mean almost nothing yet bulge under the weight of a thousand projected meanings for a thousand different listeners. It is an anthem for the turning of a page.

Sobre "Trade Union" en The Buggers/Missed Encounters:

From his days as drummer of the early Soft Machine to his latest album Robert Wyatt has remained loyal to his roots, which lie in the French avant-garde (pataphysics, surrealism, dadaism), jazz, blues, and socialism. Political themes and highly personal songs alternate on his albums: to Wyatt there's no difference between the two. As a drummer Wyatt developed a unique and innovating style in the late sixties during his days in The Soft Machine. When he was left paralysed below the waist after a fall from a window, his drumming abruptly ended and he turned into a completely unique vocalist and composer.

Various projects followed after Wyatt left The Soft Machine, like the early-seventies band Matching Mole ('machine molle' = soft machine), and the surreal solo album Rock Bottom, the first album after his accident. In the projects that have followed since then Wyatt has handled a variety of styles and concepts for his albums, and has produced beautiful combinations of personal and politcal material.
   
Nothing Can Stop Us is a conceptual album for which Wyatt brought together politically engaged songs. Most of them were sung by himself, except a poem and the song Trade Union. For the poem he recorded a reading by the West-Indian poet Peter Blackman, for Trade Union he invited the Bengali group Dishari in the studio to record their song.

Trade Union is a call to Bengali workers in England to unite under the Trade Union banner. Songwriter Abdus Salique had to leave East Pakistan in 1970 because of left-wing political actitvities, but continued his work in East London, where he became the spokesman for the Bengali community. At the moment Abdus Salique is Labour Councillor for Mile End East. Trade Union is a protest song following the racist attacks on the Bengali community in Brick Lane, London, in 1978. Trade Union is not a missed encounter but - in our view - an example of a successful fusion of music and politics.

Artículo-entrevista con Wyatt en The Face, no. 39, julio de 1983:

THE WYATT LIFE

After many years of critical neglect and seven months sunny exile on a Spanish beach, Robert Wyatt is back in favour. With the Costellopenned "Shipbuilding" firmly established in the charts and the hearts of the nation, Anthony Denselow drew Wyatt out of his introspective mood for some quiet thoughts on global music, PLU's and the new life of a former "classic Sixties drop-out figure"

Robert Wyatt has tried many different approaches to his life and work. He has experimented with drink and melancholic brooding, he has tried periods of relative working normality when he has chatted openly to the press. He has even tried tackling England from abroad. His most recent approach seems to be a healthy combination of early introspection and later career awareness.

He and his wife Alfie have now decided on the curious policy of non recognition of PLU (people like us) which seems to effectively mean that while he continues to seriously consider his musical development he can hide out in Spain having nothing whatsoever to do with the obscene worlds of media and music business.

"It's not an act of hostility, in fact l'm quite grateful to the music scene," says Wyatt. "It's more against the kind of dreadful cultural narcissism that can occur when like-minded people get together in a scene. I'm scared of all the windows misting up and turning into mirrors."

In fact Wyatt's life has changed dramatically since he packed up and headed for the Mediterranean seven months ago. He had a single - "Shipbuilding" - bubbling so close to the top 30 that only the FA cup replay postponed a Wyatt airing on Top Of The Pops. He has suddenly become aware of the growing following he's been attracting in recent months and he has one of the year's finest albums as proof of his importance in a music scene constantly drifting towards the shallow end.

Wyatt sees himself as a "looker, watcher, selector and editor" rather than as a live performer. The singles that have been dribbling out on Rough Trade since the late Seventies (collected on the new Wyatt album "Nothing Can Stop Us" released recently for the second time) are a truly oddball set of songs from staggeringly diverse cultural contexts. The album is perhaps best described as the first edition of Robert Wyatt's world view displaying a total lack of concern with ego and fashion, rather a fascination with world politics and the sort of universally powerful music that can only lamely be described as folk.

There's a version of the Cuban national anthem updated to talk about the presence American bases in Cuba that few in the West know about. There's a song from Violetta Parra, the Chilean responsible for getting that country's youth song movement off the ground. "Her songs are straightforward, unpolished, fragile and extraordinary," says Wyatt. "This one's a helpless cry for Chileans to rise from the grave and stand up for themselves."

There's Wyatt's heart-trembling version of Chic's "At Last I Am Free", the typically child-like Ivor Cutler song "Grass" ("Cutler says I sing it alright except that I sing it as though it has meaning," reports a surprised Wyatt); "Born Again Cretin" is inspired by Nelson Mandela's imprisonment in South Africa; Billie Holiday's "Strange Fruit" is about a racial lynching in the American deep South while Wyatt's rendition of the Red Flag speaks eloquently enough for itself.

"I suppose that I'm attracted to certain places but it's more often just the tunes that get me first," says Wyatt about his material. "There are many musical areas that I'm really into that I couldn't handle within my technical range, things like Middle Eastern Arab music and Oriental classical music. So this album doesn't reflect all the styles that I'm interested in, just those that I think I can add to."

Wyatt has also included work from other people on the album. Along with Peter Blackman's rather plodding poem about the battle of Stalingrad (revolutionary in content, epic in style) is an excellent piece of music from a British based Bengali troupe called Disharhi. Wyatt heard them singing at an art against racism and fascism concert and liked them so much he just asked them onto the album. They sing (in Bengali) a trade union rallying song. "I was accused of being elitist for not translating the lyrics for the Parra and Disharhi songs," says Wyatt. "It's not elitist if you're a Bengali is it?"

"Nothing Can Stop Us" is a generous album; a collection of fine tunes, stimulating ideas and powerful emotions that says much about the function and inspiration of music (as it leaps between different cultural standpoints). Wyatt himself is weary of giving the album too much significance. "What we think of as global politics, global visions and global cultures are in fact so conditioned by our Eurocentric myopia that we still, despite our power and our increased dealings with other people from around the world, haven't come to terms with other cultures. I even make fun of attempting to make a comprehensive world view with the title of the album - which sounds quite revolutionary. It's a quote from an American government official of the Thirties who reckoned that America shouldn't make the same mistake as Britain by trying to govern the world. He said America should simply own it, nothing can stop us."

For its second outing to the record shops "Nothing Can Stop Us" includes the Langer/Costello/Wyatt collaboration "Shipbuilding", an intriguing partnership that will hopefully bear more fruit in the future. Clive Langer, apparently inspired by the way in which Wyatt sings the Billie Holiday song "Strange Fruit", wrote the music. Elvis Costello supplied the bleak Iyrics and Wyatt received the demo tape through the post one morning.

"It's been the happiest experience I've had as a producer/songwriter," says an unusually enthusiastic Elvis Costello of his encounter with Wyatt. "The song has been realised perfectly. It sounds completely like the intent of the lyric and melody, Wyatt has an amazing voice. I'd always wanted to hear Dusty Springfield record one of my songs and when she did 'Just A Memory' it was a great bland disappointment. I think that people have been so overwhelmed by the melancholy of Robert's singing that the political comment in 'Shipbuilding' hasn't been immediately spotted. The lyric seems to filter through afterwards; the BBC probably wouldn't like it otherwise."

Wyatt seems to invest everything he sings with this haunting sadness (it will be interesting to hear Costello's version of "Shipbuilding" on his forthcoming album) but he shies away from any boasts on his role as a singer.

"Maybe it's melancholic because I don't consciously emote," he offers. "I'm aware that there are people - musicians - who say that I'm an influence on them but I really don't know enough about the current music scene. In fact there's no one idiom available to me that I feel comfortable with. Rock I find too musically dogmatic. I was brought up on the sort of jazz with fluid, ambiguous, drumming and walking bass lines and I guess it's that kind of breezy fluidity that I'm trying to put into singing songs. I still get infuriated with rigid blocks of verses and instrument breaks, but I'm working on it."

Wyatt is sitting in his Twickenham flat (a quiet backwater by the river that he still maintains despite the move to Spain) surrounded by objects reflecting his preoccupations in life. The walls of his brightly painted breakfast room are covered with Alfie's equally bright paintings and with ethnic art objects; the bookshelves are full of political, mainly Communist, literature. He has a music room where he can play piano (his toy organ has recently broken) and bits of percussion. He has a specially built ramp so he can run his wheelchair into the neat bird-haven garden.

The flat was bought for them partly by their friend Julie Christie and from money raised by a charity concert given by the Pink Floyd after Wyatt's tragic accident ten-years-ago when he broke his spine falling from a house window. "I didn't have to use all the money," recalls Wyatt, "because the album 'Rock Bottom', which I still think is great, was actually making me some money."

Given Wyatt's current popularity after years in the wilderness it's incredible to consider that his first musical tangles were back in the Sixties. As the drummer with Soft Machine (he was then only a closet singer) he toured the US supporting Jimi Hendrix, and built up quite a following in this country ("among the wrong sort of people") for his bare-backed drumming enthusiasm.

The son of a psychologist father and journalist mother, Wyatt was the perfect Sixties drop-out figure, the untrained and illeducated intellectual member of a jazz-rock fusion band. After Soft Machine disbanded in 1971 Wyatt started to sing, first on the "End Of An Ear" album, then with the band Matching Mole (recording that classic Wyatt song "Caroline") and on the other solo albums "Rock Bottom" and "Ruth Is Stranger Than Richard". AIl these records are now difficult to obtain.

While the early albums often reflected Wyatt's frustration with the traditional song format (another Matching Mole song was actually about verses and choruses) he has steadily developed the political quality of his songwriting and music choice. Wyatt is a paid-up member of the Communist Party and he feels that the CP helped him move away from the shock of his accident and from the narcissism of rock in the mid Seventies to a more considered philosophy.

"It helped me focus the jungle of my thoughts, but it's difficult to talk about politics and its relationship with music. I think Julie Burchill is the only person I know of who can articulate that. I don't think of music as intrinsically political (as some do) but I think it's quite pretentious to claim that you're not trying to say anything when you sing. All noise is communication and reminds you of words. Personally I see the political role of music in a totally different light. "Memoies Of You" for example (the B-side of 'Shipbuilding') may sound just like a nostalgia song but it's political for me because Eubie Blake who wrote it and who was 100 in 1983 was writing before jazz and somehow represents a much used but amazingly uncredited strand of American popular music. That he gets some royalties for that song is the only genuinely quantifiable political act I can make: the transfer of resources. Beyond that I have no control over a song and how it affects anybody."

Wyatt's greatest joy in life is to take the phone off the hook and tune his radio into a variety of exotic stations. When he hits Radio Moscow, then he's off in dreamland. He reads and listens to music from all over thc world, especially the early and obscure jazz that he grew up with, and recently he has been expanding his fascination with all things Spanish.

Robert and Alfie live in "something bigger than a garage" right on the beach south of Barcelona. Alfie paints and Wyatt wheels himself around the beach, writes, reads, attends regular weekend Catalan piss-ups, and has been getting to hear as much pure Flamenco music as possible. He is lucky that Barcelona has a good spinal unit for he cannot stray away too far from medical surveillance. "Being in a wheelchair has been like a short cut to feeling old. You are forcibly removed from things like sexual panic. You worry about getting in and out of places. You start finding yourself sitting on park benches next to retired couples. You feel more fixed, less nomadic. You get tired quicker, and being a paraplegic, my body is actually aging faster than most people's. You cannot be spontaneous, you worry about the future and whether people will buy your records. I never thought that ten years ago."

Wyatt has again retreated back to Spain to consider his next form of musical attack. Apart from the singles and now one album, he has had little commercial output in years and he says he could never consider performing live. "I had to get drunk to do it before; it would mean having things like managers and microphones." He also made that excellent soundtrack for Victor Schonfeld's horrifically distressing The Animals Film largely because Julie Christie, the narrator, asked him to. He worked furiously for months for £100. Talking Heads demanded £500 just for the use of their music during the opening sequence.

At the moment Wyatt is carefully observing the policy of avoidance of PLU and he has yet to actually write a song in Spain. Those of us who have been mesmerised by Wyatt's dolorous singing will just have to wait. But hopefully another album will not take another decade in coming. "I can't do anything else in life declares stoically, "I have to keep doing this somehow."


Botones de muestra:

At Last I Am Free



Strange Fruit



Arauco

 



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