In his 67 years, Robert Wyatt has lived several musical lives. After starting out as a drummer covering pop tunes in the 50s, he played with jazz-indebted art rockers Soft Machine in the 60s, then moved onto a solo career in the 70s, became a communist troubadour in the 80s, and, in the last two decades, he's released three much-lauded albums and collaborated with the likes of Hot Chip and Björk.
Though he's now regarded as an art-rock godhead, he never totally fell into the sometimes-insufferable pretensions associated with that genre, his best work offering a sense of innocent wonder and playfulness instead. "I didn't go through a phase of doing songs about spirituality or cosmic things or Gandalf's garden or anything like that," he says, on the line from his home in Lincolnshire, England. "I'd rather write about the piece of paper in front of me."
Unsurprisingly, this musical shape-shifter is also a devout music lover. After listening to him excitedly talk about how his singing was influenced by Miles Davis or how a Peggy Lee YouTube video broke his heart, it's easy to understand why he's still able to make exciting and relevant music when most artists from his generation are hitting the reunion circuit for the umpteenth time.
And the man has stories: about running into Charles Mingus in Central Park, getting wasted with Jimi Hendrix's band, notching an unlikely UK hit with a cover of the Monkees' "I'm a Believer", and how he managed to readjust his life after a four-story fall rendered him paralyzed from the waist down in 1973. All along, though, he had his records: "I remember Amy Winehouse said to me, 'Where do you get your tunes from?' And I said, 'I’ve got a fantastic record collection!'"
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