Friday, 26 December 2014

Rock bottom and back: the rough-edged career of Robert Wyatt

Different Every Time: the Authorised Biography of Robert Wyatt 
Soul survivor: Robert Wyatt in 2009Marcus O’Dair
Serpent’s Tail, 460pp, £20
Robert Wyatt, with his high, reedy voice, is an acquired taste for some. “Shipbuilding”, a song written for him by Elvis Costello and Clive Langer, was released in 1982 shortly after the Falklands war and questioned the validity of Britain’s conflict with Argentina. Its jazz-inflected piano and other-worldly melancholy were unlike much else committed to vinyl in those post-punk years. Over the half-century of his career as a musician, Wyatt has belonged to no musical coterie; at his home in the market town of Louth in Lincolnshire, he has simply ploughed his own furrow.
In 1973, severely drunk, he fell from a fourth-floor window at a party in London and was left paralysed from the waist down. Confined to a wheelchair, Wyatt might have renounced music altogether but, bravely, he appeared on Top of the Pops to sing Neil Diamond’s “I’m a Believer” the following year. Paraplegia has not often, if ever, been a source of misery or complaint to him (“I’m a sit-down comedian,” he says). His 1974 solo album, Rock Bottom, was a work of rare, shimmering beauty and emotional candour. Rarely has British pop communicated such a hushed intensity of emotion.
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