Sunday, 8 January 2012

I have never tried Wyatting. I would never dare and, anyway, I think it is a pastime pursued by gentlemen, for the most part. The verb "to Wyatt" is named after Robert Wyatt, drummer with the Canterbury prog. rock band Soft Machine (or The Soft Machine, after William Burrough's novel) in the 1960s and 70s, and refers to the habit of playing strange, disruptive music on pub juke boxes in order to annoy the other drinkers - Robert's own interesting track, Dondestan, is particularly popular with these jolly wags.

Here it is - how much could you bear as the background to a peaceful pint?
I was prompted to ponder all this at the annual gathering of Mr N's lovely family...

when young R, who runs Robert Wyatt's local delicatessen in Lincolnshire, exclaimed with excitement that she'd heard that I, in my youth, had drawn him in the nude. I replied that this was during college hours when he was employed as a life model and that he had not been naked, but was wearing a leather thong - she thought this was even more interesting.

My memories were stirred - I remembered Robert as an impish youth, talking with enthusiasm about the breakthrough his band was about to make.
I loved his vintage leopard-skin jacket (from Ritzy's on Palace Street?)...

...though Robert always preferred to wear as little as possible.

I found out much later that I had, without knowing it, met his mother during my college years. I'd visited a Summer Fete at a handsome Georgian house in a village just outside Dover, and found to my delight that it was hosted by one of my mother's favourite BBC broadcasters, Honor Wyatt, friend of Barbara Pym and Robert Graves. She greeted my boyfriend as if she knew him well and I realise now that she had assumed he was one of Robert's long-haired musician friends, though at the time I did not make the "Wyatt connection".


Robert fell out of a window and broke his back in 1973, though he was soon on stage again, in his wheelchair, and still performs today, collaborating with the likes of Elvis Costello, Dave Gilmour, Bjork and many others.
According to R he is no longer impish, but rather "wizardy"...

...still a legend.

I cannot resist this clog-dancing version of Dondestan, by The Unthanks.



  1. I'd just like to say the the sixties was the greatest decade in human history, and the photos of Soft Machine are evidence of that. I wonder how or why Robert ended up in Lincolnshire, of all places. Perhaps it's where rock stars go to die.

  2. Sir, the Ventress name suggests a link to the milk delivery dynasty of my present home town of Whitby, thus I will not hurl abuse at you for insulting the place of my birth (Louth), lest you poison my morning pint. However, let me assure you that Mr Wyatt is a much loved figure in Louth, is regularly in conversation with its citizens on market day, and clearly finds it a creatively inspiring place (his most recent recordings are amongst his best). So there.

    1. Just found your comment.
      Sorry about Mr Ventress - he & I often disagree about Lincolnshire! My young friends love Louth and know Mr Wyatt, who I remember as being unique, talented and charming in his youth.