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Canterbury Scene definition

With many other types of English progressive music developing mostly in London, it may at first seem strange that the old pilgrimage centre and relatively quiet cathedral city of Canterbury, became the centre of this very English form of progressive music and jazz fusion. Originally the Wilde Flowers, a teenage band of members living in and around Canterbury, playing a mix of pop, R'n'B and band members with a developing love of jazz, was formed in the 60's and became the seedling from which the Canterbury Scene grew. Australian beatnik Daevid Allen during a long stop-over at Robert Wyatt's parent's home, a refuge for many left field artists, was to catalyse the evolution of the Wilde Flowers into the fledging Soft Machine and the development of some avant music during the English psychedelic and underground period. From 1963 to 1969, the Wilde Flowers included most of the figures who later formed Canterbury's two best known bands, (The) Soft Machine (Robert Wyatt, Kevin Ayers, Hugh Hopper) and Caravan (Pye Hastings, David Sinclair, Richard Sinclair, Richard Coughlan).

Canterbury was then to be the cradle for several of the more freewheeling British bands of the post-psychedelic era. While fans would suggest this is the home of an English musical quirkiness tempered with quite a bit of whimsy, within the Canterbury Scene's musical spectrum any similarities between Canterbury's major bands, (e.g. Soft Machine, Caravan, Gong, Robert Wyatt, Kevin Ayers, Hatfield & the North, Egg, National Health), are not immediately obvious*. Most bands will be found employing a clever fusion of rock rhythms and jazz improvisation with intellectual song-writing and varying strengths of psychedelia - some would too include folk elements (e.g. Spirogyra), others blues (e.g. Carol Grimes and Delivery). In addition, a number of bands employed various elements from classical music, for instance those bands with Dave Stewart playing keyboards. Whilst there have been a handful of excellent and distinctly different guitarists to play with Canterbury bands (e.g. Andy Summers, Allan Holdsworth, John Etheridge, Steve Hillage, Phil Miller), the lead instrument of choice has been keyboards. One English peculiarity of Canterbury is what the late John Peel called the 'School of Anti-song' because of particular Wyatt, Ayers and Richard Sinclair's approaches to vocals and perhaps the whimsy. More recently Richard Sinclair's vocal style has perhaps accurately been labelled as 'English jazz singing' by Jazzwise (i.e. singing jazz with an English rather than the usual American accent). In addition Canterbury musicians have experimented as avant garde, free jazz players, e.g. instance Elton Dean, Lol Coxhill, Steve Miller.

(*However, once you've heard some Canterbury bands the commonality becomes more obvious - chord sequencing e.g. Caveman Hughscore's electric piano opening on the tune 'More Than Nothing', the vocals, the lyrics etc.)

Both the Soft Machine and Caravan were popular in England's psychedelic/ underground scene before releasing their first albums in 1968, with Machine completing on level footing with Pink Floyd. However, by the early 70's a series of fragmenting changes of bands' line-ups, (Soft Machine went through about 30) and the subsequent formation of new bands, rapidly broadened Canterbury's range, with many newer musicians with only loose and in fact, no previous Canterbury connections. Early Soft Machine member Daevid Allen formed Gong in Paris. Both Kevin Ayers and Robert Wyatt left the Softs because of musical developments they did not like, to begin their own solo careers. By the mid-70's, most the old and new Canterbury bands had progressed away from psychedelia, developing their distinct forms of progressive rock some embracing jazz fusion, many playing extended jams with now limited lyrical input (e.g. Hatfield and The Norths, National Health, Gilgamesh). Caravan became more folky. However, as the 70's progressed several Canterbury bands would lose most of the rock element from their music. Gong retained their psychedelic side longest, but with the departure of Daevid Allen and Steve Hillage in the mid 70's, the band evolved into the percussion-oriented, jazz rock group Gong, which eventually became the modern day Gongzilla. Daevid Allen regained Gong's name in the 90's and through his solo work and with his University of Errors, is still evidently producing psychedelia. Steve Hillage's form of psychedelia evolved into the glissando rock of his own band and then into electronica, by the end of the 70's. In particular, Hillage through his work as a successful record producer of new bands from the 80's, develop his form of electronica through other bands. This music lost much of its complexity e.g. few riffs played over and over, rather than dozens per tune that previously had often typified prog, into a very popular form that is the antithesis of prog, i.e. the various forms of house music, with associated remixing/turntablism. For instance, Gong's "You" got the remix treatment in the 90's - but then to reflect his range of activities, Hillage has also produced and played guitar for Algerian Rai singer, Rachid Taha for over 20 years.

Many of Britain's better known avant-garde and fusion musicians of the 70's and 80's - including Fred Frith (Henry Cow), Allan Holdsworth (Gong, Soft Machine, UK, Bruford) and Peter Blegvad - were involved during their early careers playing in Canterbury bands. And still new musicians join the Canterbury Scene's ranks, Theo Travis being perhaps the most notable recently (Gong, The Soft Machine Legacy). The Canterbury scene was to have a major influence on musicians in Europe, especially France (e.g. Gong, Moving Gelatine Plates), the Netherlands (Super Sister)and Italy (Daedalus), and more belatedly in the USA (Hughscore). Caravan reformed in the mid 90's, while ex-members of Soft Machine could be found in various avant jazz and straight jazz fusion groups, e.g. Just Us, Soft Heap, Soft Works and most recently The Soft Machine Legacy. From the Canterbury Scene, RIO it its various forms has developed.

FOOTNOTE: As indicated above, many Canterbury Scene bands are acknowledged as having played/are playing jazz rock fusion. However, because of their strong Canterbury affliations are listed under "Canterbury Scene" in Prog Archives.

Dick Heath
Based loosely in part on the source:
(Edition 3, Aug 2009)

Current team members as at 14/02/2014:
Steve (HolyMoly)

Canterbury Scene Top Albums

Showing only studios | Based on members ratings & PA algorithm* | Show Top 100 Canterbury Scene | More Top Prog lists and filters

4.27 | 1492 ratings
4.30 | 723 ratings
Wyatt, Robert
4.25 | 877 ratings
4.27 | 660 ratings
Hatfield And The North
4.28 | 594 ratings
4.24 | 868 ratings
4.22 | 839 ratings
Soft Machine, The
4.26 | 344 ratings
National Health
4.19 | 477 ratings
Hatfield And The North
4.15 | 636 ratings
4.26 | 258 ratings
Quiet Sun
4.11 | 575 ratings
4.14 | 350 ratings
4.23 | 209 ratings
4.13 | 363 ratings
Hillage, Steve
4.25 | 181 ratings
4.13 | 313 ratings
National Health
4.37 | 104 ratings
Moving Gelatine Plates
4.03 | 464 ratings
Soft Machine, The
4.03 | 414 ratings
Soft Machine, The

Canterbury Scene overlooked and obscure gems albums new

Random 4 (reload page for new list) | As selected by the Canterbury Scene experts team

Greaves, John
Jakszyk, Jakko M.
Picchio Dal Pozzo
Gowen, Miller, Sinclair, Tomkins

Latest Canterbury Scene Music Reviews

 I See You by GONG album cover Studio Album, 2014
3.98 | 145 ratings

I See You
Gong Canterbury Scene

Review by Aussie-Byrd-Brother
Special Collaborator Rock Progressivo Italiano Team

5 stars What an inspiration both Daevid Allen and Gilli Smyth proved to be on their final Gong work together, 2014's `I See You'. The fact that they were able to contribute to an album during oncoming health issues is admirable enough, but the fact that it's a superb work almost on the same level of their defining Seventies discs is a very welcome miracle! Hardly some sad `old-man' retro excursion, `I See You' lovingly embraces all the classic Pothead Pixie-era elements that Gong-ladites love about the band, but roots it firmly in a modern sound delivered by a younger collection of musicians behind the older yet ageless Gong figureheads, and the results sound completely inspired and a band more focused and alive than ever.

So much to love about the classic Gong era permeates the self-titled opener, racing through everything from a loopy and playful Daevid Allen vocal so full of mischievous spirit, gnarling guitar twists, mysterious drifting voices to eerie glissando guitar tendrils. `Occupy' is a breakneck punk-rocking blast that cuts in and out of Ian East's dreamy sax wafts, and the psychedelic `God and the Devil Shake Hands' is lyrically cheeky and damning as it moves around reprising spiralling dirty flute and sax themes, Allen purring an almost rapping drowsy drawled vocal, and there's just a trace of King Crimson-esque metallic danger towards the end! Gilli's ethereal space whisper floats gracefully throughout the deep space-rock atmospheres of `The Eternal Wheel Spins', both Kavus Torabi and Fabio Golfetti's guitars moving between drifting ambient drones, urgent spasms, manic eastern flavoured motifs and Ozric Tentacles-like shimmerings.

`Syllabub' is a Zappa-inspired impish romp with a whimsical jazzy backing (just dig that supremely spacey instrumental break in the middle though!), `This Revolution' a political-themed spoken-word poetry interlude, and `You See Me' a spacey reprised improvisation highlighted by jagged guitars, Orlando Allen's skittering drumming and Dave Sturt's pumping bass. `Zion my T-Shirt' then proves to be a welcome come-down of reflective verses, darkness and sadness tinged spoken-word passages, murmuring bass ruminations and crystalline ambient caresses, with parts of the piece reminding of both Porcupine Tree's `Don't Hate Me' (which had its Gong-like elements as well) and the introspective thoughtfulness of `Wise Man in Your Heart' off Gong's superb 2000 album `Zero to Infinity'. The eccentric and joyful `Pixielation' jumps between bouncing Daevid loopiness and a range of cool instrumental interludes, and `A Brew of Special Tea' is a hypnotic and disorientating cut up tape- loop sound collage.

To end the disc, `Thank You' shambles with a delicious bluesy lurch and is a fond farewell to everyone ever involved with Gong and those who've embraced the spirit of the group over the decades, and `Shakto Yoni and Dingo Virgin' a final celestial glissando and wordless sighing voice drone that reaches the highest heavens. These two pieces could not make for a more dignified and appropriate send-off from both Daevid and Gilli, and it closes this era of Gong perfectly.

One of the absolute strongest releases to appear under the Gong tag since probably `You', and definitely the best Allen/Gong related work since `Zero 2 Infinity', `I See You' has all the psychedelic strangeness, satirical lyrics and unpredictable direction changes you could want to find on a Gong album, and the younger musicians (well, younger than Allen!) here proved to be the perfect musical contributors to support the stalwarts of the group. It's hard to think of a better farewell than this to Allen and Smyth (both who passed relatively soon after its release), and fans of the `Magick Brother' through to `You' era of the band that haven't looked into the group since those works should absolutely give this a shot.

Five flying teapots for a modern classic, and truly a work for Gong fans to treasure.

 The Winstons by WINSTONS, THE album cover Studio Album, 2016
3.95 | 68 ratings

The Winstons
The Winstons Canterbury Scene

Review by Corcoranw687

4 stars 4.25 stars, a strong debut album! I listen to this one regularly now, it really suits all moods I could find myself in. It's dreamy and poppy and strongly influenced by the Canterbury scene. Straight away "Nicotine Freak" brings you in a few different directions before settling into a groove and sweet vocal melodies, the core of the group's sound seeming to come from a bass/drums/keyboards trio. It isn't long before we hear horns that remind one of Hatfield and the North or Camel, however, and the band keeps the surprises coming the whole album. How about the bizarre yet somehow radio-ready "She's My Face", or what I think is the strongest track "A Reason for Goodbye" which sounds like the Zombies had a jam with Anekdoten, only to be interrupted 2 minutes in by dueling saxophones. No matter what type of music you like, this is worth a look. Inspired yet original, sounding enough like artists of the past without being a copy, bringing something new to an old table perhaps.
 Mainstream by QUIET SUN album cover Studio Album, 1975
4.26 | 258 ratings

Quiet Sun Canterbury Scene

Review by Walkscore

4 stars Quintessential Canterbury sound.

This one-off album of a reformed Quiet Sun band is very enjoyable. The title is tongue-in-cheek. Once you put it on, it becomes evident right away that the band had no intentions of using it to establish a career, score a hit single, or anything. There is no pretense of this album having any meaning, other than the group wanting to record it for posterity. I don't find it especially original, although it has sufficient numbers of odd time signatures, fuzzy/jazzy solos, and fun quirky musical humour (one totally imagines bemused and bespectacled musicians) that mark it as quintessential Canterbury scene in style. Indeed, it even has the drummer singing like Hastings/Wyatt! (albeit sparingly thankfully - most of the album is instrumental, and the vocal is the weakest part of the music). On the whole, this is recommended. It is enjoyable all the way through, and flows well. But it is not the missing holy Canterbury grail, and does not match the best of the Canterbury scene (early Softs, Caravan, Hatfields, etc). I give it 8.0 out of 10 on my 10-point scale, which places it just inside the 4 PA rating.

 March by MATCHING MOLE album cover Live, 2000
3.89 | 23 ratings

Matching Mole Canterbury Scene

Review by Walkscore

3 stars Decent sound, but performance patchy.

This is another official live bootleg-like release of a gig in Europe in 1972, released in 2002. The sound quality is great, but the performances are decidedly mixed. I think the band took a while to warm up, as the first three tunes in particular are quite poor. The opener, March (from Little Red Record) is almost unrecognizable, but not in a good way - that is, not because they were playing around with the structure and melody, extending it beyond its usual moorings, but instead because they don't seem to be able to play it! Also, the keyboards are way too low in the mix - hearing this on the radio one would be hard-pressed to identify a keyboard at all. Of course, being a Softs fan, I like a challenge, but the two tracks that follow are again not very well played. Things pick up in the middle of the disc, however, during "Part of the Dance". The best track, and the reason for getting this album, is "No 'Alf Measures" which not only is new (not appearing on any other Matching Mole album), but is the best song/performance in this set. The last two tunes continue on with the better playing exhibited in this track, ending with an instrumental version of Caravan's "Waterloo Lily", thus ending on an up note (which probably explains some of the 4-star ratings). But overall, the performances are too mixed, and too esoteric (even compared to Matching Mole's other work), for this is to be anywhere near 4-star material. Indeed, it is probably in the larger scheme of things only of interest to pre-existing fans - if this is your introduction to MM you will get a skewed idea of the band. But it raises to 3 PA stars for me on the strength of its clean sound quality, and the stronger performances/improvisations in the second-half of the set. Overall, I rate this 5.9 out of 10 on my 10-point scale, which translates to 3 PA stars.

 Little Red Record by MATCHING MOLE album cover Studio Album, 1972
3.91 | 160 ratings

Little Red Record
Matching Mole Canterbury Scene

Review by Walkscore

4 stars Unique Classic. Close to 5 Stars!

This Fripp-produced album is a unique statement. Loosely framed as a quasi-concept album built around the idea of a 'Little Red Record' (like Mao's Little Red Book) this is an album/band that doesn't take itself too seriously, yet like the Softs, was somewhat revolutionary in a musical sense (and with some thoughtful commentary by Wyatt about socialism too!). It is really too bad it was to be there last studio album, and the last studio album before Wyatt's accident, and there is so much potential here, and Wyatt really shines. The album begins extremely well. An intro with unique (yes!) singing that leads into "Marchides", a short but amazing tune built around fast-cascading electric piano runs up and down the keyboard, with bass and guitar playing slow melodic lines over top, while Wyatt drums up a storm. The rest of side 1 involves three compositions with some complex lines (particularly on McRae's "Brandy as in Benj") but otherwise built around improvisations over repeated chord progressions, with excellent solos from McRea (piano) and McCormick (fuzz bass). "Gloria Gloom", the firs tune on side 2, is amazing - beginning with ethereal synth bells ala Tangerine Dream/Eno but then leading to a Canterbury-style classic of Wyatt's (where he ruminates about the socialist cause). Henry Cow would cover this tune in the middle of their "Beautiful as the Moon..." suite, which can be heard on the Henry Cow 'Concerts' album. Following this is "God Song", which is one of Wyatt's humourous yet simultaneously poignant solo pieces. Excellent and unique (you have to hear it)! (Another version of this song can be heard on the Wyatt solo collection 'Solar Flares Burn for You', which is also excellent). The rest of side 2 of the album involves band improvisations, with "Flora Fidgit" fading out and into "Smoke Signals". This is what the Softs might have sounded like without Ratledge but if Wyatt had remained. I like it better than the first Matching Mole album. I consider this an essential album for anyone who likes or is interested in the Canterbury sound. Very innovative. I actually give it 8.9 out of 10 on my 10-point scale, which is 0.1 away from 5 PA stars.

 N'Existe Pas! by ALLEN, DAEVID album cover Studio Album, 1979
2.76 | 20 ratings

N'Existe Pas!
Daevid Allen Canterbury Scene

Review by Walkscore

2 stars On this album, Daevid Allen's follows in a similar vein to the pattern he set on the previous 'Now is the Happiest Time of Your Life', although with a bit less emphasis on acoustic guitar songs, and with more glissando, improv poetry, and free-jazz tracks. This album will be enjoyable for true fans, but is too fragmented and esoteric a collection to act as a good introduction to his music, and to be honest, not everything here works as music. The first side is the better side. I can listen to all except 1 of the 8 tracks on this side, and the first three tracks are really quite good. The second side is much poorer, mainly dominated by a 12-minute improvisation (both lyrics/poetry and music) that is difficult to listen to (and I really like free jazz improvs!), and the opening tune on this side has quite trite lyrics. So, while there are some minor gems here, on the whole this is for fans only. I give it 4.1 out of 10 on my 10-point scale, which translates to 2 PA stars.
 Solar Flares Burn for You  by WYATT, ROBERT album cover Boxset/Compilation, 2003
3.76 | 8 ratings

Solar Flares Burn for You
Robert Wyatt Canterbury Scene

Review by Walkscore

4 stars This is an overlooked gem, and while it contains mostly early BBC recordings, demos, outtakes, long-lost movie soundtracks and private recordings, the pieces are very musical and anyone who likes Rock Bottom (one of my top 10 albums ever, so you know I am a huge fan), or Wyatt's music in general, will find this a treasure. It contains early Wyatt demos and BBC recordings of some of his best pieces, including 'Sea Song', 'Soup Song', 'Alifib', 'I'm a Believer', and 'God Song'. The recording of 'Alifib' here (originally from Rock Bottom) is wonderful. I have always loved that song, one of Wyatt's best - this version is just him at the piano live at the BBC. Very poignant. The title track ('Solar Flares Burn for You') was written as the soundtrack to a short film of the same name by Arthur Jones in 1973, recorded at Nick Mason's house. The album will appeal to RW fans for this piece alone, which is very quirky yet strong enough it should have been released back in the 70s. There are also short Hatfield ('Fol de Rol') and Matching Mole ('Righteous Rhumba') demos, some silly pieces never intended for release (including hilarious grunting through "We got an arts council grahhnt", not so musical but funny and short), and a few Hopper-Wyatt sound experiments ('Blimey O'Riley', and 'Twas Brillig'). The cover of 'Little Child' here (recorded in 1972) is emotionally devastating - it will bring tears to your eyes. Topping it off is the last song "The Verb" recorded by Wyatt at home in 2003, likely from the time of the Cuckooland sessions. It sounds like it belongs on Dondestan and is as strong as any of the other tunes on that album. While as a fan, I can be expected to like this collection, I actually think this is musically stronger and more consistent than a number of his regular albums (I rate it higher than Ruth is Stranger than Richard, Comicopera, etc). Listen to Rock Bottom first, then perhaps Dondestan, and Shleep. If you like those, I am very confident you will love and treasure this. I give it 8.2 out of 10 on my 10-point scale, which translates to 4 PA stars.
 The End Of An Ear by WYATT, ROBERT album cover Studio Album, 1970
3.19 | 112 ratings

The End Of An Ear
Robert Wyatt Canterbury Scene

Review by Walkscore

2 stars While I love Robert Wyatt's music, including some on this album, and I love jazz (including avant-garde free jazz), it doesn't always work. I admire the spirit of innovation and exploration, and the great thing about improvisation is that it could succeed or fail spectacularly. This album contains some great musical moments, but also a lot of moments that are difficult to get through. It is thus quite fragmented, so although I encourage readers to pick up RW's music, as an album I would not recommend they start with this one. It is really for fans. I give this 5.1 out of 10 on my 10-point scale, which translates to 2 PA stars (I had been wavering up to 5.8, but gave this another listen).
 Gongmaison: Gongmaison by GONG album cover Studio Album, 1989
2.81 | 34 ratings

Gongmaison: Gongmaison
Gong Canterbury Scene

Review by Walkscore

3 stars Graham Clark!

I saw Daevid Allen live in Edinburgh in a small club in the fall of 1989, on his comeback tour where he introduced Gongmaison. He began the show with just himself in a Wizard costume, playing harmonium and then acoustic guitar, with the rest of the Gongmaison members slowly joining him. At the time, there were only a few members, including Graham Clark on violin, and Shamal Maitra on tabla and percussion. The songs he played are found on this album, on the Owl and the Tree album (with Gilly Smyth and Mother Gong), and on his Australia Aquaria album (brought together nicely in the collection "Gentle Genie"). These are all great tunes, clearly written over a number of years before these shows, except "Flying Teapot" of course - at the show I saw, Gilly Smyth and Mother Gong also got up and played a set, and they all came together at the end to play Flying Teapot. But the Gongmaison songs are all high quality. Graham Clark's violin playing is particularly wonderful. Daevid rarely played with a violin in his band, but the years with Clark produced some really great music (Clark co-wrote some of the music that appeared on Shapeshifter, as well as "Blame the Rich" on Gentle Genie). This Gongmaison album is pretty short, with only six songs and a short version of Flying Teapot, and so I can only give this 7.5 out of 10 (3 PA stars). Better to pick up the Gentle Genie album, which has most of this album plus the best tunes from those other two albums - that one is really worth it.

 Shamal by GONG album cover Studio Album, 1975
3.81 | 307 ratings

Gong Canterbury Scene

Review by Walkscore

2 stars Missing Daevid Allen.

While the band felt they could make excellent music with Daevid and Gilly gone (on break), and should have been able to, this album demonstrates just how important they were to the band in every way. Musically, the music is no longer zany and playful, but becomes more jazz-rock-fusion, and much less musical. But the real kicker is the singing. Daevid Allen not only wrote wonderful, fun, lyrics, but he was a great singer. The singing on this album is horrendous, and the lyrics are just as bad. This album would have been better as an instrumental, at least that way it would have been listenable all the way through (even if boring). Nick Mason produced this, and I am surprised he didn't make the band re-think the singing/lyrics here. As it is, songs like "Wingful of Eyes", "Bambooji" and "Shamal", which could have been decent enough, become unlistenable. I was almost tempted to give this 1 star, but there is some good musicianship in places here, and Steve Hillage's guitar solos are always great. But to think that this followed right after You - the two albums are so completely in different leagues in every way. Daevid Allen would thankfully return to the band, and they would make some great live albums in the late 1970s (and reform in the 1990s, and continue until his death). This album functions mainly to show how much of a contribution he really made. On balance, I give this album 4.0 out of 10 on my 10-point scale, which translates to 2 PA stars. Only for true fans of the non-Allen Gong.

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Canterbury Scene bands/artists list

Bands/Artists Country
KEVIN AYERS United Kingdom
THE BOOT LAGOON United Kingdom
BRAINVILLE United Kingdom
CARAVAN United Kingdom
CLEAR FRAME United Kingdom
COS Belgium
DELIVERY United Kingdom
EGG United Kingdom
THE GHOULIES United Kingdom
MICHAEL GILES United Kingdom
GILGAMESH United Kingdom
GONG Multi-National
JOHN GREAVES United Kingdom
GRINGO United Kingdom
STEVE HILLAGE United Kingdom
HUGH HOPPER United Kingdom
JAKKO M. JAKSZYK United Kingdom
KHAN United Kingdom
THE LODGE United States
MAGIC BUS United Kingdom
MANNA/MIRAGE United States
MATCHING MOLE United Kingdom
MILLER & COXHILL United Kingdom
PHIL MILLER United Kingdom
MOOM United Kingdom
THE MUFFINS United States
PANTHEON Netherlands
PAZOP Belgium
JOHN G. PERRY United Kingdom
PIP PYLE United Kingdom
QUANTUM JUMP United Kingdom
QUIET SUN United Kingdom
SHORT WAVE United Kingdom
SOFT HEAP United Kingdom
SOFT MOUNTAIN Multi-National
SOFT WORKS United Kingdom
VOLARÉ United States
ROBERT WYATT United Kingdom
ZYMA Germany

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