wrong movements - a review of Mike King's Robert Wyatt biography
this article first appeared in issue 13 in August 1994

Mike King's inspiring Robert Wyatt biography started out, in his words, "in the spring of 1990 as a general career overview to earn a free subscription to the UK fanzine Facelift...." It went way way beyond that. Mike furnished us with extra information for issue 14 after the book had already been published. This is how we reviewed it in issue 13.

It's taken four years to complete this book and I'm sure I won't be alone in saying that the wait has been worth every moment  'Wrong Movements' is a revelation.

Mike King, the Canadian writer (whose name willbe familiar to Facelift readers as a regular contributor), had promised us a factual book, chronicling every gig, recording session, every relevant minutae of Robert Wyatt's recording career. And indeed that's what we get. It's meticulously researched, an unsurpassable reference guide to Robert Wyatt. But that's only half of the story.

The real revelation is how Wrong Movements' is illustrated. That's not just to say that the book is gamished with previously unseen photos, drawings, archive articles and flyers, which indeed it is. But it also features large slices of spoken text from every key player in Robert Wyatt's career. Some are from contemporary magazines/ radio interviews; others taken from more recent conversations Mike King has conducted with the likes of Daevid Allen and Gilli Smyth; Softs, Wilde Flowers and Caravan members; family; sidemen (Andy Summers, Fred Frith, Gary Windo for starters); and many interesting figures associated with Robert right through to the present day. The musicians' comments accompany factual details - there's no attempt by the author to provide a definitive critique or commentary on any element of Robert Wyatt's career. To some extent the interviews do that just as well: there's little over-eulogising or mythologising on any aspect of Robert's career by his fellow musicians - it's an honest account of how each musicians saw events at the time. But a great deal of warmth towards Robert comes over as well.

We also get an insight into Robert's character. Complex, self-deprecating, but overwhelmingly warm and human, it's his own words which give the book much of its character. And because the Robert Wyatt story is not without its tragedies, it's also a very moving tale too. One interesting slant is the mix between contemporary and archive commentary. Notoriously dismissive now of much of his own work before the accident that paralysed him in 1973, here we get both sides of the coin - how Robert Wyatt feels about his music, his work environment and himself, both now and then.

Whilst all areas of his career are well dealt with, the sheer level of activity before his accident mean that much of the book is devoted to the early Robert Wyatt years. There's heavy emphasis on the days before Soft Machine formed, and this is probably the most exciting aspect of the whole book, since it's an era that has never been satisfactorily chronicled up to now. You'll learn much that's new here in a detailed series of reminiscences from key players who were moving between Canterbury, London, Mallorca and Paris with various degrees of interaction. It adds to a certain bohemian mystery which has attached itself to the Canterbury scene, whilst also blowing the cover on other myths: the story is a remarkable one, but does little to disguise the fact that bands such as the Wilde Flowers were as little-known in the early Sixties as they are to many now.

Given its coverage of events in the early Sixties the book could be regarded as the most definitive history of the genesis of the Canterbury scene we're likely to get - a bonus is that the book covers in some detail the early histories of musicians like Daevid Allen, Kevin Ayers and Hugh Hopper.

Equally as interesting are early Soft Machine days, the evolving psychedelic scene of London in 1966/7, the Softs/Hendrix tour, and the period around the start of the Seventies when an unsettled Robert was guesting with many musicians and embarking on ad hoc jazz projects. There's also some insight into Robert's political motivations, which have increasingly permeated his attitude and outlook towards his music.

Wrong Movements' comes with a comprehensive discography of official releases, compiled with customary accuracy by Manfred Bress, editor of Canterbury Nachrichten. This includes details of guest appearances and samplers as well as the various editions of solo material, Softs albums et al.

As inspiring a work as I've read, 'Wrong Movements' is essential reading.