Thursday, January 14, 2021

The Canterbury Scene

Yesterday I posted the catalysts of the catalysts for progressive rock. It was, indeed, predictable; relevant, but predictable. 

Luckily, we categorize things to death and today I'll redeem myself with the Canterbury Scene. The What? Canterbury, the Cathedral City, bored us all to death in high school when we read Chaucer (little did we know how filthy is was), but today, like they do with the Beatles in Liverpool and London, or with the Smiths in Manchester, music geeks are known to take a pilgrimage to Canterbury, not to replicate the Miller’s Tale, but to see those sites of the "Canterbury Scene."

Some call it Canterbury Progressive Rock, but it lends itself so much to Fusion that I think "scene" is a better word. Of whom are we talking? Not really a long list, so I’ll name all that I can think of: Soft Machine, Caravan, National Health (too obscure for me), Gong, Hatfield and the North, and Khan.

There is quite a bit of inbreeding, if you will. From 1963 to 1969, the Wilde Flowers (Robert Wyatt, Kevin Ayers, Hugh Hopper, Pye Hastings, David Sinclair, Richard Sinclair and Richard Coughlan), a ramshackle troupe of Canterbury teens playing a mix of pop and R'n'B, and who shared a love of jazz, evolved with the addition of Aussie, Daevid Allen, (visiting Robert Wyatt at his parent's home), into The Soft Machine (Allen, Wyatt, Ayers, Hopper) and Caravan (Hastings, the Sinclairs and Coughlin).

I think my top ten list is fair, but in retrospect, I might exchange Gong for Alan Parsons or Caravan for Renaissance – now I'm on the fence. But here I'll gush about two of my favorite LPs and hopefully inspire those of you haven’t heard them to notice; it’s the least I can do since I failed to expand anyone’s horizons with my prog faves:

Caravan, In the Land of Gray and Pink. Caravan turned in their best effort with 1971's In the Land of Grey and Pink, with its insistent grooves, tongue-in-cheek lyrics in a uniquely English bent, and Richard Sinclair's expansive, jazzy organ solos. This album largely set the template for the Canterbury School of Rock. On this LP, Caravan mixed pastoral folky whimsy with Cat City jazziness and as a result achieved a sound that is somehow unique and familiar at the same time. If there ever was an album that sounded exactly like its cover - this is the one.  

Hatfield of the North, Self Titled. A foundational Canterbury Scene album, and the one that I recommend most. Sophisticated songwriting that isn't complex for the sake of showing off. A casual two-part suite full of brilliant pop melodies and the longer jazz-fusion compositions. Never boring, carefully recorded, and all the while establishing the inimitable "Hatfield Style." Features crazy badass drumming throughout and scratch your head lyrics (but Yes fans are used to that), and of course, there's the Genius-in-Residence David Stewart's epic "Son of 'There's No Place Like Homerton,'" which is among the greatest unnoticed works a rock band ever laid to vinyl.

(The Soft Machine, by the way, you're going to have to discover on your own. Third, their most notable LP is difficult in the way that Trout Mask Replica is difficult. It may take years. It should probably come with an accessibility instruction manual.)

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