Robert Wyatt (born Robert Wyatt-Ellidge, 28 January 1945, in Bristol) is an English musician, and founding member of the influential Canterbury scene band Soft Machine. He is married to English painter and songwriter Alfreda Benge.
In 1962, Wyatt and Neidorf moved to Majorca where they stayed near the poet Robert Graves. The following year, Wyatt returned to England and joined the Daevid Allen Trio with Daevid Allen and Hugh Hopper. Allen subsequently left for France and Wyatt and Hopper formed The Wilde Flowers with Kevin Ayers, Richard Sinclair and Brian Hopper. Wyatt was initially the drummer in the Wilde Flowers, but following the departure of Ayers, he also became lead singer.
In 1970, after chaotic touring, three albums and increasing internal conflicts in Soft Machine, Wyatt released his first solo album, The End of an Ear, which combined his vocal and multi-instrumental talents with tape effects.
A year later, Wyatt left Soft Machine and, besides participating in the fusion bigband Centipede and drumming at the JazzFest Berlin's New Violin Summit, a live concert with violinists Jean-Luc Ponty, Don "Sugarcane" Harris, Michał Urbaniak and Nipso Brantner, guitarist Terje Rypdal, keyboardist Wolfgang Dauner and bassist Neville Whitehead, formed his own band Matching Mole (a pun on "machine molle", French for 'Soft Machine'), a largely instrumental outfit. After two albums and a split, Matching Mole were about to embark on a third record when, on 1 June 1973, during an alcohol fueled party for Gong's Gilli Smyth and June Campbell Cramer (also known as Lady June) at the latter's Maida Vale home, an inebriated Wyatt fell from a third floor window. He was paralysed from the waist down and subsequently confined to a wheelchair. On 4 November that year, Pink Floyd performed two benefit concerts, in one day, at London's Rainbow Theatre, supported by Soft Machine, and compered by John Peel. The concerts raised a reported £10,000 for Wyatt.
His follow-up single, a reggae ballad remake of Chris Andrews's hit "Yesterday Man" was nearly released by Virgin, but at the last minute it was shelved due to "the boss at Virgin claiming that single was 'lugubrious', robbing Wyatt of a possible follow-up hit".
Wyatt's next solo-album, Ruth Is Stranger Than Richard, was more jazz-led, with free jazz influences and nods to African music. Guest musicians included Brian Eno on guitar, synthesizer and "direct inject anti-jazz ray gun".
Throughout the rest of the 1970s, Wyatt guested with various acts, including Henry Cow (documented on their Henry Cow Concerts album), Hatfield and the North, Carla Bley, Michael Mantler, and Roxy Music guitarist Phil Manzanera, contributing lead vocals to lead track "Frontera", from Manzanera's 1975 solo debut Diamond Head. His solo work during the early 1980s was increasingly politicised, and Wyatt became a member of the Communist Party of Great Britain. In 1982, his interpretation of Elvis Costello's Falklands War-inspired song "Shipbuilding", the last in a series of political cover-versions (collected as Nothing Can Stop Us), reached number 36 in the UK singles chart.
In the late 1980s, after collaborations with other acts such as News from Babel as well as Japanese recording artist Ryuichi Sakamoto, he and his wife Alfreda Benge spent a sabbatical in Spain, before returning in 1991 with a comeback album Dondestan, considered by many to be his best work since Rock Bottom. His 1997 album Shleep was also highly acclaimed.
In 1999 he collaborated with the Italian singer Cristina Donà on her second album Nido. In the summer of 2000 her first EP Goccia was released and Wyatt made an appearance in the video of the title track.
Wyatt contributed the haunting "Masters of the Field", as well as "The Highest Gander", "La Forêt Rouge" and "Hors Champ" to the soundtrack of the acclaimed 2001 film Winged Migration. He can be seen in the DVD's Special Features section, and is praised by the film's composer Bruno Coulais as being a big influence in his younger days.
In January 2003 BBC Four broadcast a programme entitled "Free Will and Testament" which featured performance footage of Wyatt with other musicians including Ian Maidman and Liam Genocky, together with interviews with John Peel, Brian Eno, Annie Whitehead, Alfie and Robert Wyatt himself.
In 2006, Wyatt played with David Gilmour on Gilmour's new release On An Island, singing and playing cornet and percussion on "Then I Close My Eyes." Wyatt performed as a guest at Gilmour's series of Royal Albert Hall concerts, playing his cornet solo for this song. This is documented on the Remember That Night DVD and Blu-ray, released in 2007. Wyatt also read passages from the novels of Haruki Murakami for Max Richter's album Songs from Before.
In 2006, Wyatt collaborated with Steve Nieve and Muriel Teodori on an opera "Welcome to the Voice". Wyatt interprets the character 'the Friend', both singing and playing pocket trumpet. "Welcome to the Voice" is an opera in one unique scene, on the street in front of an opera house. Robert's contribution to the recording was recorded at Phil Manzanera's home studio in North London. "Welcome to the Voice" is released in May on Deutsche Grammophon, and the recording features Robert Wyatt, Barbara Bonney, Sting, Amanda Roocroft, Elvis Costello, Nathalie Manfrino, Brodsky Quartet, Sara Fulgoni, Ned Rothenberg, Antoine Quessada, Marc Ribot, Steve Nieve and Muriel Teodori.
In March 2007, it was announced that Wyatt was working on a new solo album entitled Comicopera. It was released in October 2007 on the Domino Records label, a large independent label housing such big indie stars as Arctic Monkeys, Pavement, Neutral Milk Hotel and Elliott Smith.
In September 2008, it was announced that Domino Records will re-release Wyatt's "Drury Lane", "Rock Bottom", "Ruth Is Stranger Than Richard" and "Nothing Can Stop Us" on October 27. The label will re-release "Old Rottenhat", "Dondestan", "Shleep", "Cuckooland" and a collection of EPs on November 17. The re-releases will be available on CD and vinyl.
Robert Wyatt was quoted in The Guardian: as saying "I think it's really funny," and "I'm very honoured at the idea of becoming a verb. However, when asked if he would ever try it himself, he said "Oh no. I don't really like disconcerting people. Although often when I try to be normal I disconcert anyway.