1970, part 3: The Canterbury scene

The Canterbury scene is a somewhat deceptive name for a musical genre. Following its early roots in the mid-1960s, many of the artists known to be part of the scene did not create their music in Canterbury, and most of that music was not performed there. But there is definitely a common stylistic thread that goes through the music associated with the genre. The part whimsical, part serious concoction of rock, pop, jazz and classical music can be traced in each of the albums in this review, all released in 1970. And we start with a group that is likely the first to come to mind when discussing the Canterbury scene.

Soft Machine, 1970: Mike Ratledge, Hugh Hopper, Robert Wyatt and Elton Dean

Third, by Soft Machine

Soft Machine’s 1969 album known as Volume Two saw the band threading in jazz territories. At the end of that year they added Saxophonist Elton Dean, trombonist Nick Evans and cornet player Mark Charig to their live performances. All three musicians were members of pianist and composer Keith Tippett’s group. Read on for more on Keith Tippett in 1970.

Also joining the group was flautist and tenor saxophonist Lyn Dobson who previously played with Georgie Fame and Manfred Mann. He remembers the experience: “The stuff they were doing when I joined the band was extremely esoteric and incredibly complex. When I went to the first rehearsal, I couldn’t play any of it. I bluffed my way through it, then took the parts home and practiced for about a month.” As Robert Wyatt recalled, it was no longer clear whether Soft Machine were their label’s worst-selling rock group or its best-selling jazz act.

In June of 1970 Soft Machine released their third album, aptly named Third. Elton Dean joined as a full time member, expanding the trio to a quartet. The double album included only four tracks, each occupying a full LP side. My favorite is Moon in June, the only track that somewhat resembles the style of the previous two albums. This was the last piece that Robert Wyatt would write for the band or sing on, and it is close to be counted as a mini solo project for him while with the band. In the first part of the track he plays all instruments, with the band joining in the next part.

Wyatt on the track: “Moon in June sounds very structured, but really it was a whole load of unfinished songs where instead of finishing them I just bled them into each other. Literally, actually, all over the studio. What a mess. Although it is kind of pop songs strung together into a suite, it’s still very eventful, in the sense that it’s changing all the time.”

Violin solo by Roy Spall, who played with Robert Wyatt in his short-lived group The Amazing Band.

Elton Dean – alto saxophone (plays on the album but not on this tune)

Mike Ratledge – Hohner Pianet, Lowrey organ, piano

Hugh Hopper – bass guitar

Robert Wyatt – drums, vocals, Hammond organ, Mellotron, Hohner Pianet, piano, bass

Rab Spall – violin

Shooting at the Moon, by Kevin Ayers and The Whole World

We stay with Soft Machine members, with two of them releasing solo albums in 1970. The first is Kevin Ayers, who left the band after the US tour that followed the release of their debut album. At the end of 1969 he released his own debut, Joy of a Toy, a great start to quite a prolific career in the 1970s. A year later Ayers assembled around him a group of excellent musicians who went on tour with him under the name The Whole World. The group included composer and keyboard player David Bedford, Sax player Lol Coxhill, drummer Mike Fincher and a young Mike Oldfield on bass and guitar.

Kevin Ayers And The Whole World

A section from an article I wrote about David Bedford:

In April 1970 Kevin Ayers and The Whole World started recording material for the album Shooting at the Moon. The band gelled on the road and had plenty of opportunities to play the material before entering the studio, and Kevin Ayers was writing new songs all the time. The diversity of the band members and their leanings toward the ambitious side of popular music generated a great combination of carefree, whimsical songs with challenging arrangements, sometime boarding on the avant-garde. David Bedford remembers: “Too often there’s a nice song idea and just in the middle of the song it all goes mad and you get weird sounds all through it so it wasn’t the type of stuff that would have worked as a single – going off into weird arrangements.” Shooting at the Moon was released on the Harvest label in October 1970.

David Bedford – organ, piano, accordion, marimbaphone, guitar

Lol Coxhill – saxophone, zoblophone

Mike Oldfield – bass, guitar and vocal

Mick Fincher – drums, percussion, bottles & ashtrays

Here is a fine example of what Bedford is talking about, Rheinhardt & Geraldine/Colores Para Dolores, a song that could have been a single, but watch what’s happening at the 2:18 mark:

The End of an Ear, by Robert Wyatt

The second member of Soft Machine to release a solo album in 1970 remained with the group, but not for long. In between the recording of the band’s third and fourth albums, after which Robert Wyatt would leave Soft Machine, he found time to record the album The End of an Ear. The mix of experimental music, free jazz and no-lyric vocalizations are an acquired taste for many but provide an insight into Wyatt’s musical mindset at the time.

Robert Wyatt

The album was released in December of 1970 and it includes the track To Carla, Marsha and Caroline (For Making Everything Beautifuller). If you are wondering who is this track dedicated to, here goes:

‘Carla’ is Carla Bley, pianist, composer and band leader. The two would collaborate 5 years later on the album The Hapless Child.

‘Marsha’ is American singer, actress and model Marsha Hunt. She had rehearsed with Soft Machine early in the band’s career and married Mike Ratledge.

‘Caroline’ is artist and activist Caroline Coon. She was also the subject of Matching Mole’s song O Caroline.

Caroline on Robert’s excellent selection of women dedicatees: “Robert invited me to Ronnie Scott’s to hear Carla Bley. He wanted me to hear her not only because she was a performer but because she was a composer, too. That was Carla Bley’s significance, apart from the fact that she was stunningly beautiful – but maybe that also. Marsha Hunt was stunningly beautiful, too. If he did put the three of us together, it was because he liked women with beauty and brains!”

Credits on the album:

Robert Wyatt – drums, piano, organ, keyboards, harmonica

Neville Whitehead – bass

Mark Charig – cornet

Elton Dean – alto saxophone, saxello

Mark Ellidge – piano

Cyrille Ayers – assorted percussion

Dave Sinclair – organ

Elastic Rock, by Nucleus

We stay with the jazzier side of the Canterbury sound. Two excellent albums were released in 1970 by groups led by prominent figures in British jazz of that period. The first is Ian Carr who formed the band Nucleus in September of 1969, a great example of early British jazz fusion, a parallel universe to the more celebrated American scene of that genre. In 1970 the band won the European Broadcasting Union prize at the Montreux festival and later performed at the Newport jazz festival and the Village Gate club in NYC.

Nucleus, 1970: Karl Jenkins, Jeff Clyne, Ian Carr, Brian Smith, John Marshall and Chris Spedding]

In March of 1970 the band released their debut album Elastic Rock, with prominent composition contributions from Karl Jenkins. The reed and keyboard player would go on to join Soft Machine later in the 1970s and then become a renowned composer of modern classical works. Elastic Rock is a great early jazz rock album that truly brings out the best of both genres. Drummer John Marshall remembers: “The idea was to learn a few lessons from the rock scene in terms of organization and presentation – we had our own PA for example; unknown then on the jazz scene.”

The album features an early Roger Dean album cover art, quite different than the fantasy drawings he would become famous for starting a year later.

Ian Carr – Trumpet, Flugelhorn

Brian Smith – Tenor Saxophone, Soprano Saxophone, Flute

Karl Jenkins – Baritone Saxophone, Oboe, Piano, Electric Piano

Jeff Clyne – Bass, Electric Bass

John Marshall – Drums, Percussion

Chris Spedding – Guitar

Here is the title track from the album:

You Are Here… I Am There, by the Keith Tippett Group

One more interesting jazz release came from one of my favorite artists of that period, pianist/composer Keith Tippett. His debut album was recorded in 1968, but only released in 1970. He met three musicians with whom he would form the Keith Tippett Group at a two-week course at the Barry Jazz Summer School in South Wales: “I didn’t know anybody, but Nick Evans was introduced to me. We hit it off straight away. He was a fantastic trombonist, a really good reader and a lovely guy. I’d taken some tunes down with me and we were given the opportunity to put bands together for the jam session in the evening. I did one night and I remember Elton Dean and Mark Charig coming up and telling me they wanted to play with me. So I said ‘Of Course!’ This was the second night in a two week course and already there were four of us who were really tight.”

Coming back to London, the quartet quickly became a sextet with the addition of drummer Alan Jackson and bassist Jeff Clyne, and they secured a record deal with Polydor, resulting with the album You Are Here… I Am There.

Here is a great tune from that album called Stately Dance for Miss Primm. The original liner notes read: “Listen to the wonderful time feel on ‘Miss Primm’ providing the perfect spring-board for Elton Dean’s hairy solo. Yes, the days of duff British rhythm sections are long gone.”

Alto Saxophone – Elton Dean

Bass – Jeff Clyne

Cornet – Marc Charig

Drums, Glockenspiel – Alan Jackson

Trombone – Nick Evans

Piano, composer – Keith Tippett

Egg’s self-titled debut

One more band to release a debut album in 1970 was the sadly short-lived Egg. The trio evolved from a group called Uriel that also included fellow high school student Steve Hillage. When the talented guitarist left to pursue university studies in Canterbury, the remaining trio marched on as Egg and signed a record deal with Decca to release an album on its subsidiary label Nova. The album was produced by the group itself, all 19-year old at the time. The original liner notes include this fair warning: “The music on this LP is not dancing music, but basically music for listening to. It is harmonically and rhythmically complex, designed to be as original as possible within the confines of the instrumental line up, so its pretty demanding on the listener’s attention.”

The second side of the LP was comprised of the ambitious multi-part epic Symphony no. 2, a collection of improvisations on classic themes by Grieg and Stravinsky.

Dave Stewart – organ, piano, tone generator, mellotron

Mont Campbell – bass, vocals

Clive Brooks – drums

Here is the first movement from that epic, including improvisation on ‘Hall of the Mountain King’ by Grieg

If I Could Do It All Over Again, I’d Do It All Over You, by Caravan

And we end this article with my favorite Canterbury album of 1970 by one of the bands that best defines the Canterbury Scene’s stylistic esthetic. After releasing their self-titled debut album in 1968, Caravan found themselves with no recording contract after their label MGM/Verve ceased operations in the UK. The following year they signed up with Decca and were busy touring. A memorable performance at the Actuel Festival in Belgium saw them jamming with Frank Zappa on stage. In the spring of 1970 the band went into Tangerine Studios to record their second album, to be released later in the year. Guitar player Pye Hastings remembers the experience: “Each track on the album was essentially a live performance in the studio. If something needed correcting we would ‘drop in’ to the track at that point. Back then if you made a mistake dropping in you also wiped everything that was on tape previously.”


The album, whimsically named If I Could Do It All Over Again, I’d Do It All Over You, included the fantastic piece of music known as Can’t Be Long Now / Françoise / For Richard / Warlock. This multi-part composition is a favorite of their fans and has been a show closer for many years. Pye Hastings: “Although we share compositional credit, we didn’t write together as such. We shared each other’s ideas to certain extent. For example ‘For Richard’ was composed by Dave Sinclair, but the riff which the main tune goes into was the idea of Richard Sinclair. Then as a band we would develop the song further, expanding on the ideas and so on until it became the long track you hear on the album.”

Pye Hastings – vocals, 6- and 12-string electric guitars, 6 string acoustic guitar, claves, percussion, worn leather strap, ashtrays, voice, impersonation of a friendly gorilla

Richard Sinclair – vocals, bass guitar, tambourine, hedge clippers

David Sinclair – organ, piano, harpsichord

Richard Coughlan – drums, congas, bongos, maracas, finger cymbals

Additional personnel

Jimmy Hastings – saxophone, flute

Read the next article in the series:

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8 replies »

  1. Well I used to consider myself fairly well versed in Prog, but you’ve certainly educated me! Always look forward to your articles. I wonder if you might also write something about Camel, another group I only recently discovered. I guess it was easy to be missed during that era when there was so much wall-to-wall musical genius.

  2. I have a number of the LPs included in your Canterbury list, but I agree that Caravan’s rather whimsical “If I Could Do It All Over Again” is a real keeper. Musically Caravan was pretty adventurous musically, with some atonal parts, unusual time signatures and the like, and yet wrote really catchy melodies. They were blessed with two fine singers. Their songs could be humorous too. The next album “In The Land Of Gray And Pink” was even better. I must say I have been enjoying your prog articles, especially during the Covid lockdowns here in Canada. You provide some anecdotes and factoids I was unaware of!
    Stay happy and healthy.

    • Thank you Peter. Happy to offer some relief during this stressing time to a music aficionado fellow. There are more articles to come in this series. 1970 was a very productive year in many musical styles. Agree that “In The Land Of Gray And Pink” was a peak for the band and the genre in general. Actually considering dedicating an article to that album.

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