Tuesday, 16 April 2013

On Robert Wyatt

In September 1974 Robert Wyatt appeared on BBC Television's Top of the Pops, performing Neil Diamond's perfect pop song 'I'm a Believer'.

Here it is: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T5ivg0cDBgo

Wyatt had fallen drunkenly from a fourth floor window in Maida Vale the previous summer and had been paralysed from the waist down. A producer reportedly objected to the singer appearing in a wheelchair on the grounds that such a spectacle 'was not suitable for family viewing'. There was a hoo-hah and Wyatt won. (On the cover of that week's New Musical Express the whole band appeared in wheelchairs.)

It's an intriguing clip. The teenagers herded into the studio bop self-consciously while Wyatt sways his way gently through the song. He has the loveliest voice, although he doesn't so much perform the song as admit it. I was fifteen years old at the time and missed the performance on telly but heard the single on the radio and have been a fan ever since. He never fails to surprise and delight.

Looking for the clip I came across this on Wikipedia: The verb "Wyatting" has appeared in some blogs and music magazines to describe the practice of playing weird tracks on a pub jukebox to annoy the other pub goers. 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: "I don't really like disconcerting people, but even when I try to be normal I disconcert anyway."

Thoughts of Robert Wyatt are prompted by the recent online campaign, following the death of Margaret Thatcher, to boost the song 'Ding Dong the Witch is Dead' from The Wizard of Oz to a number one spot in the charts. This appears to have been achieved, to the fury of Daily Mail hacks, but if there is one song from the Thatcher era that really nails the horror and folly of the Falklands War, and the howling bellicosity of ministers and the Tory media at the time, it's the heart-breaking Shipbuilding, written in 1982 by Elvis Costello and gently sung by RW.

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