Canterbury Tales – The Wilde Flowers

8 Dec

A wildflower is a flower that grows without any manipulation – it simply sprouts up, nature its gardener. Well, in a way the aptly named The Wilde Flowers also grew  in the wild; the first band to feature an agglutination of jazz-influenced musicians who would end up dispersing, like seeds, and forming other, more popular acts, that would define the Canterbury Scene, a convenient term used to describe progressive musicians who, to stay with the flower theme, sprouted up in and around Canterbury, England.

Progressive rock is today viewed as a popular 70s creation. Those who support that claim cite the peak of its success with bands like Genesis, ELO, Rush, and, of course, Pink Floyd (who kind of hovered above any genre specification). And like in many musical situations, the underground roots are buried and forgotten. I hate not giving credit where credit is due. So, today, I wish to highlight The Wilde Flowers, a band that featured a progressive group of musicians – who would later form bands like Caravan and the Soft Machine (two of the earliest progressive rock bands). Yes, in many ways, The Wilde Flowers were the predecessor of the predecessors.

Let’s start with this cover of blues/jazz pianist Mose Allison’s “Parchman Farm.” This is perhaps my favorite cover of the song because (besides from just being plain jazz cafe cool) it is so obviously influential. The low-key, almost droning vocal, constant drumming and repetitive bass riff, the sweet horn – it’s all so fresh, original, and inspirational. We are talking about an era in the mid 1960s (the band was around from 1963-1967) that Jazz music was put to the wayside, in favor of the blossoming folk, psychedelic, and hard rock scene. The Wilde Flowers brought Jazz back and combined Jazz sentiments with the popular rock sound. They were exploring the foundations of progressive rock prior to progressive rock had foundations.

So let’s look a little bit into the band’s history.

The band, like mentioned above, lasted for around four years and featured several musicians who would go on and play in other progressive rock bands. In many ways, my father put it best. The music scene of the 1960s was quite incestuous. Musicians played in one band and then founded a more popular band and then left and went to another band (i.e. Eric Clapton, Ronnie Wood – the list goes on and on). The Canterbury scene is no different. We start with our originals.

Brian Hopper (guitar, sax, flute, vocals), Hugh Hopper (bass), Robert Wyatt (drums), Richard Sinclair (guitar, vocals), Kevin Ayers (vocals and by the way Kevin Ayers released an album in 2007 entitled Unfairground which is downright excellent). Let’s also add Daevid Allen to this list. While he was not part of the band, Allen, an Australian-born music-lover, formed the Daevid Allen Trio with Robert Wyatt and Hugh Hopper prior to the inception of The Wilde Flowers. He is a big reason why Wyatt and Hopper were introduced to so many jazz/blues records.

Back to the Wilde Flowers. The group originally played soul/blues covers (Booker T, Ray Charles) but moved towards Jazz and naturally (albeit almost accidentally) the two genres fused.

The band released a demo in 1965 and in March of that year Kevin Ayers went with Daevid Allen to Ibiza (classic Beat fashion – keep traveling – he’s going to form the Soft Machine in a bit). Wyatt started singing lead vocals until, for a bit of time, Graham Flight was brought in during the summer of 1965 to sing – but would then leave after five months. I guess you sort of see how the rest of this band’s history is going to look. Heck, they may have eventually seen success if they all stayed together. Several bands were founded by ex-members of The Wilde Flowers. They were like the Yardbirds or Bluesbreakers of Prog-Rock.

In the same year, Sinclair left for college (he will form Caravan soon) and Wyatt would leave to join the Soft Machine soon as well. Richard Coughlan (no recordings available) came in to play drums and Pye Hastings to play guitar and vocals.

In 1966, Hugh Hopper left to join the Soft Machine (Dave Lawrence took his place). In 1967 the group was discontinued after Brian Hopper (last original member) joined the Soft Machine and many of the other stragglers joined Caravan. And, trust me, more bands would be formed. But for the short time this extremely talented (now supergroup) was together, they created some different music.

“Never Leave Me” is one of my favorite Wilde Flowers originals. It is heavy-drummer piece with a curious vocal, jazzy guitar, and neat vocal. It is a mixture of a whole bunch of stuff – and it wouldn’t be Wilde if it wasn’t, now would it?


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