Autumn 2012 A4 36 pages
THE 1970'S NOT ONLY
ROCK... JAPANESE UNDERGROUND
out of print / sold out!
Example article extract
Phil Miller / Pip Pyle
"Canterbury Scene Pioneers 4"
This feature is the story of two of the most prolific and widely travelled of musicians on the Canterbury Scene: guitarist Phil Miller and drummer Pip Pyle. These musicians were key to the development and sound of a number of groups that are some of the most important in British 1970's prog-rock/fusion.
As with many such musicians in the "Canterbury Scene", neither were from Canterbury at all: Philip Adam Miller (b. 22 January 1949, Barnet, Hertfordshire) and Philip "Pip" Pyle (b. 4 April 1950, Sawbridgeworth) first met pre-school in the town of Sawbridgeworth (halfway between Harlow and Bishop's Stortford, NNE from London) and became best friends so we're told. That's the simple story. But life's always more complex than that, and moving on over a decade or so, both became involved in music. Phil was self-taught on guitar from the age of 8, "playing seriously since 15" to quote Phil himself. Pip apparently took a few lessons from jazz drummer Buzz Greene, but is also largely self-taught. It seems that both had been playing together in various bands/projects until they joined Bruno's Blues Band, led by Phil's older brother Steve Miller (no, not the...) in 1966 when everything came together, and so the actual story begins...
I don't know if there was ever any Bruno in Bruno's Blues Band, but by 1968 they decided to move on from blues after being joined by jazz saxophonist Lol Coxhill, becoming Steve Miller's Delivery with Carol Grimes (vocals) and Roy Babbington (bass).
The only document of the original Delivery is the one album FOOLS MEETING, released in 1970, when Lol had already left the band. It's an odd album though, and one that I've never really been able to appreciate. You can tell that what we have here is a really hot fusion band full of fresh ideas, about half the album is such creative stuff, involving unusual time signatures, intricate jigsaw like arrangements, and dazzling interplay/solos. But the problem for me is Carol Grimes, not that I dislike her vocals, it's just that when she's present she's just too much, with lyrics that are more like a rant and not that interesting either to my ears. It amounts to an album that sounds like two different bands, 1) an excellent fusion outfit, and 2) a British answer to Jefferson Airplane?
You can tell though the roots of what was to come. It is also obvious that they'd heard Soft Machine, and we're told that they became friends after meeting at Ronnie Scott's Jazz Club in London. But, as in many bands, tensions set-in, and Pip quit the group. So Pip became a bit of a wandering drummer for a while, playing on one tour with Chicken Shack, and then briefly in an early incarnation of Steve Hillage's Khan. Apparently Robert Wyatt recommended Pip to Daevid Allen who needed a drummer to finish his Banana Moon album, which in turn led to Pip joining Gong from May 1971 to early spring 1972 (featuring on the albums CAMEMBERT ELECTRIQUE and CONTINENTAL CIRCUS). Meanwhile Laurie Allen stepped-in as Delivery's drummer, who also then went on to Gong!
Here we have the start of the tangled "Canterbury Scene" web! It all gets so complex, especially with a number of bands that came and went without recording anything, like when Delivery fell apart, the Miller brothers formed the short-lived band: DC & The MBs (that's Dyble/Coxhill & The Miller Brothers) with Judy Dyble from Fairport Convention (although I know her best from a few tracks with proto King Crimson). They were apparently a more improv jazz based outfit who did a tour of Holland and a few domestic gigs before splitting up. It seems that no recordings exist at all.
Now we have a major kink in the story, the formation of the first Canterbury supergroup in October 1971: Matching Mole so-named, according to Robert Wyatt, Soft Machine in French is Machine Molle which sounds like Matching Mole! You can check-out the Audion Soft Machine article for more on the roots of this. Robert's new choice band was himself (drums, vocals), with David Sinclair (keyboards) from Caravan, Phil Miller (guitar) from Delivery and Bill MacCormick (bass) from Quiet Sun.
Matching Mole were incredibly productive for a band that existed for less than a year, issuing 2 studio albums at the time, a number of radio sessions/appearances, tours of the UK, France, Holland, etc., now documented by 6 CD's worth of officially released material! Yet, even before the completion of the eponymous debut LP, David Sinclair had ceased to be a full time member, and was replaced by Dave McRae of Nucleus.
From my own experience, although I now deem MATCHING MOLE a fascinating record, it is flawed. Starting with the lamentful love song O Caroline it totally threw me when I first asked to listen to some of it in a local record shop. Thus I was convinced for years (backed up by his Yesterday Man on Virgin's "V" sampler) that I didn't like Robert Wyatt as a singer! I still think it's a weak start, but after that it's never less than magic. What we have is a virtual suite of interlocked themes and diversions, all with great titles like Instant Pussy, Dedicated To Hugh, But You Weren't Listening or Beer As A Braindeer amongst them. A Soft Machine meets Caravan and Egg mixture it mostly is, but with that added pazazz of Phil Miller's uniquely sizzly guitar, and the added surprise of Robert playing lots of highly processed Mellotron! David Sinclair's patent fuzz/distorted organ also features a lot. Yet we also have a lot of intricate mellow sections with electric piano and guitar weaving patterns against occasionally explosive flurries of percussion. There's obviously some Quiet Sun influence in there too, but that band was always a hard one to quantify! It's all the start of a brand new sound taking form.
The more documented line-up is that which recorded the second album: LITTLE RED RECORD. Whereas the debut was largely penned by Robert Wyatt, here much of the material is penned by the other members, which explains why it is quite different. The sound is tighter, much more episodic, and with a good few memorable tunes that worm their way into the brain. More humour too, like the prostitute tale Nan True's Hole and the deliberately dour but poignant God Song - islands in a complex tapestry of innovation.
If I go on much more here I'll be repeating my past Audion reviews. But it's safe to say that the Cuneiform releases SMOKE SIGNALS (sessions and live) and MARCH (live, March 1972) add up to yet more essential listening, and there's the various radio sessions, demos, etc. I've also encountered some well-dodgy bootlegs that, whilst musically excellent, prove that Robert wasn't the most reliable of vocalists! An amusing thought, in that it is said that Robert left Soft Machine to be more than just a drummer, he ended up with a new band that his role in concert was mostly as the drummer!
Quite why Matching Mole broke up in September 1972 we don't know. It could have something to do with Phil Miller leading a double life in the reformed Delivery (more about that below). Based on the BBC session of Robert Wyatt & Francis Monkman from December 1972, Robert indeed wanted to be more vocal. Another project: WMWM (Wyatt, McRae, Windo, Matthewson) said to be free jazz, also almost led to a new Matching Mole incarnation, however that idea was cut short in June 1973 after Robert fell from a third floor window during a party in London, leaving him paralysed from the waist down. But I digress, back to the Delivery story....
Article by Alan Freeman
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