Robert Wyatt & Friends: Theatre Royal Drury Lane 8th September 1974

David Marchese

A rare breed of musician who is forever alive to the possibility of new opportunities and forever blind to the existence of obstacles.

Robertb Wyatt & Friends

Theatre Royal Drury Lane 8th September 1974

Label: Hannibal
US Release Date: 2005-10-11
UK Release Date: 2005-10-10
Amazon affiliate

One of the chief complaints about prog rock is that it stifles the playful energy of rock 'n' roll in favor of an emphasis on instrumental virtuosity and compositional sophistication. The fact that words like "compositional sophistication" can even be used in reference to prog rock is probably reason enough to think that the music's enemies may have a point.

While the music of bands like Yes, ELP, and King Crimson can be invigorating and exciting, there's a level of raw emotionality that often gets lost in the maze of tricky rhythms and endless solos. It wouldn't be much of a stretch to say that Robert Wyatt's music falls within the prog camp. His compositions are long and complex, he lets his soloists go on for minutes at a time, and his rhythms are just about undanceable. But as the newly released live album Theatre Royal Drury Lane ably demonstrates, Wyatt's music has a beguiling innocence and emotionality that is rare in any kind of pop music and almost non-existent in prog.

The album (recorded in 1974 but unreleased until now) finds Wyatt at the peak of his powers, as he leads his friends from the English prog scene (including Pink Floyd drummer Nick Mason and guitar wizards Fred Frith and Mike Oldfield) through his roiling, careening music. That Wyatt was so in control of his musical power is sadly ironic, as the concert the music is taken from marked a major step in his return to music after a 1971 accident that left him paralyzed from the waist down. Maybe it took that kind of trauma for Wyatt to create music as rich and rewarding as what's on Theatre, but whether or not that's true, the album stands as a high point for listeners looking to explore the musical and emotional possibilities of rock.

Wyatt's ability to blend heartfelt, almost childish sentiment with aggressively challenging music is evident throughout the album. Whether it's his vocal on "Memories", where he improvises an angular, leaping melody with the unpredictable and unrestrained joy of someone discovering his voice for the first time, or the lyrics of "Signed Curtain", which are mostly a description of the parts of the song ('this is the first verse, this is the chorus', etc), Wyatt never lets the muso virtuosity of his supporting musicians overwhelm his own playful fascination with the music. On the aforementioned 'Signed Curtain', Mike Oldfield unleashes a long spiraling solo that might seem self-indulgent in a different setting, but is saved by the fact that Wyatt's own lack of pretension created a musical atmosphere of altruism rather than the selfishness � a problem of too much prog.

The set is dominated by songs from Rock Bottom, Wyatt's first post-accident album, and the performances match, if not better, their studio versions. "Little Red Riding Hood Hits the Road" provides a Miles/Fusion groove capable of accommodating both Wyatt's own scatting and a thrillingly knotty Hugh Hopper trumpet solo. "Sea Song", a clear-eyed look at the effect of Wyatt's paralysis on his marriage, rises on waves of frantic drumming and sinister synth lines and falls on watery electric piano and Wyatt's warm vocal.

The non-"Rock Bottom" maintain the high level of the rest of the album. Julie Tippetts delivers a crystalline, folky vocal on the stirring "Mind of A Child", and the concluding "I'm A Believer" (a shorter version of which provided Wyatt a small hit in England) extends The Monkees' pop anthem into a rousing, horn-driven seven-and-a-half minute epic, complete with multiple solos, cool tempo shifts, and a circus-music interlude.

More sensitive and compassionate than most prog, and more musically challenging than most pop, Wyatt's music occupies a unique space in the musical landscape. There's simply no one else doing what he did. As Wyatt is a reluctant live performer, Theatre offers the valuable opportunity to hear his music in a non-studio setting. The album is both a welcome addition to Wyatt's catalogue and an indispensable document for anyone interested in that rare breed of musician who is forever alive to the possibility of new opportunities and forever blind to the existence of obstacles.







A Fresh Look at Free Will and Determinism in Terry Gilliam's '12 Monkeys'

Susanne Kord gets to the heart of the philosophical issues in Terry Gilliam's 1995 time-travel dystopia, 12 Monkeys.


The Devonns' Debut Is a Love Letter to Chicago Soul

Chicago's the Devonns pay tribute the soul heritage of their city with enough personality to not sound just like a replica.


Jaye Jayle's 'Prisyn' Is a Dark Ride Into Electric Night

Jaye Jayle salvage the best materials from Iggy Pop and David Bowie's Berlin-era on Prisyn to construct a powerful and impressive engine all their own.


Kathleen Edwards Finds 'Total Freedom'

Kathleen Edwards is back making music after a five-year break, and it was worth the wait. The songs on Total Freedom are lyrically delightful and melodically charming.


HBO's 'Lovecraft Country' Is Heady, Poetic, and Mangled

Laying the everyday experience of Black life in 1950s America against Cthulhuian nightmares, Misha Green and Jordan Peele's Lovecraft Country suggests intriguing parallels that are often lost in its narrative dead-ends.


Jaga Jazzist's 'Pyramid' Is an Earthy, Complex, Jazz-Fusion Throwback

On their first album in five years, Norway's Jaga Jazzist create a smooth but intricate pastiche of styles with Pyramid.


Finding the Light: An Interview with Kathy Sledge

With a timeless voice that's made her the "Queen of Club Quarantine", Grammy-nominated vocalist Kathy Sledge opens up her "Family Room" and delivers new grooves with Horse Meat Disco.


'Bigger Than History: Why Archaeology Matters'

On everything from climate change to gender identity, archaeologists offer vital insight into contemporary issues.


'Avengers: Endgame' Culminates 2010's Pop Culture Phenomenon

Avengers: Endgame features all the expected trappings of a superhero blockbuster alongside surprisingly rich character resolutions to become the most crowd-pleasing finalés to a long-running pop culture series ever made.


Max Richter's 'VOICES' Is an Awe-Inspiring and Heartfelt Soundscape

Choral singing, piano, synths, and an "upside-down" orchestra complement crowd-sourced voices from across the globe on Max Richter's VOICES. It rewards deep listening, and acts as a global rebuke against bigotry, extremism and authoritarianism.


DYLYN Dares to "Find Myself" by Facing Fears and Life's Dark Forces (premiere + interview)

Shifting gears from aspiring electropop princess to rock 'n' rule dream queen, Toronto's DYLYN is re-examining her life while searching for truth with a new song and a very scary-good music video.


JOBS Make Bizarre and Exhilarating Noise with 'endless birthdays'

Brooklyn experimental quartet JOBS don't have a conventional musical bone in their body, resulting in a thrilling, typically off-kilter new album, endless birthdays.


​Nnamdï' Creates a Lively Home for Himself in His Mind on 'BRAT'

Nnamdï's BRAT is a labyrinth detailing the insular journey of a young, eclectic DIY artist who takes on the weighty responsibility of reaching a point where he can do what he loves for a living.


Monte Warden and the Dangerous Few Play It Cool​

Austin's Monte Warden and the Dangerous Few perform sophisticatedly unsophisticated jazz/Americana that's perfect for these times


Eleanor Underhill Takes Us to the 'Land of the Living' (album stream)

Eleanor Underhill's Land of the Living is a diverse album drawing on folk, pop, R&B, and Americana. It's an emotionally powerful collection that inspires repeated listens.


How Hawkwind's First Voyage Helped Spearhead Space Rock 50 Years Ago

Hawkwind's 1970 debut opened the door to rock's collective sonic possibilities, something that connected them tenuously to punk, dance, metal, and noise.


Graphic Novel 'Cuisine Chinoise' Is a Feast for the Eyes and the Mind

Lush art and dark, cryptic fables permeate Zao Dao's stunning graphic novel, Cuisine Chinoise.


Alanis Morissette's 'Such Pretty Forks in the Road' Is a Quest for Validation

Alanis Morissette's Such Pretty Forks in the Road is an exposition of dolorous truths, revelatory in its unmasking of imperfection.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.