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

Theatre Royal Drury Lane, the new (old) live Robert Wyatt disc, is the official release of an oft-bootlegged gig. A quick glance at the listed performers and conditions that preceded it, make it easy to see why. This was Robert Wyatt’s first live performance since 1971. In the intervening years our protagonist had been expelled from the Soft Machine on account of alcohol abuse, and endured a fall from four stories, which ensured confinement to a wheelchair. He also recorded a second solo album, Rock Bottom. The comeback was embellished by an impressive list of underground notables in Wyatt’s supporting cast. Cameos come from artists as diverse as Dave Stewart, Mike Oldfield, Fred Frith and Ivor Cutler.

Musically, the album touches on diverse places within a jazz-folk backdrop. The opening brace of Hugh Hopper (who guests throughout on bass) compositions differ starkly. “Dedicated to You but You Weren’t Listening” touches on free-improvisation and beat poetry, while “Memories” is a mournful coffee ballad. The treatment of Wyatt’s own songs alternates between prog-tinged bombast (“Little Red Riding Hood Hit the Road”) and a demonic fairytale soundtrack (“Alife”). His delivery trembles and crackles—few singers sound so lovably imperfect. Wyatt exhibits a lyrical mastery of the oblique and the astute. Adopting rhythmic torch singing to compliment the languid “Alifib,” he’s stumped with absolute clarity as the morning heralds a “time to play at being human for a while” on “Sea Song.”

Throughout the CD a sense of jubilation seeps from the speakers. The audience and musicians are clearly happy to be at a Robert Wyatt concert again. From John Peel’s introductory wise cracks about the VIP bar being locked, through to Wyatt’s promise not to embarrass the audience into shouting for an encore, it sounds like the evening was a blast. Fittingly, this is followed by a most maniacal rendition of Neil Diamond’s “I’m a Believer.” It’s no stretch, then, to say that Theatre Royal Drury Lane sits in the company of other live albums from the same period. It’s up there with the best.

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