Leftfield folk/jazz genius Robert Wyatt’s is back with a new album, The Ghosts Within. The legend explains all...
He has a huge soft spot for London’s Soho.
The ’50s was the best time. Everyone had to go and do National Service and the people who didn’t do it were disqualified on whatever grounds. All the oddballs used to hang around Soho. My missus, Alfie, and I went there recently to just hang around; it’s achingly nostalgic for me – full of ghosts. And I like ghosts.
His admiration of jazz musicians is undimmed.
Clint Eastwood said America has only made two serious contributions to world culture – one’s jazz and the other’s the western. I think westerns were done better by the Japanese, so that leaves jazz. Americans take it all for granted, but there’s something God-like about the jazz greats like John Coltrane and Charles Mingus.
As part of Soft Machine, he toured with Jimi Hendrix at his peak.
Jimi was absolutely lovely – very courteous and shy. We were just an apprentice band trooping around the States doing opening shows for a year in 1968. I was on a fixing of $200 a week, which wasn’t enough to go out much, so Mitch [Mitchell] and Noel [Redding] and Jimi would always add me on to their posse. It was an incredible privilege.
He wishes he could quit smoking.
I am desperate to give up and I’m very cross that I’m a smoker. My wife has an eye complaint which is exacerbated by smoking, and she can’t really give up unless I do. For a birthday present 10 years ago I said I’d give up so that she could, but a decade later we’re still puffing away. I do feel I’ve let her down there.
He’s ambivalent about the description of his music as ‘folk’.
My objection to the word ‘folk’ as it’s used is: it’s inevitably an Irish theme-pub thing, partly because England hasn’t really got any peasants. In the south of France, for example, there are people who carry on the paysan tradition; that’s why they hang on to their wines and cheeses. We had the industrial revolution so early and so thoroughly that rural England was almost completely destroyed.
His favourite book is the Shorter Oxford Dictionary.
Both volumes – it’s wonderful. I particularly like the etymological aspect. A surprising number of words are Malay in origin, for example.
His beard was an accident.
I did not grow a beard, I simply stopped shaving. It was not a statement. I make sure that I keep a hole cut for my mouth, but that’s about as far as maintaining it goes. I’ve got a lot of vanity, but it’s not in what I look like. It’s in my records.