Canterbury scene

The Canterbury scene (or Canterbury Sound) was a musical scene centered around the city of Canterbury, Kent, England during the late 1960s and early 1970s.[1] Associated with progressive rock,[2] the term describes a loosely-defined, improvisationional style which blended elements of jazz, rock, and psychedelia.[1]

These musicians played together in numerous bands, with ever-changing and overlapping personnel, creating some similarities in their musical output. Many prominent British avant-garde or fusion musicians began their career in Canterbury bands, including Hugh Hopper, Steve Hillage, Dave Stewart (the keyboardist), Robert Wyatt, Kevin Ayers, Daevid Allen, and Mike Ratledge.[3][4] Over the years, with outside musicians joining Canterbury bands, and new bands all over the world adopting a 'Canterbury sound', the term has come to describe the musical style rather than a regional group of musicians.


The Canterbury scene is largely defined by a set of musicians and bands with intertwined members. These are not tied by very strong musical similarities, but a certain whimsicality, touches of psychedelia, rather abstruse lyrics, and a use of improvisation derived from jazz are common elements in their work.[3] “The real essence of 'Canterbury Sound' is the tension between complicated harmonies, extended improvisations, and the sincere desire to write catchy pop songs.” “In the very best Canterbury music...the musically silly and the musically serious are juxtaposed in an amusing and endearing way.” [5]

There is variation within the scene, for example from pop/rock like early Soft Machine and much Caravan to avant-garde composed pieces as with early National Health to improvised jazz as with later Soft Machine or In Cahoots. Didier Malherbe (of Gong) has defined the scene as having "certain chord changes, in particular the use of minor second chords, certain harmonic combinations, and a great clarity in the aesthetics, and a way of improvising that is very different from what is done in jazz."[6]

There is debate about the existence and definition of the scene. Dave Stewart has complained at the nomenclature as he and many other musicians identified with the Canterbury scene never had anything to do with Canterbury, the place. The former Soft Machine bassist Hugh Hopper, who lived in Whitstable, near Canterbury, said: "I think it's a rather artificial label, a journalistic thing... I don't mind it, but people like Robert [Wyatt], he in fact hates that idea, because he was born somewhere else and just happened to go to school here. In the time when the Wilde Flowers started we hardly ever worked in Canterbury. It wasn't until Robert and Daevid [Allen] went to London to start Soft Machine that anything happened at all. They weren't really a Canterbury band [...] if it helps people understand or listen to more music then it is fine." [6]

Hopper's family, however, lived in the city and the Wilde Flowers did play many of their early gigs in Canterbury, notably at the Beehive Club, in Dover Street, and the city's various colleges. It was at a Students Union-organised event at Canterbury Technical College that Soft Machine gigged with Pink Floyd – twice, before and after Floyd were signed to a record deal, and it was in a house in Whitstable (within the Canterbury City Council area) that Caravan went into rehearsal for some months before moving to London and a recording contract.


The scene had one main root in the Wilde Flowers, a band formed in 1964 which at various times was home to most of the founding musicians of both Soft Machine and Caravan, which in turn provided the musicians for several later bands. The genesis of the 'Canterbury Sound' may, in part, be traced back to 1960, when 22-year-old Australian beatnik Daevid Allen lodged at 15-year-old Robert Wyatt's parents' guest-house in Lydden, ten miles to the south of Canterbury. Allen brought with him an extensive collection of jazz records, a different lifestyle, and the jazz drummer George Niedorf who later taught Wyatt the drums. In 1963, Wyatt, Allen and Hugh Hopper formed the Daevid Allen Trio (in London) which metamorphosised into the Wilde Flowers the following year 1964 when Allen left for France. Wyatt, Allen, Kevin Ayers (from the Wilde Flowers) and Mike Ratledge (who had played on occasion with the Daevid Allen Trio) formed Soft Machine two years later in 1966.

The Wilde Flowers survived, however, led by Pye Hastings – often joined by his brother Jimmy Hastings who guested with the Wilde Flowers and Caravan when not busy with his other, jazz, engagements. From this second Wilde Flowers incarnation was born the band Caravan with an initial line up of Pye Hastings (vocals, lead guitar), Richard Sinclair (bass), Dave Sinclair (keyboards) and Richard Coughlan (drums). Although enjoying success in the UK, holding their own with respectable album sales, they really came into their own in mainland Europe, particularly France, the Netherlands and Germany, where they achieved star status in the 1970s and played some of those countries' largest and most prestigious venues. They went quiet during the 1980s, but Caravan reappeared, still led by Hastings, in the 1990s and were gigging into the 2000s, at home and abroad, including in the US.

Other key early bands were Delivery and Egg, whose members blended into the Canterbury scene in the early 1970s. For example, guitarist Phil Miller of Delivery went on to found Matching Mole with Robert Wyatt, and Hatfield and the North with keyboardist Dave Stewart of Egg. Both were later in National Health while guitarist Steve Hillage, who dropped out of a degree course at the University of Kent at Canterbury, had worked with the members of Egg in a previous band, Uriel (recorded as Arzachel), and was later in Gong with Daevid Allen.

The Canterbury scene is known for having a set of musicians who often rotated into different Canterbury bands. Bassist/vocalist Richard Sinclair, for example, was at different points of his career, in the Wilde Flowers, Camel, Caravan, Hatfield and the North and, briefly, Gilgamesh; he also worked with National Health. His cousin keyboardist Dave Sinclair was in Caravan, Camel, Matching Mole and, briefly, Hatfield and the North. Drummer/vocalist Robert Wyatt was a member of the Wilde Flowers, Soft Machine, Matching Mole, and also did work as a solo artist. The late drummer Pip Pyle was in Delivery, Gong, Hatfield and the North, National Health, Soft Heap and In Cahoots. Bassist Hugh Hopper was in Soft Machine, Isotope, Soft Heap, In Cahoots and, with Pyle and Allen, Brainville, as well as doing numerous of his own group and solo projects and working with non-Canterbury bands. Multi-instrumentalist Mike Oldfield started his professional career in bassist/guitarist/vocalist Kevin Ayers' band 'The Whole World' in 1970 as the bassist and lead guitarist; some musicians of the Canterbury scene contributed to Oldfield's mid-1970s solo output, such as bassoon and oboe player Lindsay Cooper (on Hergest Ridge) and guitarist Steve Hillage, keyboardist Mike Ratledge and multi-instrumentalist Fred Frith (in a 1974 BBC live performance of extracts from Tubular Bells).

Other individuals peripheral to the scene but with connections include Bill Bruford (ex-Yes, briefly drummed in Gong and National Health and employed Dave Stewart in his late 1970s band, Bruford), guitarist Allan Holdsworth (who worked with Soft Machine, Gong in their jazz rock period, and the band, Bruford, which played a style of jazz fusion heavily influenced by Canterbury scene artists) and guitarist Andy Summers (who was briefly a member of Soft Machine, and also worked separately with Kevin Ayers). Poet, painter, singer Lady June has been regarded an "honorary member" of the Canterbury scene for having performed and recorded with some of the members, and being a "landlady" to many in her flat in Maida Vale, London.[7][8]


A set of four CDs of archival recordings from the early Canterbury scene (1962-1972), entitled Canterburied Sounds, Vol.s 1-4 was released by Brian Hopper on Voiceprint Records in 1998. A film about the Canterbury scene, entitled Romantic Warriors III: Canterbury Tales was released by Zeitgeist Media in 2015.


  1. "Canterbury Scene - About". AllMusic. Retrieved 24 November 2019.
  2. O'Dair, Marcus (2015). Different Every Time: The Authorized Biography of Robert Wyatt. Counterpoint LLC. p. 99. ISBN 978-1-61902-676-6.
  3. "Canterbury Scene". AllMusic. Retrieved 2 January 2018.
  4. Canterbury Scene definition. Available at
  5. RareVinylNetwork. Article entitled “The Canterbury Scene”. Available at: "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2006-12-29. Retrieved 2006-10-18.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  6. What is Canterbury music? at Calyx, a website about the Canterbury scene. Available at:
  7. Unterberger, Richie. "Lady June's Linguistic Leprosy". AllMusic. Retrieved 21 May 2012.
  8. Salewicz, Chris (11 June 1999). "Obituary: Lady June". The Independent. Retrieved 21 May 2012.
This article is issued from Wikipedia. The text is licensed under Creative Commons - Attribution - Sharealike. Additional terms may apply for the media files.