In 1973, with his band Matching Mole recently disbanded, Robert Wyatt found he had enough time on his hands to take part in a residency upstairs at Ronnie Scott’s, a space the club owner dedicated to artists moving off the beaten track in jazz and improvisation.
Wyatt was usually joined by his Matching Mole bandmate, keyboard player Dave MacRae, along with saxophonist Gary Windo and acoustic bassist Ron Mathewson. On this particular night, with Mathewson unavailable, Hatfield And The North’s Richard Sinclair dropped in with his bass guitar and a cassette recorder to capture a magical and unique musical encounter. In a grainy but eminently listenable recording, the one-off quartet race through a 48-minute long continuous suite of ideas, leapfrogging one another in quick succession. Beginning with a bluesy shuffle and Wyatt’s plaintive wah-wah voicings, they intuitively flow through rockish vamps, kwela-infused cat-and-mouse games, occasional atonal squalls and fleeting Matching Mole quotes. MacRae’s acoustic and electric piano coaxes rather than dominates the team, though in truth, it’s his supple chordings, dovetailed into Wyatt’s animated and energetic pace, which maintain the narrative tension. Vibrant yet relaxed, the fun all four players are clearly having here is tempered by the knowledge that less than seven weeks later, Wyatt would be paralysed, never to play kit drums again. Possession of this rare Canterbury-related gem is also made more poignant knowing that this tape’s restoration and appearance are down to audio engineer Mike King – Reel Recordings’ label boss and the first Wyatt biographer – who sadly took his own life earlier this year. King’s dedication to both preserving, documenting and issuing both the fringes of the British 60s and 70s jazz scene, as well as numerous archive Soft Machine releases over the years, was nothing short of miraculous. This corner of the music scene is immeasurably poorer for his loss.