Sunken Treasure: Robert Wyatt’s ‘Shleep’ – an artist in full bloom

Wyatt’ singular dedication to his craft and unwavering commitment to change marked him out as a true artist

Robert Wyatt’s release of Shleep in 1985 came after a six-year recording hiatus and represents the beginning of the third and final phase of his career

Robert Wyatt’s release of Shleep in 1985 came after a six-year recording hiatus and represents the beginning of the third and final phase of his career

 

Robert Wyatt’s announcement that he was ceasing to make music in 2014 was delivered without fanfare and with no little amount of humility. In keeping with the honesty of his artistic endeavours across four decades, it was an understated and dignified exit. His singular dedication to his craft and unwavering commitment to change marked him out as a true artist. It was no surprise that he spared us the bells and whistles at the end.

His adventure into sound began with a dive in at the deep end with Kevin Ayers and Soft Machine in 1966. A flurry of activity characterised the first phase of his career. In between the third and fourth albums with the band, he released his first solo record in 1970. Next came two records as Matching Mole where he hit a rich vein of form. He was a multi-instrumentalist with an unflinching feel for the experimental but his uncanny way with words combined with the quaver in his voice bestowed a kind of innocence and tenderness on even the most challenging material. It always felt personal and never oblique.

Tragedy struck as he was about to record a third Matching Mole record in 1973, when he was paralysed from the waist down after a fall from a fourth floor window of a flat in Maida Vale. He credits the fall with saving his life which by then had begun to spiral out of control. Far from hold him back, the accident spurred him on to all manner of significant creative evolutions and collaborations.

The release of Shleep in 1985 came after a six-year recording hiatus and represents the beginning of the third and final phase of his career. It’s the sound of an artist in full bloom. From the opening bars of the first tune, Heaps of Sheeps, a joie de vivre courses through the record. Brian Eno brings much to the table by accentuating the dreamlike character of the sound in keeping with the subconsciousness theme. It works a treat. Just like a dream.

Robert Wyatt was forever reaching for the higher ground and Shleep is a lofty peak.

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