The Canterbury Scene remembered

Earlier this month, Daevid Allen died at the age of 77. Even though (to my surprise) he got an obituary in the New York Times, his name will not have been widely known among Americans.

He was an Australian Beat poet, latter-day minstrel and co-founder of Soft Machine and Gong. Upon his arrival in England in the mid-60s, he helped give birth to what would later become known as the Canterbury Scene.

For centuries, Canterbury was known as a place of pilgrimage in South East England, but during the late ’60s and early ’70s the name began to signal something else: a new musical culture.

Like many forms of creativity this didn’t fit neatly inside a ready-made niche.

In the era of record stores, albums had to be racked somewhere and the Canterbury groups would usually get shoved under Progressive Rock, but what they really represented was a meeting place between rock, jazz, classical, avant-garde, and what had yet to be dubbed World music.

But the Canterbury Scene couldn’t exactly be defined in stylistic terms. It was more of a tribe of musicians engaged in fluid collaborations, forming bands which had a habit of gaining their widest recognition after they had already dissolved.

Inventive, dense, complex, eccentric, lyrical, classical, experimental, psychedelic, romantic — the Canterbury sound had all these qualities. And the musicians creating this sound tended to express a particular constellation of English values: non-conformist, whimsical, innovative and yet unpretentious.

For readers here who find my choices of music and even the fact that I post any music, strange, the Canterbury Scene is part of the explanation why — which is to say, while as a teenager my friends were listening to Led Zepplin, The Who, and Deep Purple, I was engrossed with the offbeat creations of the likes of Matching Mole, Gong, and Hatfield and the North.

Here, and for the next few days, is an introduction to the Canterbury scene and the music which — at least to my ear — remains as original and inspiring now as it was when it was recorded over 40 years ago.

Egg — ‘Enneagram’ (from The Civil Surface, 1974)

Gong – ‘Love is How U Make It’ (from Angel’s Egg, 1973)

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