Matching Mole

TrackAlbum
O CarolineMatching Mole
Part Of The DanceMatching Mole
Dedicated To Hugh, But You Weren't ListeningMatching Mole
Instant KittenMatching Mole
MarchidesLittle Red Record
Nan True's HoleLittle Red Record
Gloria GloomLittle Red Record
Lything & GracingSmoke Signals
No 'Alf MeasuresOn The Radio
Brandy As In BenjOn The Radio

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Contributor: Ian Ashleigh

When Robert Wyatt left Soft Machine in 1971, he named his new band after his old one. Matching Mole is a pun on the French for Soft Machine: Machine Molle. This must have caused confusion for French audiences when Matching Mole supported Soft Machine on a European tour.

Part of the early 1970s Canterbury scene, Wyatt played drums and provided vocals. He recruited David Sinclair of Caravan to play keyboards along with guitarist Phil Miller (formerly of Delivery) and Quiet Sun bassist Bill MacCormick. They made two albums, both released in 1972, the latter featuring Dave MacRae on keyboards in place of Sinclair. Phil Miller soon left to join Hatfield and the North.

On 1st June 1973, Wyatt fell from a window of a 4th floor flat in Maida Vale in west London and was paralysed from the waist down. He had been planning on recording a third album that year, with Curved Air’s Francis Monkman on keyboards and saxophone player Gary Windo, but due to his accident this never came to pass.

Those first two records, however, are outstanding examples of what was great about much of the Canterbury scene of the time – superb, challenging musicianship coupled with a quirky sense of humour – and in the case of Matching Mole’s second record, a bit of political commentary as well. Wyatt’s distinctive vocals complete the picture. The first album was written by Wyatt, on the second the band shared writing credits.

Both albums flow as a single piece of music making it tricky to isolate 10 tracks. Additionally, I have a live album Smoke Signals and a compilation from BBC recordings On the Radio which have contributed alternatives to the two studio albums.

O Caroline opens the eponymous first album, co-written by Robert Wyatt and David Sinclair it is a love letter to Caroline Coon, Wyatt’s girlfriend after he had split with his first wife. Part Of The Dance takes you on a strange musical journey in true prog-rock style with a recurrent simple eight note motif.

The other two selections from the first album are the least accessible but show the experimental direction Wyatt was taking. Dedicated To Hugh, But You Weren’t Listening is a reference to Hugh Hopper’s Soft Machine composition, Dedicated To You, But You Weren’t Listening, a play on the homophones when both titles are pronounced in English, something that is not so obvious to a foreign tongue. Instant Kitten has all sorts of strange effects, listen with an open mind (that’s not meant to be a euphemism).

Little Red Record continues Matching Mole’s evolution with the rest of the band, rather than Wyatt, contributing the music. The album title is a reference to Chairman Mao’s Little Red Book. Marchides meanders but somehow makes sense. Nan True’s Hole, according to Wyatt, was “the name of a house that a friend owned in Sussex. It is thought the origin of the name is that it was the home or hovel of a woman with special powers, perhaps, who lived on her own, called Nan True, who was perhaps a fortune teller, a witch of sorts who lived in this house. My friend had inherited this house and I just thought, this name is too good to waste on a house! Phil Miller agreed, and it turned into a piece of music.” The salacious female voice belongs to Julie Christie under the pseudonym of Ruby Crystal. There is a fine live version (without the vocal) on Smoke Signals. Gloria Gloom was Julie Christie’s nickname for Wyatt’s future wife Alfie which Bill MacCormick set to music.

Lything & Gracing, which appears on Little Red Record as Righteous Rhumba, can be found on the live collection Smoke Signals released in 2001.

Finally, two selections from On The Radio, a compilation of BBC sessions and In Concert performances. No ‘Alf Measures is a Kevin Ayers composition recorded for a John Peel session and Brandy As In Benj is from a Radio 1 In Concert recording, Benj being Benj Lefevre, one of the band’s roadies, who later worked with Led Zeppelin.

Robert Wyatt has had a successful solo career since his accident. Famously, he was prevented from performing his hit single I’m A Believer on Top Of The Pops because his wheelchair was not considered family viewing. Wyatt got his way and the footage is available on YouTube.

It is conjecture what the addition of a saxophone would have done for the Matching Mole sound and sadly we will never know.

 

Phil Miller (1949-2017)

 

The (almost) Authorised Robert Wyatt Website

The Robert Wyatt Story (BBC 4, 2001) on YouTube

Matching Mole biography (iTunes)

TopperPost #405

1 Comment

  1. Keith Shackleton
    Jan 30, 2015

    Nice one. Never really listened to MM until I read Marcus O’Dair’s brilliant Wyatt biography Different Every Time, which is highly recommended.

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