The Canterbury Scene: How A Bunch of Bookish Bohemians Became The Monty Pythons of Prog

Richard Bennett Zeff (Caravan), Gijsbert Hanekroot/Redferns (Kevin Ayers).

“In the late 60s, the quaint, historic hamlet of Canterbury birthed a scene defined by its breezy, jazz-influenced vibe, quirky lyrics, and refusal to take itself too seriously. At the end of the 60s, the quaint, historic hamlet of Canterbury became the unlikely breeding ground for an underground music scene defined by its willful weirdness and its refusal to take itself too seriously. In and around the town immortalized by Chaucer in the 14th century, dedicated nonconformists like Soft Machine, Caravan, and Hatfield and the North took mad scientist delight in breeding obscure mutations of jazz and rock templates while pulling the rug out from under people’s expectations. The Canterbury sound blossomed in the 70s as a good-humored variant on progressive rock. Where prog with a capital ‘P’ played out larger than life, the Canterbury scene was populated by singers who sounded like they’d be more at home in a P.G. Wodehouse novel than on an arena stage, and by songs built on subtle idiosyncrasies instead of grand gestures. For all their musical sophistication, the Canterbury bands developed a rep as rock’s answer to Monty Python. Song titles like Hatfield and the North’s ‘(Big) John Wayne Socks Psychology on the Jaw’ and Caravan’s ‘If I Could Do It All Again, I’d Do It All Over You’ were the norm, as were lyrics full of droll puns, absurdist imagery, and such decidedly non-rock’n’roll subjects as chatting up girls on golf courses (Caravan’s ‘Golf Girl’), and impressing women with clever chord choices (Hatfield and the North’s ‘Licks For the Ladies’). A distinctly English style, its closest U.S. equivalent might have been the next-level instrumental excursions and tongue-in-cheek sensibilities of Frank Zappa. The genesis of the scene sounds like the plot of the least commercial coming-of-age movie ever made: A group of budding bohemian teens attend the progressive Simon Langton School in the cathedral city of Canterbury, spend the first half of the 60s discovering jazz and the avant-garde music together, and gear up for their own offbeat musical adventures. The magnet for these mavericks-in-training was the 15-room Georgian manse belonging to young drummer/singer Robert Wyatt’s mom in Canterbury’s neighboring county of Lydden. Wyatt and his schoolmates then formed local rock/R&B band The Wilde Flowers in ‘64, who would become the root of the entire scene. …”
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