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flag England - Full Moon 87 - 11/09/03

Reminiscences of Memories

In our June 2003 menu I wrote a review of the first album by Soft Works. There I claimed bassist Hugh Hopper's beautiful "Memories" once was recorded by Whitney Houston, though never released. I got an e-mail from the composer a few days later where he informed that the Whitney version in fact had been released, on an album by Bill Laswell's Material. The review was revised accordingly. Anyway, this triggered the idea of writing an article about the song. In the beginning here at Luna Kafe, it seemed very appropriate to write about Soft Machine's epic "Moon In June" in our first June menu. Now, why not write something about "Memories", too? After all it was originally written and performed by the same gang of people. It's a haunting little ballad with six verses at the most and no vocal chorus, recorded at least twelve times during four decades and performed live for at least one more. Also, it has nothing to do with the song by Andrew Lloyd Webber. The only trouble was to find a copy of the Material album. It wasn't the easiest task; eventually two copies dropped into my letterbox in a week! Let's go back in history to Britain of the pre-Lloyd Webber era:

The roots of the Canterbury scene are a band called The Wilde Flowers from around the main city of Kent in 1964. Five young jazz fans that started to play cover versions of the popular beat and pop songs of the time and the odd jazz number: Hugh Hopper (bass), his elder brother Brian (guitar, saxophone and vocals), Hugh's school mate Robert Wyatt (drums and vocals), Richard Sinclair (guitar and vocals) and Kevin Ayers (vocals).

Hugh: "Wilde Flowers came together when the Beatles were so big that we suddenly realised that it wasn't all rubbish - it wasn't all pap and pop. There was some brilliant music going."

We may add that Australian Daevid Allen at one point rented a room in the Wyatt residency outside Canterbury and collaborated a bit with Robert, Hugh and friends, whereas Mike Ratledge performed classical pieces at school and made experiments with Brian and Robert. Here lie the origins of bands such as Soft Machine, Matching Mole, Caravan, Gong, Kevin Ayers' Whole World, Hatfield & The North etc.

According to Robert: "We were never very good. We didn't get work because we were too far out, just because we were bad. However, Kevin and Hugh very early on did start writing what I thought were really good pop songs and it was because of that we did ultimately start doing their stuff. Our friends thought we were mad. They were all jazz fans."

One of Hugh's early songs was "Memories". Hugh: "Well, it was about the second song I ever wrote, around the end of 1964. We recorded it first at a small studio near Canterbury, which belonged to a Dutch guitarist, Wout Steenhuis, who escaped to the UK in the war, I think. He played Hawaiian guitar on BBC TV and was very cool. We did an instrumental version there and then."

Robert recalls: "We hadn't a clue how to translate our stuff to tape." Somehow Wout managed and the instrumental version of "Memories" recorded on 16th March 1965 indicates that Robert exaggerates to some extent. It's a bit crude, too fast and clumsy, perhaps, but a melancholy longing, characteristic to later versions, is already there. Most noteworthy is a beat-break in the spirit of the times that was later abandoned. A fine piece of early 60s guitar-instrumental-ballad, if ever there was one. The Wilde Flowers was ready to jump on the bandwagon!

The Wilde Flowers The Flowers recorded the song for the second time in Wout's studio the following month. This version has never been released and I don't know if Hugh had added the lyrics before or after this session. Apparently he didn't write all the verses initially. It's strange to know that at least some parts were written by a 16 or 17 year old boy. Equipped with a demo of songs from the Steenhuis' recordings, the band put together a set of cover versions and originals that secured some gigs in the Canterbury area. According to Brian, "Memories" was always a favourite, especially with the ladies. When the Flowers entered Wout Steenhuis' studio a year later and recorded the song for the third time, Kevin and Richard had left the group. Richard Coughlan had taken over the drumsticks, whereas Robert had moved up front as the main vocalist. The song is a little slower and Robert's voice is packed with emotions and despair. It still has traces of the guitar break, now transformed into a short guitar solo. Robert only sings the first two and fourth verses and the grief only lasts about one and a half minutes including Brian's solo.

I know I cannot leave this place
full of memories
Things like the way they knew us
all over town

During the summer of 1966 Robert Wyatt left The Wilde Flowers and Canterbury. The Flowers struggled on and eventually evolved into Caravan. Robert went to London with his drum set and joined his old mates Daevid Allen (guitar), Kevin Ayers (bass) and Mike Ratledge (organ) in the band soon to be known as Soft Machine. They soon became the backbone of the English psychedelic underground scene along with the early Pink Floyd. Apart from long instrumental ramblings, the Soft Machine needed shorter pop songs to record, and they turned to the Wilde Flowers' back catalogue.

After the first single "Love Makes Sweet Music" (February 1967) the band teamed up with producer Giorgio Gomelsky in April for a demo session. (Giorgio was a well known character in musical circles of the 60s and 70s; his club The CrawDaddy was an important kick-start for the embryonic Rolling Stones and a little later he was manager of the Yardbirds.) After three days Gomelsky stopped the recordings because the Soft management didn't pay the studio costs. These were mere demos and to some extent still sound like demos. The nine songs, three penned by Hugh Hopper, have been released several times, as Rock Generation, At The Beginning, Jet Propelled Photographs, ... The version of "Memories" is slower and almost twice as long as the last Wilde Flowers recording. Robert sings verses 1-2 and 4-5, more relaxed than last time. They manage to squeeze in one guitar and two organ solos, none of them with the characteristic fuzzbox. To prove this is a demo recording, it seems Daevid misses a note towards the end of his solo. All in all, "Memories" is one of the better songs of the album. Most of the songs are much neater and more laid-back than could be expected from a gang like this, at a time like this. Unfortunately Daevid was not permitted to re-enter Britain after some gigs in France, some trouble with his papers, and we never got to experience the real recording potential of this very interesting line-up. Instead he settled in France and put together his Gong collective.

We used to walk the streets together
We could be seen
Past shops where people knew us
Yeah, people knew

Soft Machine continued as a trio. After two chaotic and exhausting tours of North America with the Jimi Hendrix Experience in 1968, Kevin Ayers called it a day and quit. Meanwhile Hugh Hopper had quit The Wilde Flowers in June 1967. He was the Soft Machine roadie of the tours. By Christmas 1968 he had joined as the new bassist of the band. Soon after they started to gig and record the second Soft Machine album (Volume Two). By August 1969 Hugh wanted to record some of his early songs for publishing purposes. He brought along his colleagues of Soft Machine as well as brother Brian, Pye Hastings (of Caravan) and Kevin Ayers in the studio. "Memories" (surprise-surprise!) was one of the songs that was given a treat.

Soft Machine Hugh: "My favourite is the 1969 version we did as a demo for the publisher, Mike Ratledge, Robert Wyatt and me."

Only the three of them participate on this particular track (aka the Soft Machine line-up of the time) and a great version it is! Nice relaxed/resigned vocals by Robert (verses 3 and 5 are missing), driven forward by Mike Ratledge's piano. The highlight though, is the instrumental parts in between. The interplay between Hugh's acoustic guitar and Mike's swirling organ (still no fuzz it seems) is exquisite!

After Third (see the Moon In June story) Soft Machine continued as an instrumental jazz-rock-band with more emphasis on the jazz as time went by. Robert - or more correctly was forced out of the band - in August 1971. Earlier in the year, he had turned up at a session for Daevid Allen's first proper solo album Banana Moon. Daevid had dug a few oldies out of the closet, including "Memories", "a classic whistfilled song of early days in Canterbury", according to Daevid's sleeve-notes. Robert dominates the recording. Apart from the vocal efforts, his cymbals and wah-wah-guitar (!) seems to be all over the song, only overshadowed by a couple of piano breaks, from a smoke-filled bar. It's probably the most original and spontaneous version with vocals of the lot. Robert sings verses 1-3 and 6, that seem to be the British standard from now on. He wrote the third verse himself, probably for the occasion.

I've got to choose between tomorrow
and yesterday
I can't stop to think about
my life, here today

Towards the end of 1971 , Robert had formed a new band, Matching Mole, that sort of developed in the direction of an instrumental jazz-rock-band, too, but included Robert's vocals as well. In 2012 Esoteric Recordings relaunched the two Matching Mole albums with several bonus tracks. The first self titled one included several sessions for that album, some of them loose improvisations. On 29th December 1971 the band recorded a more than 11 minutes instrumental, here called "Memories Membrane", in a cold CBS London studio that was about to be demolished. It starts as an outtake of "Memories", not unlike the Soft Machine version two years earlier, dominated by dynamic organ and guitar. The vocals are missing, but you might sing along yourself if you please. About three and a half minutes into the recording, it changes and continues more freer. By around 9 or 10 minutes there is nothing left that reminds of "Memories". Somehow the composition/improvisation is credited to Robert Wyatt and not Hugh Hopper in the album's liner notes.

Robert was about to reform the Mole when he fell out of a window at a party on June 1st 1973 and was paralysed from the waist down. When he got out of hospital, he recorded his second solo album, the classic Rock Bottom. It was soon followed by his first single in a series of cover versions: "I'm A Believer"/"Memories". Whereas the Monkees' song on the A-side was a kind of hit and statement from the man in the wheelchair performing at Top of the Pops, the B-side make the greatest effect in the long run. Another exquisite performance with Robert playing piano and keyboards, Richard Sinclair on more jazzy (and fretless?) bass than usual (compared to earlier recordings of the song) and Fred Frith of Henry Cow playing sore and longing violin. Beautiful!

Drury Lane Theatre Two days after the single was released, the soon to be multimillionaire Richard Branson of Virgin Records put together a concert with Robert and friends at the Drury Lane Theatre in London. First he phoned the other musicians and told Robert wanted them to perform. Afterwards he phoned a reluctant Robert and said all the other musicians were keen to do it. The band included Hugh, Fred Frith, Dave Stewart, Mike Oldfield, Nick Mason, Julie Tippett and a few more. As far as I know, this is the last time "Memories" was performed in public by any of the original Wilde Flowers for more than 20 years. A careful version dominated by Fred's fiddle and the electric piano of Dave Stewart (of Hatfield & The North fame, not Eurythmics). After some decades of bootleg recordings of the concert with so-so sound quality, the gig was finally officially released on CD with far better sound in the autumn of 2005. Well worth the wait!

Memories can hang you up and haunt you
all your life, you know
Get so you cannot stay
and yet cannot go

Time for a new decade, eventually, and an Atlantic crossing. Daevid Allen went to America and formed New York Gong around 1979. When he left, the rest of the band continued as Material with a metropolitan blend of funk, punk, disco, jazz, avant garde; you name it. At the time the album One Down was recorded in 1982/83, Material had been reduced to bassist Bill Laswell and a gang of friends and session musicians. Fred Frith had participated on earlier Material recordings. He's only present on one song here, not "Memories". Hugh explains: "Fred Frith played on Robert Wyatt's version (the B-side of his "I'm A Believer") and introduced the song to Bill Laswell who then got Whitney Houston to sing. WH copied the vocal phrasing straight off Robert's version. She was unknown at that time."

Of course the song is transformed into a soulfilled American ballad. I was sceptical at first, but really enjoy the vocal performance of the unknown lady. She's the only one to sing all six verses, the fourth even twice! Great trickling keyboard playing that seems inspired by Wyatt's to some extent and Bill Laswell puts his stamp on the song, too, though not as hard as usual. The only problem is notable jazz saxophonist Archie Shepp's contribution. His night-club tenor reminds me of some American comedy-series (The Cosby Show or something) and ruins the song for me. If Whitney had recorded the song a few years later, Hugh would probably be a rich man.

Let's move back to Europe. A couple of months after publishing this article I got an e-mail from Costas in Greece who informed of yet another version of our song. The French avant-garde musician Pascal Comelade included several cover versions on his 1987 album El Primitivismo. Among the Nino Rota number "Amarcord" from the fabulous Fellini film of the same name, Chuck Berry's "Sweet Little Sixteen", two versions of Robert Wyatt's "O Caroline", we find an instrumental "Memories" and several other playful melodies. Apart from being instrumental, it has little in common with the Wilde Flowers' first attempt. Pascal Comelade, once a member of Toy Limited Orchestra, is known for playing toy and self-made instruments. And yes, here's a melodica that sounds like a kazoo played by a smurf, a toy piano, strange sounds from instruments unknown to me, avant-garde fiddle playing etc. All in all the song is dominated by a nightclub piano slightly and nicely out of tune. It sounds strangely melancholic, as does that annoying kazoo. The feeling is even increased by a sad clarinet (?) and some violin playing that sounds similar to Fred Frith's effort on Robert Wyatt's single 13 years earlier. This 4 minutes and 32 seconds effort is easily the strangest of this lot and well worth checking out if you're in for a fistful of eccentricity. I guess Robert Wyatt acknowledged the effort, too. At least he participated on Pascal's mini-album September Song several years later.

I could find out where (s)he's gone
Today I feel so unhappy
Streets seem so empty now
I want you with me

On to the 90s. Our quite frequent guests here at Luna Kafé Damon and Naomi, included the song on their debut album More Sad Hits. An acoustic and a tremolo guitar, Naomi Yang's high-pitched angel-like vocals and a fun-fair-sounding organ add new dimensions to the song. It seems the duo, augmented by producer Kramer, picked up the first version by Soft Machine of the song. At least they follow the same pattern of verses and solos.

Hugh: "When I was in Japan with Kramer in 1995 Damon and Naomi were also on the tour and I guested on bass on one number with them - guess which one...? I also played it unplugged on acoustic guitar with them at a CD-signing session in Tokyo's Disk Union record shop. I had to get Damon to remind me what the chords were. It was also the first time for years that I had played acoustic guitar in public..."

In 1996 the German trio Rainbirds released an album called Making Memory. With such a title they obviously needed to include one cover version. "Memories" concludes a great mature pop album (in the best sense, meaning no boring AOR). Katharina Franck's vocals are relaxed, almost laid-back, yet has a bitter nerve that reflect the lyrics in a way Whitney Houston never achieved. The voice is accompanied by a quiet piano, sparse organ and even sparser percussion. To finish the hard facts: the song lasts two minutes and forty seconds and includes the four verses of the British standard and the first one halfway repeated. It's the most naked and maybe most sincere version. And it's not even the best song of the album. Katharina's voice has a touch of Lotte Leyna's and Dagmar Krause's. Can a German band with female vocals offer anything better?

Maybe I'll find someone to get you
off my mind
Take me away from here
and leave it, leave it all behind

The last version of the song to my knowledge is on a tribute album to Robert Wyatt called The Different You with a host of mainly Italian artists, I guess. "Memories" is performed by In Circolo in collaboration with Mira Spinosa. The four standard British verses are sung with both female and male voice simultaneously, and doesn't reflect the lyrics in a very good way. Also, it is marred by a distorted electric piano solo. Pity, the guitar work throughout the song is excellent, especially some arpeggio notes towards the end similar to Bill Laswells' bass playing on the Material version. And the compilation as such is highly entertaining with lots of nice versions of Robert Wyatt songs, even a new one sung by Wyatt himself in Italian.

Was that it, you may well ask; only a history lesson? Not quite. When Daevid Allen visited Oslo last autumn with his University Of Errors he pulled some of the old songs from his Soft Machine heydays out of the hat, including a raw and punky (can you imagine?) version of "Memories". Soon Cuneiform Records will release a new University album called Jet Propelled Photographs (yes, the same title as of the old Soft Machine demos!) with a remake of Soft Machine's early songs. I guess "Memories" will be among them. Our Norwegian friends of The Smell Of Incense also play the song from time to time. I had almost forgotten until they introduced a song that even had been sung by Whitney Houston at an outdoor party/mini festival last summer by a small house in the woods somewhere in southern Norway. Despite the introduction, their version is closer to some of the Soft Flowers' recordings rather than the American one. It was a lovely July evening and the full moon was rising above the trees ... So here we are; the song is still alive and everything fits together, even here at Luna Kafe! Now I'm only awaiting our "Memories" to be sung by Elaine Page.

Hugh stayed on in Soft Machine until 1973. Since then he's recorded several solo and duo albums and been involved in numerous groups and projects. The Calyx pages lists Stomu Yamash'ta (1973), Isotope (1973-74), Carla Bley Band (1976-77), Hopper Dean Tippett Gallivan (1976-77), Soft Head (1978), Soft Heap (1978), In Cahoots (1984-88), HH FrangloDutch Band (1985-), Patrice Meyer Trio/Quartet (1985-86), Anaïd (1988-90), Pip Pyle's Equip'Out (1984-88), Short Wave (1991-96), Mashu (1994-98), Gizmo (1996). His current bands include Hugh Hopper Band, Hughscore and Soft Works. As far as I know, the mentioned are mainly dealing with instrumental jazz or jazz-rock, with Hughscore as a vocal exception. From time to time he's teamed up with his old schoolmate Robert Wyatt and written some beautiful melodies for him. Check for instance the communist hymn (sort of) "Amber And The Amberines" of the mid 80s and the spine-shivering "Was A Friend" on Shleep. Hugh is not present on Robert's latest offering Cuckooland, but the Cuneiform compilation Solar Flares Burn For You released earlier this autumn includes two songs "Blimey O'Riley" and "'Twas Brillig" written and recorded by the two last winter.

Check out the Calyx pages for information on almost anything to do with the Canterbury scene.

    Memories discography:
  • Wilde Flowers instrumental version (recorded March 1965) on The Wilde Flowers Story (Voiceprint 1994)
  • Wilde Flowers second version (recorded April 1965), never released
  • Wilde Flowers vocal version (recorded spring 1966) on The Wilde Flowers Story (Voiceprint 1994)
  • Soft Machine demo version (recorded April 1967) originally released on Rock Generation 7 or Rock Generation 8 (one side each, Byg 1971, don't know which number "Memories" is on), later called Soft Machine, At The Beginning, Jet Propelled Photographs, ...
  • Soft Machine publishing version (recorded August 1969) on The Wilde Flowers Story (Voiceprint 1994)
  • Daevid Allen version (recorded January 1971) on Banana Moon (Byg 1971)
  • Matching Mole version/jam session "Memories Membrane" (recorded December 1971) on Matching Mole (expanded 2 CD version, Esoteric Recordings 2012)
  • Robert Wyatt studio version (recorded August 1974), B-side of "I'm A Believer" (Virgin 1974), also on a 12" EP of his first two singles (Virgin 1984) and EPs (a box of 5 CD-EPs, Hannibal/Rykodisc 1999)
  • Robert Wyatt live version (recorded 8. September 1974) on Robert Wyatt & Friends, Theatre Royal Drury Lane (Hannibal/Rykodisc 2005)
  • Material version (recorded in 1982 or 1983) on One Down (Charly 1983), also on The Best of Material (Varese 2001)
  • Pascal Comelade version (recorded in 1986 or 1987) on El Primitivismo (Disques du Soleil et de l'Acie 1987)
  • Damon and Naomi version (recorded summer 1992) on More Sad Hits (Shimmy Discs 1992)
  • Rainbirds version (recorded autumn 1995) on Making Memory (Our Choice, a division of German Rough Trade, 1996)
  • In Circolo/Mira Spinosa version (recorded 1998) on The Different You - Robert Wyatt Et Noi (Mercury 1998)

    Sources:
  • The Booklet of the first edition of The Wilde Flowers Story - Brian's Tale (Voiceprint 1994)
  • Quotations of Hugh from Facelift magazine no. 5 and e-mails from the man
  • Quotations of Robert, Wilde Flowers picture and facts from Wrong Movements - A Robert Wyatt Story by Michael King (SAF Publishing 1994)
  • Also album sleeves, the Calyx homepage (where the lyrics are taken from), Soft Machinery family tree by Pete Frame, a huge Japanese Canterbury family tree, ...

Thanks to Hugh, Costas Stergiou and Hans Voigt for their time, contributions and fill-ins!!!

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