Cuckooland Revisited

Gulbenkian Theatre, University of Kent, Canterbury. 8th May 2014. Presented as part of the Sounds New Festival.

















The strange made stranger. I had forgotten just how oblique Cuckooland is…full of musical elisions, sliding voices, uncertain territory. Last night there was no one to play that melancholy cornet that comes up all over the place on the original album but it appeared anyway…almost behind us. Drifting out from speakers. Who is the ‘author’ of this piece? Robert Wyatt who composed and recorded Cuckooland? Matt Wright who is credited with ‘Concept and electronics’? Tony Hymas who made the string arrangements? Maybe it doesn’t matter…an oblique collaboration…sometimes it seemed that Elaine Mitchener was using her voice to rebuild the music from scratch in front of our eyes, in front of our ears. Then the Brodsky Quartet would take over in full chamber music mode. So the foreground kept switching from word to sound and the music floated around – at one moment eccentric café song (Mitchener channeling Les Double Six) then political poems full of quiet rage and next meandering, even tentative, jazz noises. This reminded me of how singular Wyatt’s practice is. Whenever it is performed live it is by other voices, other musicians. The records are just that…records of one version while the songs and in this case the multitracks leave their source behind. There is a generosity at work here that pays off in the richness of the life of this music. This is just one of a series of re-workings of Wyatt’s tunes…is this only made possible by his refusal to perform live? I am now listening to Cuckooland for the second time since the gig as if it were an album I had just bought. So ‘Cuckooland Revisited’ is two things at once….both a new piece of music and a bearer of the original, presented as a gift.

Brodsky Quartet, Mitchener, Wright.

Brodsky Quartet, Mitchener, Wright.

Elaine Mtchener

Elaine Mtchener

Daniel Rowland (?) Brodsky Quartet

Daniel Rowland (?) Brodsky Quartet

Brodsky Quartet

Elaine Mitchener – voice

Tony Hymas – string arrangements

Matt Wright – concept and electronics

Robert Wyatt – original recording

Jamie Johnson – engineer for original recordings



6 thoughts on “Cuckooland Revisited

  1. Pingback: Review: Cuckooland Revisited at Sounds New 2014 | Sounds New: the blog

  2. Lovely – makes me want to go and dig out the album. He was in the audience when Archie Shepp played Edinburgh. Wondered if he might join in for a tune but unfortunately didn’t happen. Did shake his hand though.

  3. I thought he might pitch up at Canterbury…but no. I saw Elaine Mitchener last night and asked her if there were plans for ‘Revisited’ to tour or, at least, come to London. She said that there was the will to do this but there was nothing definite in the pipeline. As part of the Sounds New Festival, Janek Schaefer made an installation based on Cuckooland which I sadly missed…you can look at his film of it here:

  4. Pingback: Sounds New Festival 2014 | MPA Research

  5. Brodsky Q and Elaine Mitchener perform Wyatt? why is this recording not available to me?

  6. That’s a good question….and why was that the only performance (as far as I know)? I feel that Radio 3 should have been on board for the recording….but, alas, were not…

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