Over an ocean away, like salmon…

Alfreda BengeI can occasionally be happily meandering along my own merry way. up, down and along whatever musical corridors I choose, be it 50s Cumbia, 70’s motoric or aggressively hip sounds from the pages of Pitchfork, when a song will stop me dead in my wanderings, courtesy of its beauty, cleverness or just plain majesty.

The fact that Robert Wyatt is often involved may not be a coincidence…



Maryan is the third track from Wyatt’s 1997 “Shleep” album, a truly wonderful record that includes contributions from Paul Weller, Brian Eno (of course), Phil Manzanera and Wyatt’s soul mate Alfreda Benge (whose beautiful illustrations adorn the covers of this and all his records).

The whole album is reportedly the result of a successful recovery from a debilitating period of insomnia, and whether or not this is true, the prevailing mood of Maryan and many of the other tracks is of soothing release, the welcome arrival of a sense of peace and satisfaction.

The song itself  is seductive, idyllic and simple, taking you on something of a journey, through which you are paddled along by the delicate, insistent guitar work of Belgian guitarist, Philip Catherine. The melody is Catherine’s own, “Nairan”, and features on his 1974 album “September Man”.


The lyrics are all Robert Wyatt, however, and typically so, blending elegant images with awkward ugly humour. It’s tempting to think that Maryan might be a real person, awaiting his arrival, but I suspect not, “Maryan” being just one letter away from making the reverse of Nairam. It could, of course, be simultaneously person, place and concept or even, as one earnest blogger would have it “simply a kind of atonal note set off in a harmonic context “. Wyatt is a famously (intimidatingly) intelligent man and I for one am not about to make (even more of) a fool of myself, attempting to pin down a beautiful lyric such as this.

The shining heart of the song, however, is Wyatt’s trembling, frail vocals. The song begins prettily enough with rolling acoustic bass and his own gorgeous, slightly clumsy trumpet, over which Philip Catherine’s guitar babbles sweetly. The thrill I get (“I get” – it can’t just be me, can it?) when I hear the opening lyrics, double-tracked and surprisingly assertive, is right up there with any other musical highpoint I can right now think of.

I could really go off on one about “Maryan”, as I think I have done in the past about “Sea Song” and “Free Will and Testament” (another Shleep track) but let’s just leave it at that. Even in my  fractured world of Psychedelia and Freakbeat, Cumbia and Chicha, Krautrock and Psychfest occasionally moments of quiet loveliness do occasionally intrude…

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