Tuesday, 27 April 2021

Gig Archive: Robyn Hitchcock



At ‘The Derby College Of Higher Education’ 
Mickleover, Derby

‘Ev’ry eve’nin, put on my dish-workers suit…’ voice slurred, distorted, nudged out of shape, moved octaves-lower down into jazzy cadences. Hitchcock bends into the mic for a word-perfect run-through of “Yeh Yeh”. His neat little Roland synth masquerading as Hammond-organ, stitching in improvisationally around the exaggeratedly smooth vocals pouring down like silver. Then, as the last notes die in the unfocussed speakers, ‘is that alright?’
‘Great,’ from the sound-mixer, irreverently adding ‘that’s the best one of your songs that you do.’ A Hitchcock grin beneath the spray of black hair, a pout of his lower lip in mock-Jaggeresque petulance, ‘that’s Georgie Fame, 1964 – one of HIS hits. Another was “Sitting In The Park”...’
…and another was “In The Meantime”! I’m watching the Egyptians soundcheck from across the off-duty gymnasium that’s pretending to be an empty dancehall. Small high oblong windows slant spots of dusk light across the scuffed parquet floor. A couple of Student’s Union Entertainment Officials hang around to view the proceedings, their attention spinning between the stage and a girl with tight faded Levi’s, a full T-shirt, and long blonde hair. She purposefully ignores them out of existence. And I’m watching the stage with a grin that’s difficult to suppress. Soundchecks are supposed to be boring affairs of repetitions up and down the fret. But not with THIS band it ain’t! ‘What do you want us to do now?’ enquires Robyn helpfully. 

‘Oh, nothing in particular,’ from the sound-desk. Hitchcock runs a reflective blues line from his Fender, meandering this way and that, then tentatively sings ‘no – thing in par – ticular’ so it fits into the loose twelve-bar structure, tasting it for its line-length lyric quality. He repeats the guitar phrase, tagging ‘that’s what my Baby said to me, nothing in particular, that’s all she want from me’ onto it. The bass picks up on the chord progression and feeds gently in behind him a second before the keyboard begins developing and shaping the idea. Hitchcock’s now in full flood, pulling a matching middle-eight spontaneously from the air, before returning lethally to what’s now become the chorus, the band powering it to a mock-dramatic crescendo. ‘I sometimes swear… I sometimes swear they know EXACTLY what I’m gonna play before I do’ he sings, as they taper down in perfect unison to a classic Blues finish. A complete four-minute song created out of a throwaway phrase, then forgotten. 

No-one applauds. In the corner, by the disconnected Space Invader machine, a portable colour TV is tuned soundlessly to… I think… the Channel Four Rock Show ‘The Tube’. Moving masses of shapeless Heavy Metal hair, leather-bands of studs, bulging cod-pieces and Flying-V guitars held in phallic poses. A band like that’d strive a month hewing out leaden riffs of a song not half as crafted ‘n’ concise as the one Hitchcock-plus-Egyptians make up and trash on a whim and the spur of a moment… But even now Hitchcock is speaking in tongues. A recitation. He’s stood at the mic while they find his level, hands clasped in the Catholic attitude of prayer, reeling off this pious dramatic monologue heavily accented in pidgin Spanish, a young Catalan boy ees adrift at sea, wonders where hees Momma, where hees Poppa, the ocean swells, the clouds storm… then he hears the voices of Angels… and the Egyptians peal off a-cappella bell-tones around him as they’re mic’ed up. 

Robyn Hitchcock, the Soft Boy who fell to Earth. The man who would be Syd, the once and future Syd Barrett. Last of the great English psychedelic eccentrics. So far he’s playing it for laughs, but underlying it all – this is serious t’ing. Sometime sidekick Kimberley Rew long since WAVED goodbye to all things Soft, and is even now ‘Walking On Sunshine’ – with composer part-shares in the Bangles charting “Going Down To Liverpool”. While Robyn and remaindered ex-Softs Morris Windsor (drums) and Andy Metcalfe (keyboards) are receiving much critical respiration. Now they have ‘Fegmania’ (1985, Midnight Music CHIME 00.08D) to promote, their most perfectly realised album yet, and with the speakers focussed and the sound-levels levelled they GO for it! 

The escalating intro to “Egyptian Cream” – side one track one ‘Fegmania’, is bursting raw and vital, Hitchcock’s odd lyrics soaring into stoned surrealism from wigged-out Kafka and back via a well-wired edition of ‘Oz’. “Egyptian Cream” – is he singing about sperm, is it sex-change Cleopatra’s or miracle hair-restorer? ‘When they told her ‘you’re pregnant’ she threw up her hands, and thousands of fingers grew out of the sand.’ Draw your own conclusions! In his songs, everything is true – except the facts. He makes myth-meat of mental derangements, and here at Derby it sounds exactly as it should sound. 

One of the S.U. Ents Officials grabs his attention back from the girl with the tight faded Levi’s and the full T-shirt, and he leans across at me. His name, he says, is Rob, he’s here from Ontario, he has all the Soft Boys records. ‘Robyn Hitchcock’ he says, nodding in awe at the stage, ‘his time is SO near…!’





Album Review of: 
 (1983, Midnight Music Records) 
 and ‘FEGMANIA’ 
(1985, Midnight Music Records CHIME 00.08D)

Snapshots of a moving mind: Robyn Hitchcock – the Soft Boy who fell to Earth. The man who would be Syd, the once and future Syd Barrett. Last of the Great English Psychedelic Eccentrics. ‘Invisible Hits’ is oddities and soditties from 1978-1979, a raw and vital incarnation wearing its influences on its paisley sleeve. “Rock ‘n’ Roll Toilet” plays shuttle-chord with the Rolling Stones “Brown Sugar”, while “Wey Wey Hep Uh Hole” is all Bo Diddley and Yardbirds harmonica – yet inside those role-models is a voice that speaks in tongues. Hitchcock is a mapcap laughing at you across an aural assault course magicked out of a scissors ‘n’ staple-gun collage. There’s “Have A Heart, Betty (I’m Not Fireproof)”, “He’s A Reptile” and “The Rout Of The Clones”, with lyrics running from stoned-immaculate quirky acid-games – ‘look at the beautiful patterns that form on the wall, stick out your finger to trace them, just look at them all,’ to oddball surrealism – ‘I’ve got a dog with legs of black, he got an aerial strapped to his back, he worked by remote control…’ 

Since all that went down, sometime sidekick Kimberley Rew WAVED goodbye to all things Soft, and was by then ‘Walking On Sunshine’ – with composer part-shares in the Bangles “Going Down To Liverpool”. While Robyn and remaindered ex-Softs Morris Windsor (drums) and Andy Metcalfe (bass/ keyboards) are receiving much justified critical respiration via ‘Fegmania’ – their most perfectly realised album yet. The more obvious imperfections are ironed out and the influences suitably mutated into coherence. He still operates from a sixties base, but does it with greater grace, each input neatly in place – even though his radio is still tuned to Venus. ‘Fegmania’ – to Hitch, ‘may be the sound of a plane-crash landing in a ploughed field, or salad cream being tipped out of an attic window.’ It’s ‘a turnip in a silver box. A Bank Manager shooting himself in the navel with a water-pistol. A Nun writing her name in marmalade on a soldier’s leg.’ It is subversion through absurdity, and also a rather luminous album. The escalating intro to “Egyptian Cream” soars into a vinyl document of spaced bizarro, wigged-out Kafka and well-wired back-issues of ‘Oz’ magazine. There’s “Heaven” which almost gave Hitchcock his first hit. The Soft Boy who never grew up has grown into “The Man With The Lightbulb Head”, with songs that form like thought-bubbles in a Tom & Jerry animated cartoon – with the lightbulb pulsing on and off to denote inspiration. The dialogue reads like a movie script – ‘Daddy, it’s the man with the lightbulb head!, ‘Avert your eyes Junior, and we might yet be saved,’ but Daddy, it’s YOU!, You’re too late – I’VE COME TO TURN YOU ON!!!’ 

The difference between these two albums is the before and after effect. It’s like the difference between watching the early monochrome ‘Avengers’ TV-episodes, and watching the later colour ones. What they lose in the charming unpredictability stakes they gain in slickness and maturity. Hitchcock has invented himself. In his songs, everything is true – except the facts. They’re ragged and jaunty – always were, only now he’s making myth-meat of his own mental derangements. 

Hitchcock’s final word on it – ‘for thine is the kingdom, and mine is the other bit.’ ‘Fegmania’ IS the word.

INVISIBLE HITS’ (44:02-minutes) 
Side One: 
(1) Wey Wey Hep Uh Hole 
(2) Have A Heart, Betty (I’m Not Fireproof) 
(3) The Asking Tree 
(4) Muriel’s Hoof/ The Rout Of The Clones 
(5) Let Me Put It Next To You 
(6) When I Was A Kid 
Side Two: 
(1) Rock ‘n’ Roll Toilet 
(2) Love Poisoning 
(3) Empty Girl 
(4) Blues In The Dark 
(5) He’s A Reptile 

Side One: 
(1) Egyptian Cream (bass by Robyn Hitchcock) 
(2) Another Bubble (bass by Robyn Hitchcock) 
(3) I’m Only You 
(4) My Wife And My Dead Wife 
(5) Goodnight I Say (backing vocals by Andy and Morris) 
Side two: 
(6) The Man With The Lightbulb Head (recorded by Iain O’Higgins) 
(7) Insect Mother 
(8) Strawberry Mind (backing vocals by Andy and Morris) 
(9) Glass 
(10) The Fly 
(11) Heaven (short bonus track, backing vocals by Andy and Morris) 
Robyn Hitchcock (writer, guitar and vocals), 
Andy Metcalfe (bass plus keyboards), 
Morris Windsor (drums), 
Roger Jackson (keyboards) 

Read the full interview here...

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