Kino-teatr May 19th.’ Reviewed by Keith Rodway
Robyn Hitchcock is one of those names that has cropped up again and again in my life. Many years ago I was asked to contribute to a Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd tribute CD. My band would pick a track from Piper At The Gates Of Dawn: I chose Interstellar Overdrive. The big name who would draw attention to the project was someone whose name I knew, but whose music I had never heard: Robyn Hitchcock. In the end, the project never happened. It remained only an intriguing idea. What it told me was that Robyn Hitchcock was probably someone whose music I should hear.
On Saturday May 19th, at a packed Kino Teatr in St Leonards, I finally got my chance.
Robyn Hitchcock turned 65 in March of this year. His solo career has so far yielded an impressive 21 solo albums, in addition to a hallowed body of work recorded with his bands The Soft Boys and the Egyptians – neo-psychedelia from the British punk era of the latter half of the 1970s, referencing Syd’s Floyd, the Kinks, The Byrds, Dylan and Big Star all filtered through a very traditionally English post-beatnik sensibility: Syd, Robert Wyatt, Nick Lowe. Witty, urbane, surreal, his work is shot through with a humour that manages to be self-deprecating and faintly aggrandising, all in one go. He refers to himself as ‘self-involved’. What serious artist isn’t?
His one-man show, just under two hours long, serves partly to celebrate his 40-years-plus as a unique cult voice in British popular music, and partly to promote his 21st solo album, simply titled Robyn Hitchcock. The songs, performed solo,
are stripped back to their basics, their subtle power both highlighted and partly obscured by Hitchcock’s refusal to play it completely straight. This is someone who has hovered on the fringes of mainstream acceptance without ever really finding it. This may be a mixed blessing. The kind of stardom that those around him, with whom he has worked in music and film, and who have clearly revered him as much as his devoted audience – R.E.M.’s Peter Buck, Led Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones, Gillian Welch, Jonathan Demme (Hitchcock had acting roles in to Demme films – Rachel Getting Married and the remake of The Manchurian Candidate; Demme also collaborated on Storefront Hitchcock), Alan Rickman – the list goes on – this kind of stardom comes at a cost, and can be as restricting as it can be liberating. Hitchcock is free of all that – free to be his own person, to do things his way without apology or compromise.
As the set closes, the artifice and the bluster drops: Hitchcock announces his favourite song, and gives us a moving rendition of Bob Dylan’s Visions of Johanna; and we see the vulnerability, the sensitivity that the bluster had been masking, and all present are fully exposed to the melancholy inherent in this classic song, written a decade before Hitchcock’s career began: a song that gives the performer no place to hide.
This was an inspired choice for the Kino – a chance to see a uniquely gifted, cult-legend performer in an intimate, relaxed and very personal setting.
So now I know who Robyn Hitchcock is. I’m glad I went to find out.
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