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grave robyn
(recycle a headline - save the planet)

robyn hitchcock
St. James' Church Crypt, Clerkenwell, 14/7/94

This has to be one of the most peculiar gigs I have ever been to. The fact that there was virtually no publicity (although Sincere Management sent out flyers the day before, everyone I spoke to had only found out about the gig by accident) meant an audience of 54 - all seated in little plastic chairs - spread over the floor of the cavernous crypt. A couple of die-hard nutcases in the audiences. A PA that blew out as soon as Robyn started to play 'I Am Not Me' (and they say machines don't have taste) and an insectocutor machine that went berserk whenever anyone hit a high note. A support act, Zyklus, made up of people who used to be good and should have known better, snatched the coveted Liberty Cage Worst Support Act award with their unique brand of ambient synthesiser jazz.

I was speaking with someone (whose name, alas, I didn't catch) before the concert about seeing Dylan live; he said that the only songs you can stand seeing him perform were the ones that had never been released, so you had nothing to compare them to. I got that same feeling tonight.

That Robyn's doing solo dates here again is something to be welcomed. And technically, he's still outstanding, in terms of playing and singing both. The new Surfer Ghost tracks are mostly the best stuff he's done for years, aside from the abysmal 'Silver Wands' and a number of lines sounding more forced than usual. ("Once we watched the massacre on Cable Street/ That couldn't happen now/ We're all too busy watching massacres on cable TV." For gods sake man, you're turning into Roger Waters!) Violinist Deni Bonet is another alumnus of the Andrew Metcalfe School of Superfluous Musicians, but is competent, isn't irritating, doesn't feel the need to reel off a list of all the famous people she knows and looks like she's enjoying herself. The tracks played were quite a good choice, aside from 'Serpent At The Gates', which sat on the track listing like a turd on a dinner plate. But despite all this, this is the first time I've ever seen an audience who's come to see Robyn (i.e. when he's not a support act) leave disgruntled.

The main thing that struck me was how much time he spent speaking instead of playing. I'm sure plenty of people will disagree with me here - I know for lots of people the best bit of each performance is hearing his speeches - but for me, after a point it no longer seems whimsical. Hearing a ten-minute speech about how flypaper and Lucozade are the same colour sets my teeth on edge; hearing it followed five minutes later by another ten-minute talk on "round circular magnets the shape of bath plugs" is like taking an enforced holiday in someone else's ego, akin to being stuck next to someone on a train who insists on telling you about their dreams.

But what about the music?

Well, surprisingly good. He performed seven Surfer Ghost tracks, and from this evidence the album could be a classic (of course, Andy hasn't yet had a chance to ruin it). Two of the new tracks 'A Happy Bird Is A Filthy Bird' and 'Silver Wands' are absolute clunkers. 'Man With A Woman's Shadow' and 'I Am Not Me' are on the line between greatness and direness. 'I Something You' is really growing on me despite it's twee wackiness. But the real great-in-the-making is a song who's name I just cannot make out ('Securicor Street'? 'Techurika Street') which exudes such a feeling ofbop-along good-natured stupidity mixed with musical and lyrical wittiness that it could have been lifted from Kimberley Rew. In addition, we had half a dozen old tracks, all done competently if not spectacularly ('Yip' in particularly done very well) and as an second encore the obligatory two crap covers Robyn seems obliged to slip into every performance - in this case Dylan & the Byrds.

So, what is there to say? The music was good in general, especially once he went electric (despite the PA exploding) and he looks ever more like Tony from Men Behaving Badly. A reasonably great time, despite the lack of an audience and the dragging out, but for God's sake man, keep your stories toyourself!


Positive Vibrations is a fanzine dedicated to news, discussion and whatnot regarding Robyn Hitchcock, The Soft Boys and Kimberley Rew published by Aidan Merrit.

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