Robyn Hitchcock, Mike Heron
Miss Fliss 20/04/2010
'When I'm talking, I'm thinking. When I'm singing, I'm feeling', Robyn Hitchcock announces off-the-cuff and yet with touching emotion. In a nutshell he's just summed up his performance tactics and appeal. His moments of talking pivot on being as zany as possible, always to attentive and amused reception. Sometimes this is far more entertaining than a run through of a song - not least because he indulges in moments where he really trawls the most ridiculous recesses of his wandering, madly good mind, leaving you reeling.
It's Robyn's quiet songs that carry most feeling, best when he's being tender. I Saw Nick Drake is one of the most beautiful songs to have been written on an acoustic guitar -absolute grace and awe, and I'm desperately craving for it to be played tonight. The first half of the gig is slow and gentle, but it's not a setlist to carry me away - still being relatively new to his work and not recognising most of the songs could be to blame here. I do like what I've heard of the newly released Propellor Time album, though don't recognise anything at the gig. Things work better for me when they pick up - it seems to be a divided set of relaxed numbers before the faster half kicks in, and I'm glad when things hit the more rousing notch.
We get a wacky intro about Buzz Aldrin before Robyn launches into NASA Clapping wherein he delightfully roars in song:'Who's gone and been a greedy boy?! and responding with crazed glee to himself: Meeeee!'. More grin-inducing madness like this, and we'll be away. This is a song that also contains the stanza: There'll be a golf course on the moon / And we can sleep in lava tubes / And we can bask in solar winds / And lunar flares will do you nicely'. Does it take the 60s and dotty drugs, plus being able to marvel at Syd Barrett in your lifetime to reach this stage of colourful creativity? If so, it would explain why we're in such a drab state with young, modern singer-songwriters.
Brenda's Iron Sledge gets raucously requested half a dozen times (possibly by the same heckler). One of his earlier songs, it's as funny and fun as the title lends hope of it being. Perhaps this lyric sums up Robyn's unique mind nicely: 'All aboard! Brenda's iron sledge / Please don't call me Reg / it's not my name'. It doesn't get played, and I never expected it to. What would be sublime to hear is one of his perfect pop songs, 'So You Think You're in Love' would have exalted the mood immensely. There's a really playful cheer when Robyn goes pop, which is crucially where his appeal lies for me. Things liven up with 'Halo Mary' - a new one on me but its attraction is instant, with its melodic charm, so my craving for sweet pop is assuaged. The psychedelic Sounds Great When You're Dead was another highlight:
Famed for wearing outlandish shirts, Robyn sports his trademark dotty black and white flouncy blouse which camouflages his equally spotty painted guitar to perfection. He raises another huge grin by coming back for an encore having changed into a much more garish affair - lime green and orange squares adorning a silky white number (those of us under 30 are transported back to the mistakes our mothers and aunties made in the 80s).
This wasn't a strong gig for me, nevertheless Robyn Hitchcock is an incredible talent. Perhaps a setlist more reliant on a few more of his most melodic songs put in a more suitable setting would have afforded more pleasure. An intimate, acoustic set in a fairy light-adorned pub or small theatre would work wonders. The Islington Academy just feels too clinical and draughty, and Robyn's warmth should fully shine.
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