I do find it astonishing that Robyn Hitchcock isn’t celebrating his 60th birthday with his rock royalty chums at Wembley, rather than with a few hundred diehards at a lovely, but small-ish East London venue. After all what is not to like? He has a voice like Lennon, songs that recall both Barrett and Dylan, jangly guitar episodes that summon up The Byrds and The Smiths, harmonies akin to the Wilson Brothers and surreal excursions influenced by the likes of Captain Beefheart and early Steeleye Span. He is a one man Spotify of all that’s great in intelligent pop. And yet he sounds utterly distinctive too. If ever her maj needed to appoint an pop laureate he’d be the perfect person for the gig – though his late 80s track The Veins Of The Queen would probably be enough to ensure he didn’t make the shortlist.
Tonight we are treated to a romp through his back catalogue in reverse chronological order. And even from the off the parallel universe pop hits come thick and fast with the stunning Goodnight Oslo from a couple of years back with its mesmeric guitar (originally supplied by one Peter Buck) and the Johnny Marr co-penned uplifting pop gem of Ordinary Millionaire early highlights.
A few songs in and we are transported to his more introspective period of just over a decade or so ago (which I gather was largely a reaction to major label push of a few years before), where gentle pop tunes are fleshed out by a cello and delicate female harmonies. The stunner here is No I Don’t Remember Guildford, which soars away on gorgeous vocals and subtle strings.
The first half of the two sets take in Hitchcock’s pop years when a cast of minor rock deity – Nick Lowe, Terry Edwards and Green Gartside to name but three of his conspirators, help him run through his very Beatley almost hit So You Think You Are In Love and the psychedelic vaudeville of The Wreck Of The Arthur Lee. Both wonderful songs that should have given the man his big breakthrough.
After a quick break and a poem from John Hegley the man returns with several songs from his mid-80s albums, including the glorious paean to an Isle of Wight beach, Airscpe, and the anti-Thatcher Barrett-esque blast that is Brenda’s Iron Sledge.
Finally the time travelling troubadour arrives back in the late 70s with songs from his first band The Soft Boys. From an embarrassment of riches on the classic Underwater Moonlight album to choose Hitchcock, backed by two of the three original members of of the band, opts for a spirited Kingdom of Love rather than the more obvious new wave racket of I Wanna Destroy You or the perfect jangle pop of Queen of Eyes, but then you can’t have everything…
Finally the whole cast are back on stage including, bizarrely, publishing guru and all round top bloke Mark Ellen and Adam Buxton of Adam and Joe fame, to climax with a track from the singer’s latest album Love from London. That song, The End Of Time might be fresh to most of the people hearing it, but it fits in perfectly as yet another jewel in the career of a singer who hopefully will have many more songs to come.
Robyn and Acapella guests
If you have never heard Hitchcock, probably best to start here.