Sunday, 8 November 2015

Robyn Hitchcock at The Fleece, Bristol

Although Robyn Hitchcock is one of my favourite songwriters I've only seen him play live twice in nearly thirty years  -  once with his band The Egyptians and once with the Soft Boys. So, when he popped up at Bristol's fantastic Fleece last week I had to hit the flagstone floor of that grimy venue. This was a stripped down, mostly acoustic, set with Robyn accompanied on a handful of songs by former Egyptian Morris Windsor on percussion and some hipster called Charlie on keyboards.
After wandering into the venue almost unobserved, Robyn took to the stage to unexpectedly start with a blues song before kicking off the night properly with an atmospheric version of Egyptians classic My Wife And My Dead Wife ( "Am I the only one who sees her?" ), much to the delight of the relatively meagre audience. As ever, a Robyn Hitchcock gig is a mixture of absurdism, romance and poetry, a glimpse into his idiosyncratic world view with all the creatures and characters that lurk there. He can veer from a nostalgic I Often Dream Of Trains to a beautiful Chinese Bones ( the song of the night for me ) to the insane Victorian Squid  -  introduced by the comment "A lot of people are afraid of sex which is fair enough..."
 Although mostly just letting the music do the talking during the solo acoustic numbers, Robyn became more talkative when his "special guests" joined him on stage and he had somebody to bounce off. ( The punters that night were very much of the standing-around-and-clapping-politely persuasion which didn't help. ) Before playing a cover of Bob Dylan's Basement Tapes oddity Tiny Mongomery  he remarked that Dylan was playing in Cardiff that night and was "at the comprehensible end of his cycle" at the moment, so you could hear the words when he sang... although he probably wouldn't play Tiny Montgomery. There was also much discussion of the frightening news of Phil Collins' return to music. When told that Collins was back, Robyn asked "how back?" and was told "back enough". All concerned decided that should be the title of the ex-Genesis singer's new album: "Phil Collins  -  Back Enough".
I had hoped for more Egyptians material but unfortunately the only song he played from Element Of Light ( my fave ) was its weakest, Winchester. Robyn mostly concentrated on more recent material, which was fine although I would have loved to hear him play Airscape or If You Were A Priest. Maybe next time?
I'm not always a huge fan of acoustic gigs but Robyn's amazing guitar playing, impeccable phrasing and alternately weird / moving lyrics make for a very enjoyable night out. After a crowd-pleasing Queen Of Eyes and a moody take on The Lizard ( "You vomit in a shed / The lizard got there first, he's dead" ) he was gone, presumably back to his own surreal, subaquatic universe. Next time he visits this planet ( or Bristol ) I'll have to try and catch him again. It's been a long 21 years since the last time...

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