The Purple Bottle

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Robyn in the Guardian

There's a very nice piece in the Guardian's We're Jammin' series in today's paper featuring Robyn and the Minus 3. There's also an mp3 of "Ole Tarantula" with the Guardian's Pascal Wyse on trombone. Here's the link:,,1695328,00.html
(if that does'nt work, go to the Guardian homepage and do a search for "Robyn Hitchcock")

'You know, the good guys always live near water," says Robyn Hitchcock, talking about America, his favourite place of work. "Everyone within 50 miles of lakes and oceans seems to vote Democrat; the rest are doomed cattle who vote Republican. My audience is pretty much 100% Democrat."Robyn's current band is American too, and the singer-songwriter is flattered that they have travelled over to our "freezing, dark, damp air for not an enormous amount of money to play a bunch of clubs". Smiling behind shades, they seem happy to accommodate a random trombone, too, but that could just be the jetlag. "It's pretty unusual," says Robyn. "Imagine if you had to jam with all rock journalists. What would Charles Shaar Murray be like?"What a nice bunch of people, I say to the woman who runs the studio. It then becomes clear, to her gobsmacked amusement, that I have no idea I am playing with Bill Rieflin, Scott McCaughey and Peter Buck - that's REM, just about. Robyn wasn't exaggerating when he said he had made a few American friends. Back with the band, I try to construct a nonchalant remark that reveals I (now) know who they are, without giving away the fact that I didn't 30 seconds ago."Things are so polarised in the US," says Robyn. "It's a bit more of a community. Over here, I don't know. You've got some lovely people who come along and listen to music and you've got some very weird ones. True music fans are always a bit weird anyway." Robyn's wit - apart from shackling him to Syd Barrett comparisons over the years - divides people. Some find him self-consciously nuts; for others his surreal visions get right inside life's loopy realities. "The humour is just something that people have had problems with over the years. Right back in the new wave days people thought I was ideologically unsound and that I was just taking the piss. I can actually pinpoint one of the incidents, from the Soft Boys. We had one bit in 5/4 time, which never went down very well with the new wave police because prog was officially out. Then we had a bit that was very simple, darr der darr, darr der darr ... And we nodded our heads like Status Quo, 'cause it was a bit of boogie. The cognoscenti from the music press thought, OK, they're trying to take the piss out of Status Quo, they are obviously wise guys with nothing new of their own. They're from Cambridge anyway, fuck 'em. Next!" The band have a stack of tunes to get through before the first gig of the 2006 tour. Sometimes they sound like they are trying to put together a flat-pack chest of drawers. "Pete, the verse thing has got some D in it. You know that drop-down thing the second time? It's got that D with errm ... no, C, with a ... I don't know why it is 11 beats at the end. I probably ran out of breath." Robyn listens to the trombone: "It reminds me of the air bass that Beefheart used to have. Bruce Fowler used to play trombone through effects." Bill lights up behind his kit: "Ahhh, one of the mighty Fowlers," he says, and rehearsal derails into a chat about The Magic Band. Robyn tries to sum up his reputation: "I don't know how I'm perceived at all, actually." I'm sure he does; it's more that, having survived the music business this long, he is not too bothered any more. "It's always an advantage to be a foreigner in some ways - at least before they start rounding people up. It's a generalisation, but they say we tend to have class and the US tends to have race. Just as in the 1960s rock went middle class - that's [rock manager] Peter Jenner's term for it - so in the 1970s it went faux working class. The industry was still run by middle-class people - and the journalists were 90% middle class. But there was an attempt to make the whole thing seem like it was from the terraces. We weren't: we were palpably middle class. We could barely put down our cucumber sandwiches long enough to dash off a few riffs." Robyn writes, draws - and even played a villain in the remake of The Manchurian Candidate, directed by Jonathan Demme, another friend and fan. But aged 10 he heard Bob Dylan and knew he would be a musician, whatever the hardships. "You've got to be bloody-minded and stay bloody-minded. It's a paradox: you have to have a lot of self-belief but at the same time you can't expect life to kiss you on the nose every morning. It's really pretty brutal. "Dylan was like a golden comet for the first five years of his career and then, although people kept treating him like a god, he was in a wretched state. A man in deep unhappiness wandering around the world, wailing. I thought, God, that's the man I envied, that's the man I wanted to be! Jesus! I'd rather be Robyn Hitchcock."


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