Robyn Hitchcock at CCA, 29/10/16

Robyn Hitchcock is cut from a cloth they simply don’t make anymore.

In the true spirit of the psychedelic era, which he was so influenced by (but wasn’t quite of age enough to participate in), Hitchcock blends irreverence with transcendence, spirituality with surrealism.

 

And while the theatre of the CCA makes for a pleasantly reverential setting, it nonetheless seems far too small to house a character so large.

Armed with a single acoustic guitar, Hitchcock launches straight into a glittering version of ‘Tonight’ from The Soft Boys’ Underwater Moonlight LP, and we in the audience are instantly reminded of why he is such a treasure.

‘My Wife And My Dead Wife’ – from his 80s period with The Egyptians – follows, packing all of his songwriting gifts into a four minute yarn about being haunted by the dearly departed spirit of one’s spouse (let’s see an artificial intelligence choose that as the topic for a song).

The evening’s setlist is a well-curated retrospective of a 40-year career encompassing Hitchcock’s early work with neo-psych outfit The Soft Boys, current collaborations with touring partner Emma Swift, and even an inspired cover of ‘October Song’ by Scotland’s own Incredible String Band.

The wispy alt-country he performs with Swift – his touring support act who offers gorgeous harmonic accompaniments on ‘Love Is A Drag’ and ‘Life Is Change’ – is less thrilling on the whole, but does provide a nice contrast to Hitchcock’s solo material.

There’s no risk of the audience drifting off, though: not least because Hitchcock regales us with non-sequiturs between every song, each one more uproarious than the last.

One particularly bizarre refrain involves a Belgian recluse named Marcel, sitting at home waiting on packages of Marmite from an estranged aunt in Venezuela to drop through the letterbox.

Not everyone’s laughing – you don’t meet Robyn Hitchcock halfway – but once you’re on his level, it all seems perfectly natural, and you can’t imagine the gig flowing any other way.

For every artist who’s ever let you down by phoning in a live performance in your hometown, let Robyn Hitchcock be presented as a palliative.

He’s someone who can’t help but adjust on reflex to the live context he finds himself in, feeding off the situation and adapting himself to it – a skill all too rare in the current climate, as grueling schedules and financial pressures push more and more touring musicians towards homogeneity and repetition.

The moment he leaves the stage, I find myself wishing he was back – if you’re not familiar with Robyn Hitchcock yet, make sure you catch him when he inevitably returns.

Words: Graham Neil Gillespie

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