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Robyn Hitchcock and guests, Queen Elizabeth Hall, London, January 30th 2010

January 31, 2010

In 2008, surrealadelic troubadour Robyn Hitchcock visited the Arctic in the company of other artists, musicians and writers to see for themselves the effects of glaciers retreating due to climate change. You can read his musings about the experience here, but tonight’s show spotlighted his musical responses to the trip and took us on a journey through maritime songs old and new.

The evening kicked off with Robyn singing his own song The Ghost Ship, followed by traditional seafaring song Polly On The Shore. Despite Robyn’s modest admission that his guitar-playing on the latter song would be inferior to Martin Carthy’s version, I think it’s often overlooked how good and expressive a guitarist Robyn is.

He was then joined by lusty folk-singer Kathryn Williams (heavily ‘with child’) for a gentle version of her Winter Is Sharp, followed by a rousing rendition of The Ballad Of Easy Rider, for which they’re joined by a full band. Robyn then turned to two sea-related songs of his own, The Wreck Of The Arthur Lee and Luminous Rose. The first half of the show was rounded off by a shaky but moving duet of traditional sailors’ song The Bay Of Biscay.

These one-off events can often be spoiled by a lack of focus or indeed a lack of rehearsal, but the rough edges don’t really matter in this case. As Robyn said, in one of his many surreal inter-song monologues, the evening was meant to be liquid rather than cut-and-dried like the ghastly thrusting angular shoulder-padded 80s…. Yes, he went off on one.

For the second half, Robyn donned his trademark polka-dot shirt (his shirt for the first half was a surprisingly restrained blue floral number) and launched into his song Oceanside. Special guest Graham Coxon then took centre stage for a very pretty Brave The Storm, followed by a full band Caspian Sea, which bloomed into a droning proggish epic. Robyn followed that perfectly with a hypnotic hazy version of the Velvet Underground’s Ocean.

The last special guest, KT Tunstall (who was also on the Arctic trip), now took to the stage to sing a fine a cappella ‘whale song’ which she’d written on the trip and premiered another new song with Robyn.

After a few more lusty shanties, the evening finished with a group rendition of traditional West Indian shanty Shallow Brown. Robyn encored brilliantly with his old song Underwater Moonlight in all its squiddy glory:
“He was pink and she was pink
And onward they did row,
Didn’t see the giant squid, though,
It was fairly slow,
When they hit the bottom they were well and truly dead,
The statues took their place, and then they rode back home instead…”

A bon voyage was had by all.

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