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Robyn Hitchcock and Mike Heron, Academy Islington, April 20th 2010

April 22, 2010

Every volcanic cloud has a silver lining, and the cancellation of Gil Scott-Heron’s Festival Hall show gave me the chance to see Robyn Hitchcock in Islington. I’ve seen him so much in recent times that we could almost be on speaking terms, but I realised it’s been a few years since I saw him do a full electric set of his own stuff – the other performances have been at the Incredible String Band tribute, an evening of sea shanties, the Syd Barrett tribute evening and so on.

Robyn with Mike Heron last year

 I was also intrigued to see he’d invited ex-Incredible String Band man Mike Heron to support him on the tour. Mike performed at last year’s ISB bash at the Barbican and was OK, but not particularly inspiring (though nowhere near as disappointing as the sloppy ISB ‘final gig’ at Moseley Folk Festival four years ago). This time, I’m glad to say, it was a pleasure to hear him and his young band, which included daughter Georgia Seddon, a talented singer and performer in her own right.

Gentle old hippie song Painting Box showed that Mike’s voice has become older and richer – he is nearly 68 years old, so that’s no surprise – while he introduced The Hedgehog’s Song by saying that the Archbishop of Canterbury picked it as one of his Desert Island Discs. The song is whimsical without being grating, and contains some great lyrics:
   Oh, you know all the words, and you sung all the notes,
   But you never quite learned the song, she sang.
   I can tell by the sadness in your eyes,

   That you never quite learned the song…

Brilliant stuff and I urge you to check out the newly reissued and remastered first four ISB albums. As well as a couple of Georgia’s songs, we got a fine selection of ISB songs, including Chinese White, Everything’s Fine Right Now and a rollicking Log Cabin Home In The Sky, joined by Robyn Hitchcock (clutching a mug of what I assume was tea) on vocals. He stayed to join them for a lovely Air and an a cappella version of Sleepers, Awake! I was very pleasantly surprised and will try to see him again soon.

After a break, Robyn, dressed in a jazzy polka-dot shirt for those on Hitchcock fashion watch, came on with his band and launched into Wreck Of The Arthur Lee. It’s good to get the full electric band treatment, but it was nicely tempered by the sounds of Ruby Wright on saw (and later ukelele) and cellist Jenny Adejayan. Next was upbeat number Luckiness from Robyn’s latest album, Propellor Time (mostly recorded four years ago, in fact, with the Venus 3), followed by the entertaining Museum Of Sex from the contemporaneous Olé! Tarantula album. Oldies Oceanside and America rocked along groovily, while Kingdom Of Love entertainingly detailed two of Robyn’s great interests – love and insects:
   In the spiritual kingdom of love,
   You’ve been laying eggs under my skin,
   Now they’re hatching out under my chin,
   Now there’s tiny insects showing through,
   And all them tiny insects look like you.

Antwoman: blimey...

 More oldies follow, including Sounds Great When You’re Dead, with its marvellous opening couplet; ‘Your mother is a journalist / Your father is a creep’, and Antwoman, another sideways look at romance and exoskeletal life-forms, ‘Oh I dream of Antwoman / With her Audrey Hepburn feelers / And her black and white stripes.’

Apart from a discursive mention of that volcano and a little tribute to Arthur NY Doll Kane, we didn’t get much of that surreal Hitchcockian inter-song banter, which is OK. We don’t need that all the time and there were lots of juicy songs to get through, including Underwater Moonlight and set closer Statue With A Walkman. An enthusiastic (but decidedly ageing) crowd brought them back out for Raining Twilight Coast and Propellor Time‘s excellent Ordinary Millionaire. Finally, Mike Heron came on stage for a sing-along Olé! Tarantula and they wrapped up with Goodnight Oslo.

It had been a pleasure to spend the evening in the company of a singular talent like Robyn. He’s often labelled ‘eccentric’, which I suppose he is, but his surrealism and off-kilter humour sometimes conceal his sharp eye and fierce intelligence. If there were any justice in the musical world, he’d be a National Treasure. Catch him if you can.

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