Robyn Hitchcock... Gigography

Robyn Hitchcock with Kimberley Rew
Concert appearance: Tue., 3 Feb. 1998

12 Bar
London, England UK

Set list:

Let's Go Thundering
Fifty Two Stations
Cheese Alarm
Ghost in You (Psychedelic Furs)
I Something You
Unsettled (switch to electric)
Arms of Love
Sounds Great When You're Dead w/Kimberley
Queen of Eyes w/Kimberley
Insanely Jealous w/Kimberley
Kingdom of Love w/Kimberley
Tired of Waiting (Kinks) w/Kimberley
The Face of Death w/Kimberley
I Often Dream of Trains w/Kimberley
Waterloo Sunset (Kinks) w/Kimberley

Robyn wore the salamander shirt for the final 12Bar show last night. If
anyone taped the show I'd welcome an e-mail off list as I would really
enjoy listening to it again. I felt last night's show was the perfect
Robyn gig. As an old 'Softie' the biggest thrill was seeing Robyn and
Kimberley head off into the night after their soundcheck, presumably for an
evening meal somewhere and anticipating seeing Kimberley play for the first
time since 1981. (Incidentally, I can't imagine R&K dining at McDonalds -
I wonder where would they go to eat out?)

Suzy Hug jumped on stage about 9pm and charmed and entertained the neutral
crowd, silencing the noisy element with a few intelligent words before her
set began. Jake from Homer backed her up on guitar. By the final song she
had won over the whole audience with a very good support act. As she left
the room I spotted Kimberley standing by the door congratulating her.

Big R took the stage about 10.15pm with Lets Go Thundering and followed
this with 52 Stations, Cheese Alarm, Trilobyte, that Furs song (News of the
Day?) and others before switching to Telecaster. Robyn filled his set with
plenty of stream of conciousness ad libbing chat. Kimberley joined in for
the last 20 minutes and they played Queen of Eyes, Face of Death and - my
absolute favourite - Insanely Jealous ( I felt smug at this point having
shouted out "How about IJ!" a little earlier). They played Waterloo Sunset
as an encore. Robyn enjoyed himself and left the stage with a cheerful
"See you in July".


Meet on the ledge
12 Bar Club, off Denmark Street, London, Tuesday, February 3rd, 1998
It is generally at this time of the night that you can begin to question your sanity. Somewhere between one and two o'clock frozen stiff in the draughtiest bus that the railroad company could find between two towns mentioned in Robyn Hitchcock songs, Basingstoke and Winchester. There is nothing remotely romantic about chundering through this fog filled night with knees and teeth rattling.

The 'only fools on the road tonight are the fools on the midnight bus' but at least the cold snap seems to have deterred the late night drunks from vomiting over the seats. What puts me in this late predictament, time after time, are my visits to the 12 Bar generally when one Robyn Hitchcock is doing a run of gigs.

Tonight had been the songwriter's last in a short series. "See you in July," he had called from the tiny stage as he ended the show last night. Somewhere in between he may have other fish to fry with the Demme film receiving a showing down in Awesome, Texas and the shag pile and chat show sofa's beckoning him back to the States.

Robin Hitchcock is a firm favourite son of the 12 Bar. No doubt RH, himself feels an affinity with this charismatic, down a back alley, Dickensian bolt hole. Constructed around an old forge dated 1635. No bigger than someone's front room parlour its hardly the kind of place to find Mr. and Mrs. Tupperware. Gleaming formica not in abundance.

You might be crammed under the low ceiling downstairs or up the creaky stairs to the equally shoehorn fit of the balcony. Wherever you finally squeeze yourself into the distance from the ledge downstairs they call a stage is no more than a mike stand either way.

The 12 Bar is the kind of 'in yer face' venue where performers can't bluff it. No moat between audience and artist. Nowhere for the bum notes to go except out into the audience.

Suzy Hug, an American, was support tonight. She playfully suggested that the audience would be welcome to chat "Because it adds to the ambience, it won't bother us at all." The audience tonight, however, were hushed through her set which, to these ears, was a pretty unrehearsed affair. Jake from Homer played acoustic guitar and Suzy sang and strummed her acoustic. Sometimes they'd start a song together, sometimes not. The early part of the set was as awkward as a three legged race. Some shaky chords and fluffed endings.

The early songs failed to make me sit up as they meandered like a lazy river probably much to do with the lack of rehearsal. Midway Suzy Hug noted a song of hers on an obscure indie label from Hawaii, "So obscure that you'll never be able to find it . . ." At this point I wasn't straining for a treasure map.

However four songs from the end the lady did a song called Unbelievers and the chords, the changes started to fall under each musicians fingers. From then on the set seemed to get snappier than it started. I began to warm to it all. Overall it was pleasant rather than gripping. Maybe next time . . .

Sometime after ten, probably nearer ten thirty Mark the camera man had fiddled with his lenses for the last time and was cramped on the corner rail with his video fixed and ready to go. 12 Bar fixture Vince rolled out the venue's red carpet with "Here's a man who needs no introduction . . ." Robyn Hitchcock climbed onto the stage ledge and we were off.

Examining his guitar pick as though short sighted RH confirmed he had 'the Hail Mary pick". Then he fixed the audience with a question: "Does anyone remember a band from the seventies called Quantum Jump? They had a single about the Lone Ranger being gay . . . You do? Good I didn't imagine it . . ."

The only predictability about the set tonight was that it followed the Hitchcock tradition of being split into an acoustic solo set and an electric foray with a special guest. It was as uncontrived as ever. Songs, insights and off the cuff remarks that make this artist's 12 Bar performances something to savour.

Acoustic Set
From the opening lope of Thundering to the steely jangling guitar charm of Heliotrope the acoustic stuff once again set the scene. My particular favourite tonight 52 Stations which pared to just the songwriter and his acoustic guitar made the electric band version from the Kershaw sessions positively overdressed. Killer song, tonight the acoustics of the 12 Bar capturing every nuance and shade of the author's vocal.

The Roquefort and Slippery Brie song followed it with a delightfully obscure aside about keeping a tomato plant alive till well after Christmas "even though it is infested with white fly". "You can't build a palace without any drains" ascertains RH in the song as matter factly as a character from a Lewis Carroll story.

As I ended my pyschedelic education with Love's Da Capo I failed to recognise the Pyschedelic Furs cover that came next was called The Ghost In You, a song which RH made sound as though it were his own.

Then it was back to the more familiar I Something You before a version of Trilabyte, a song on which Hitchcock's piss take manner excelled as the chords and delivery suggested more than a touch of tacky American country. Trilabyte concerns itself with some point in the future when the past history of a homo sapien is totally misconstrued and given a new label. Set in a time "When you'll go to Virgin Megastore and it will cost 5 million Bransons to get in . . ."

The Shakespearian wit of Hitchcock came into its own with Heliotrope. The fortunes of a chap buried under a bus stop being eaten by a lady with a serpent's head who stands over him is once again explained to the audience before the power of the song took over. Whether you hear this at Yarmouth Bus Station or in a hushed 12 Bar it is a perfect dramatic song to finish the acoustic set with. As the performer noted in the pre-song introduction: "If there wasn't tension in the world we'd all fall to bits . . ."

Electric Set
Whoever did the soundcheck take five stars. When RH slung an electric blue Fender over his head and struck the first chord it was full and gorgeous. Still solo, RH opened with a song called Unsettled that was chock full of imagery that has hard to comprehend on first hearing. Arms of Love followed, better than I have ever heard it done. Something seductive about paring a song down to just the floorboards, songwriter and guitar.

Then it was time for tonight's special guest. I had been reading various Hitchcock devotees sing the praises of one Kimberly Rew for a good few years but aside from his part in writing that Eurovision song as Katrina and The Waves I had never clapped ears on him.

Robyn Hitchcock extended an arm out to welcome this guy with a Monkees haircut to the stage who plugged in what looked like a Gibson guitar. The old Soft Boys pairing grinned at each other and then got about half a bar into something which had the front row literally wetting themselves. "No it's not that one . . ." smiled RH as the intro stopped as quickly as it began. The duo sang and played together on four songs before the 'encores' which firmly nailed my admiration for KR's guitar playing, When You're Dead, Queen of Eyes, Insanely Jealous and Kingdom of Love.

The duo's sound was an extraordinary cocktail. Hitchcock's fleeting arpeggios all over the fingerboard and KR dragstripping, flying chord work meshed into something that came out sounding like rocket fuel. Closest guitarist I have ever seen to get right down to the kind of mastery evoked by the hoodoo rhythm devil, Alex St. Clair Snouffer whose unique guitar had wreaked havoc on Captain Beefheart's 1973 tour. Right down to shaking every last drip of a chord out of the neck before ringing another riff off the walls of the 12 Bar. Class stuff.

Kimberley Rew might also be a dead ringer for the Kink's Dave Davies. No time for a shirt change tonight but when the duo returned to the ledge they performed an inspired version of Tired of Waiting which RH introduced as the "Barclays Bank song" probably because they have it under mortgage.

Embued by the Shakespearan spirit of this place, Robyn Hitchcock noted that "In 45 minutes Miss Tucker will be put to death in Texas. If you haven't already joined Amnesty International do it now . . ." A dark song called The Face of Death brooded over the 12 Bar like some picket line vigil between life and death. Chilling is the only word for it.

In direct contrast the duo lifted the mood when the songwriter followed it with: "This is a song about my mum". As an evocative version of I Often Dream Of Trains that I have heard with the electric guitars ferocity stilled to a treasure house of gorgeous clear cut reflection.

Stunning stuff. As was the closer, which RH originally introduced as 'Mafia Dog Hormone Trial before playing something called Waterloo Sunset. A fitting goodnight to those bound like Chris, Sally and I from the 12 Bar to Waterloo Station. "Last time we did this you watched me play the intro, tonight we can both do it," instructed RH to KR and all the majesty of Ray Davies original and Jimmy Page's guitar work was acknowledged rather than copied. Terry didn't meet Julie in RH's version. Rather it was "Iggy meets Vera" as though punk joined hands with Coronation Street.

"See you in July," said the songwriter as he bowed his head to duck under the low ceiling and climb off the ledge.

It was Tom Rapp who once sang "I don't want to escape from reality, I want reality to escape from me." He might well have been describing the attraction of a Robyn Hitchcock gig.

Mike P

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