For some things, at some times, it’s the same time all over the world. Last time Robyn Hitchcock came to town, three years ago, it was a cold Sunday night in a sparse and inhospitable Kazimier. But, for the few dozen or so there, it was magic time and Hitchcock turned on the big light.
What a cult he really is. This is a songwriter’s songwriter, who also has that uncanny knack of covering your favourite tune and reminding you why you fell in love with it in the first place. Sure, most remember him for his place in psychedelic folk rockers The Soft Boys, or for his on-and-off collaborations with ex-REM guitar hero Peter Buck , but Hitchcock’s own songs are loved around the world.
It’s not hard to understand why, either. “My old template is still two guitars, bass, drums and harmonies,” says the songwriter, now living in Nashville and nearing completion of the follow-up to his last record, the Joe Boyd-produced ‘The Man Upstairs’. “That comes from the great beat groups: The Beatles, The Byrds, The Velvet Underground, Big Star… all that stuff.” No matter if he’s playing solo, rocking with The Egyptians or touring and singing duets with his partner, Emma Swift, Hitchcock always delivers. A bit like his hero, Bob Dylan, though this performer still sings the melodies you’re familiar with.
He’s coming back to Liverpool, in October, for a gig at the Phil’s new (The) Music Room and has plenty to talk about – including a new album, produced with Jack White’s mate, Brendon Benson. We start our chat, then, with the only currency that counts: new music…
Can you tell us about a song you’re working on at the moment?
I’ve been working on a song called ‘Avocado Rose’ for ages… I don’t really know what it’s about. Possibly a bathroom? Songs choose me, I don’t choose them.
How do you get ready for a tour with such an extensive back catalogue?
I ask for requests on Facebook!
Yes, that makes me re-learn all the old songs that I’ve forgotten. I’m an oldies act now – like Paul McCartney.
The Beatles. Liverpool has a real fondness for you and your material, is there a psychedelic connection perhaps?
The Beatles remain my favourite songwriters, as a team, and their psychedelic era was a peak… so I’m very happy to find an echo in Liverpool
I’ve used the word ‘cult’ to describe you before…
There are worse words!
Is that fair or do good songs always find a home and we should all forget the labels?
‘Cult’ doesn’t tell you what kind of music I play, but it’s like a laser beam: it strikes a few people with great intensity and the rest don’t see it at all.
You’ve been doing this a long time. How has gigging changed over the years?
PA systems are better, venues are smoke-free, audiences are more polite… it’s all getting older with me. I enjoy gigging much more than I did 30 years ago and I’m better at it, too.
Bruce Springsteen once said that he approaches every gig like he’s taking his driving test…
Absolutely. You don’t need to be nervous and scared, but you need to stockpile the adrenaline and you have to be ‘on’ to make it worth the audience’s time and money. Hypnotise yourself and you’ll hypnotise them… unless they’re drunken idiots who’ve come along just to talk.
That won’t happen here, we love you. Tell us what you think about when you see Liverpool on the tour sheet?
I think… I’ll spare them a Beatles song.
Saturday 22nd October, The Music Room, Philharmonic Hall, Liverpool
Pic courtesy ATC Live