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Baker's Dozen

Grit In One’s Third Eye: Robyn Hitchcock’s Baker’s Dozen
Julian Marszalek , February 11th, 2013 11:14

English songwriter and frontman of The Soft Boys, The Venus Three and The Egyptians, Robyn Hitchcock leads Julian Marszalek through his most played LPs

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“Have a I felt out of step? Oh, totally!” laughs Robyn Hitchcock as he settles down in the confines of a snug north London boozer as he considers his career ahead of discussing his favourite 13 albums.

“Well, I felt out of step when I started when I had my art school band in ’72,” he continues. “I remember some American guy coming up to me saying, ‘That bubblegum stuff you’re playing is OK but have you got any bump’n’grind?’ And I gave him this look of horror and said, ‘Sir, we do not play funk!’”

Robyn Hitchcock is the kind of artist who could only appear from these shores. Influenced by the likes of John Lennon, Bob Dylan and Syd Barrett, his latter-day take on psychedelic pop with The Soft Boys first raised its head above the parapet during the punk wars of the late 70s. Often whimsical and surreal, this off-kilter view of English life was at sharp odds with the belch of fury that had emanated from the World’s End area of the King’s Road, a position that he was only too aware of.

“Back then I was on a mission, as far as I was concerned,” he recalls. “Music had taken a wrong turning back in 1967 when everybody got too stoned and got into funky jams. You know, just listen to the stuff Hendrix was doing in ’69 compared to the earlier stuff. People got too damned stoned and couldn’t be bothered to remember chord sequences and they ended getting the mightiest of blowjobs from the critical establishment for just riffing away for 10 minutes. It didn’t matter whether you were Jack Bruce or some stoners from Ladbroke Grove; you just turned your amps up and stood there and waffled!”

Having spent his teenage years in the 60s, Hitchcock realises and appreciates that his take on the decade that’s still fought over by musicians, politicians and historians is a personal interpretation rather than a matter of fact.

“I was never trying to be ‘psychedelic’ in The Soft Boys – I didn’t have daffodils in my eyes – I was simply working in that genre but in the future. And that future was the dystopian 70s, 80s and 90s. The future’s always dystopian, isn’t it?” he chuckles as he explains his rationale.

“But looking back, the 60s weren’t that great. They just seemed like it,” he sighs. “My memory of it is paranoia, social disruption and angst. The first thing I remember is the Cuban missile crisis. I was 13, 14 around ’66 and ’67, which are very self-mythologising years. I was too young to be a participant; I was a wannabe and it’s always the wannabes who take away the greatest memories.

“I was too young to fry my brains. I’d look up in wonder at these people in kaftans and crushed velvet trousers and having sex outside of marriage and smoking these little cigarettes with a cardboard thing in the end and then laughing at nothing. I went on to try to do it but of course it was already too late. Reality had already been indelibly jammed into our third eyes. So that’s my context before we go into these albums!”

And so, dear reader, you’re urged to pull up your scatter cushion, get the lava lamp on and get ready to alternately mellow and freak out to Robyn Hitchcock’s favourite 13 albums…

Robyn's new album, Love From London, is released on March 4. He's playing a retrospective 60th birthday show at Village Underground on February 28, followed by a UK tour in March - for details and tickets, head to his website here. To read Robyn’s Baker’s Dozen, click on the photo below


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Feb 11, 2013 6:35pm

Excellent reading. Give this man his own spot on Quietus!

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Barthold Pelzer
Feb 11, 2013 6:35pm

One could moan: Yeah, a lot of predictable entries, few surprises (apart possibly from The Kinks are Village Green Preservation Society missing). But then there is this delightful and genuinely surprising last choice. And profound and entertaining musings about each and every entry, which make this an excellent and read. Thanks for presenting ever so enlightening music journalism.

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Feb 11, 2013 6:49pm

Funny isn't it? He selects the same bunch of records that a whole host of other aged musicians have chosen but I don't feel like groaning out load. Why? Because he has really really engaged with these and has some wonderful insightful comments to make. So thanks Robyn, this has been the best Dozen for a long long time.

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Feb 11, 2013 8:50pm

White people suck, especially the Beatles and fucking Bowie. Some people should never be allowed NEAR Captain Beefheart and it seems Robyn is one. (Oh yeah, Robyn made half a good album thirty years ago, I should be 'thankful'?)

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Post-Punk Monk
Feb 11, 2013 8:53pm

I have to say that this was engrossing reading! Could it be that it's time for Robyn to start writing a career sideline? As soon as I read this I looked to see if he had written any books that I might have missed! Anyone who can me care about the like of The Doors or The Beatles is an alchemist of words!
For further rumination on the Fresh New Sound of Yesterday®

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Feb 11, 2013 9:49pm

What a great read! Robyn's enthusiasm is totally infectious, & it's patently obvious that he's still a rabid listener to, & lover of, music. He always comes across as a stand-up gent who knows his shit &, consequently, I could listen to him ramble on for hours...

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peluche brutale
Feb 11, 2013 10:54pm

No revelations but, as others said, quite an engrossing read. it's good to share such a personal, passionate and well listened through selection of some of the best music of the last century. perhaps he should be invited to write more on the quietus about his mate peter buck, which seem to make him so proud.

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chris church
Feb 11, 2013 11:58pm

Robyn is just wonderful. Was listening to Ole Tarantula earlier. As said already nothing too surprising (Avalon excepted?) but his summation and insights are worth anyone's time Thanks for this!

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Feb 12, 2013 1:56am

In reply to :

Bitter, party of one...

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Fielding Melish
Feb 12, 2013 6:11am

In reply to :

Sparkling insight. I'm so glad you thought to write in!

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James McKeown
Feb 12, 2013 11:21am

What an absolute joy to read. At the first scan through, I thought some of the choices were a bit obvious, on further reading I understood a whole new level of explaination and tangents - which is a classic Hitchcock trait! I'm a massive fan of Robyn and his work. I would love to see him do a spoken word tour, just sharing anecdotes and stories of his life. Clean Steve Fabulous.

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Wayne Champagne
Feb 12, 2013 12:13pm

An absolute joy. Fresh and enlightening perspectives on well worn themes.

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Feb 12, 2013 9:54pm

A thundering good read! Since I’ll soon be taking to the trees too, I’d weave all of these into my nest.
I remember reading a top ten list by Robyn about 30 years ago. As I recall, a lot of the same stuff was on it. A few there that didn’t make this list: Martin Carthy’s “Shearwater,” Nic Drake’s “Pink Moon,” and Kinks “Village Green….” were there as I recall, though my memory of that essay is a little dim. I don’t think “Avalon” had been recorded yet though.
I ‘m interested to read of RH’s preference for a post Cale VU. To my mind, his ideas was what made their music interesting. His solo lp “Paris 1919” is singular in the same way that RH’s “I Often Dream of Trains” is: sparse, vaguely familiar but distinctly original.

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Rob Curry
Feb 13, 2013 3:56am

Very nice! This is one of the most engaging of the Baker's Dozen articles. I am not familiar with his music, but I am going to remedy that situation. And if any of it is half as witty as this piece, I shall be in for a treat.

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Orthodox Caveman
Jun 21, 2013 5:33pm

In reply to :

Troll detected!

Robyn is awesome. Like many others have said, he doesn't have particularly original choices, but his rationale for each choice and his way of communicating his ideas about music, life, and history are engrossing. This is one of my favorite Baker's Dozen entries.

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