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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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The Band – Stage Fright
There’s a parallel between The Band and Traffic and that rural image and people that weren’t really rural. One of the interesting things about The Band was that they kind of accompanied Bob Dylan at his most extreme and, in a way, his most experimental and devising a new kind of music. Probably un-self-consciously but he was creating this electric psychedelic blues where he was elated and angry at the same time and that cauldron of emotion that he was summoning up in his md-20s. And The Band helped push him over the top and he then had his bike crash and then he made his way back from his retreat. So while songs and hair were getting longer – as were the column inches in The Observer talking about the possibilities of rock music - and The Beatles were being told they were Schubert, Dylan cut his hair, started writing short songs and accompanying him were The Band.

Arguably it was The Band that took him in this direction. Essentially they were very different and Robbie Robertson’s lyrics seemed very forced at times but he had three fantastic character actors in the form of Levon Helm, Rick Danko and Richard Manuel who are sadly all gone. They were very warm. You know, talking earlier about getting a human buzz off The Beatles and with The Band you get something that’s very humane even if it turns out that half of them were on smack at the time. They seemed earthed and heart-warming and heartfelt and they’ve also got terrific personalities in their voices.

I find Stage Fright more enjoyable than its predecessor, The Band, which I always found quite dense. This has less tracks and it seems to have more room to breathe. And I think they were beginning to suffer from success and whatever medication they were on and they didn’t have that acute focus that Dylan had but in their own right, I think they’re lovely, really.

To me, Stage Fright is the happiest expression of The Band. And not only the character of the voices but also the way they play together; the way people add little bursts of stuff. Robertson would play a little burst of guitar but he doesn’t hog it. Garth Hudson offers this extraordinary vocabulary of sound that he could summon up and could play everything, really. He’s the wizard of the group. But the way they punctuate the music is beautiful and it’s somewhere where no one dominates. I think it was Levon Helm’s group at one point and he resented Robertson taking over and making all the money but as we’ve discussed, all the great bands hate each other! But they know how to play together but not in that overdriven way that Hendrix and Cream and the guitar heroes of the day were playing. I loved it when I bought it when I was 17 but having spent a lifetime as a musician I really appreciate it now.


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Enkeling
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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Robin
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!

http://postpunkmonk.wordpress.com
For further rumination on the Fresh New Sound of Yesterday®

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Rooksby
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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John
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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