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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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