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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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Pink Floyd – Piper At The Gates Of Dawn
Pink Floyd were, initially, a pop group. Even though they were presented to the world as a pop group, they hadn’t really started as one. They started, really, as an experimental sonic collective that appealed to people like [future Pink Floyd manager] Peter Jenner and [producer] Joe Boyd who were jazz fans. They weren’t pop people, especially Jenner. They’d obviously listened to The Beatles and Dylan and Bo Diddley and the largest part of ‘they’ was Syd Barrett.

They seemed to be going on two opposite directions at once and arguably this is part of what tore Barrett apart. I don’t think that would have happened without the drugs but the side that the record business presented to the public was melodic pop. ‘Arnold Layne’ and ‘See Emily Play’ were almost like children’s songs; his words were very childlike, in a way. But they were also dark and creepy and not like Donovan or The Incredible String Band. They weren’t fey; they were both whimsical and creepy which is why their appeal has lasted for so long. They appeal to songwriters and critics alike which is why generations keep on discovering this stuff.

I remember talking to a man who was in an early line-up of The Thompson Twins and he told me that when he was nine or something his parents had bought him a copy of Piper At The Gates Of Dawn and that he cried because it had ‘Interstellar Overdrive’ which he didn’t like because he thought it was a bloody racket and this chimes with those stories of those people who were out in the sticks throwing coins and pouring beer over them. I remember meeting a 17-year-old girl – I was only 14 and so I was staring up her nostrils and looking in wonder at this great creature who towered over me – and she said she seen Pink Floyd play in a barn in Gloucester and she didn’t understand it. She thought it was a noise.

Even at the time I think they were aware of the dichotomy at the heart of them. There was the experimental side and that thing that Barrett had of not wanting to repeat himself. I think there was some quote from his sister after he died where she said he never did anything twice. That’s the dream of any creator – that anything you do is new. But every snail leaves its trail and every spider weaves its web and it’s hard to get away from patterns, even if you’re John Coltrane or Miles Davis or Captain Beefheart. You’re going to have recurring motifs but everything that Barrett did was extremely original and as I’ve said many times, I think his talent was condensed. Most of us eke out a tube over a lifetime and he squeezed the whole thing out in about two years. Maybe if he’d been more able to make decisions and not been left shattered by the whole thing then maybe he could’ve become a more effective painter. Who knows? It’s all part of the mystique that he intentionally or not cultivated.

Emotionally, this is in quite a narrow plane. You put The Beatles on and all human life is there – it’s warm and you feel a warm humanist glow coming out of you – but when you listen to Barrett’s Floyd your temples throb in the way your mind does and you can feel the mania in this that eventually became psychosis. It was becoming psychosis as it was recorded and it’s not surprising Barrett had a massive breakdown from which he never recovered. But at least he had something to show for it.

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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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