ROBYN HITCHCOCK is one of Britain’s most enduring contemporary singer/songwriters. A surrealist poet, talented guitarist, cult artist and musician’s musician, Hitchcock is among the father figures of alternative rock and is the closest thing the genre has to a Bob Dylan (not coincidentally, but because he is his greatest musical inspiration). Although primarily a vocalist and guitarist, he also plays harmonica, piano and bass. Since founding the art-rock band ‘The Soft Boys’ in 1976, Robyn has recorded over 20 albums. Mixing folk and psychedelia with ironic British nihilism, Robyn describes his songs as paintings you can listen to. His recent studio album ‘Shufflemania’ is a real return to form.
EXCLUSIVE ’24/7 VALENCIA’ INTERVIEW WITH ‘ROBYN HITCHCOCK’
24/7 Valencia: Can you tell readers something about your background, experiences and musical influences over the years?
Robyn Hitchcock: I was 10 when the Beatles first hit the Top 20 and 16 when they released their last album. Between that came Bob Dylan, Captain Beefheart, The Velvet Underground, Pink Floyd, The Kinks and many other wonderful acts. That’s the soil that I grew out of.
How does living in the USA compare to living in Britain? The USA has a greater sense of possibility than Britain, but it also has guns and Jesus. Britain has the dead hand of history lying on it a bit more than America does. Maybe. Right now, both places have been hijacked by a cabal of ultra-rich ‘conservatives’. America seems to have the best and worst of everything. People are further away from each other here. But most of my audience is here in America, too.
What have you learned most from travelling? That the biggest distance is between the living and the dead, and each of us gets to be both.
What are your best memories of The Soft Boys? Eating egg and chips after rehearsals – we were so hungry. We flew to New York for 10 days in the late summer of 1980 – that was exciting. But more often we had egg and chips.
Your music is very guitar-based. Do you feel some sort of connection to the music of Spain? Spain is a great place for Indie guitar music. I’ve played with local bands in Tarragona, Pamplona, and Barcelona, I think – they have all very kindly learned my songs. I first went to Spain, down in the south, in 1959 when I was 6: I met Pepe and Carmen, rode on a burro and saw the Guardia Civil. I was too young to know about Franco, or the Civil War. Since 1987 I’ve played shows all over Spain, and love eating, especially paella and tapas.
What can the public expect from your Loco Club show in Valencia with your Spanish backing band? Juancho Lopez and I dreamed up that name, some years ago, when he was my driver & tour manager in Spain. He’s a great bass player and loves to travel. Right now he has no dog or cat at home so he can go anywhere. At one point he was in a group called The Lynotts: four guys with wigs & moustaches dressed as Phil Lynott, playing Thin Lizzy songs – so he seemed like a good person to have in a band. Recently he recruited Pablo Magallanes on guitar and Rafa Camison on drums and – voilà! – we have a Spanish rock’n’roll band. Electric guitar rock is alive and living in Spain. This is a great collection of musicians – I’ve never heard my songs rock so hard.
Rehearsals have been a dream – and I’ve had a lot of practice lately, with my lovely old friends in England and with more recent pals in the USA. Juancho, Pablo and Rafa are right up there with my Anglo-American frolleagues: the Spanish cherish electric guitar bands, and I’m thrilled to be among them for this jaunt. The menu goes from The Soft Boys days all the way up to my newish album ‘SHUFFLEMANIA’! Catch us in Valencia – Viva Los Del Huevos!
Could you tell us what Syd Barrett means to you. Did you ever see him out and about during the years you lived in Cambridge… and were you tempted to speak to him?
I don’t know if I ever saw Barrett in Cambridge, because I wouldn’t have recognized him by then…in the late 1970s. He wasn’t even Syd any more: he had reverted to being called Roger. People went to his house looking for Syd, but there was only Roger – and he didn’t want to see anybody. It’s hard to define exactly what Barrett means to me: the way he used words and sound and music seemed instantly familiar to me. I felt like I was part of him in a way, or he was part of me – as an artist, not necessarily as a person. I felt like he started something and i came along to continue it…wherever that might lead. It took me a long time to separate myself from Syd Barrett, in my own mind. It was as if Roger had discarded Syd, and so I became him instead – as I saw it. He’s less of an influence on me these days, perhaps as I absorbed him so entirely. But every so often I’ll write a line or a verse in a song and I’ll think: “Wow, that’s pure Syd!”
Please could you tell us something about your new album, Life After Infinity?
LIFE AFTER INFINITY is a slice of the music that I’ve been playing all my life, or at least since I learned to tune the guitar. There are no words; it’s all instrumental, on acoustic and electric guitars in various tunings. I think it’s easier to ‘see’ the music when there are no lyrics. Some of it is improvisation based on sitar music – I even have an elderly guitar that mimics the sitar sound on a couple strings. There’s also my first ever banjo playing, looped on one track. There’s some folk picking, some faux classical, some electric psychedelia. It’s descended from the British ‘Freak Folk’ of the late 1960s: Bert Jansch, John Renbourn, Roy Harper and The Incredible String Band, with a splash of Martin Carthy and Richard Thompson thrown in. I hope my Spanish listeners will enjoy it!
Interview by Will McCarthy
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Robyn Hitchcock & Los del Huevos Band en València
Address: Calle Erudito Orellana, 12
Tel: +34 963 518 521