Robyn Rowan Hitchcock (born 3 March 1953) is an English singer-songwriter and guitarist. While primarily a vocalist and guitarist, he also plays harmonica, piano, and bass guitar. After leading the Soft Boys in the late 1970s and releasing the influential Underwater Moonlight,[1] Hitchcock launched a prolific solo career. His musical and lyrical styles have been influenced by Bob Dylan, John Lennon, Syd Barrett, Captain Beefheart, Martin Carthy, Lou Reed, Roger McGuinn and Bryan Ferry.

Robyn Hitchcock
Hitchcock singing into a microphone and playing guitar
Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival, 6 October 2012
Background information
Birth nameRobyn Rowan Hitchcock
Born (1953-03-03) 3 March 1953 (age 71)
Paddington, London, England
Occupation(s)Musician, actor
  • Vocals
  • guitar
  • piano
  • harmonica
  • bass

Hitchcock's earliest lyrics mined a rich vein of English surrealist comic tradition and tended to depict a particular type of eccentric and sardonic English worldview. His music and performance style was originally (and remains) heavily influenced by Bob Dylan, but also by the English folk music revival of the 1960s and early 1970s, and this was soon filtered through a then-unfashionable psychedelic rock lens during the punk rock and new wave music eras of the late 1970s and early 1980s.[citation needed] This combination of musical styles won Hitchcock's band of the time, The Soft Boys, a very enthusiastic if small fanbase, but an extremely frosty critical reception from the UK music press of the era.[citation needed] However, the Soft Boys' final album together, Underwater Moonlight, posthumously earned them a glowing reputation (particularly in America) as a major influence on bands like R.E.M.

After finding a measure of success in the latter 1980s in America, Hitchcock's lyrical and musical horizons broadened further to encompass a range of approaches while still retaining a recognisably surreal, but more serious, signature style. He has recorded for two major American labels (A&M Records, then Warner Bros.) over the course of the 1980s and 1990s, and was the subject of a live performance/documentary film (Storefront Hitchcock) by major motion picture director Jonathan Demme in 1998. Since the turn of the millennium he has also finally received belated critical recognition in his home country. Despite this, mainstream success remains limited. He continues to tour and record prolifically and has earned strong critical reviews over a steady stream of album releases and live performances, and a dedicated "cult following"[2] for his unique body of work.

Career edit

The Soft Boys to the Egyptians (1972–1993) edit

Hitchcock was educated at Winchester College, where he was a "groovy and alternative" friend of Julia Darling.[3] While at art school in London around 1972, Hitchcock was a member of the college band the Beetles.[4][5] In 1974, he moved to Cambridge, where he did some busking, and joined a series of local bands: B.B. Blackberry and the Swelterettes, the Worst Fears, and Maureen and the Meatpackers.[6] His next group, Dennis and the Experts, became the neo-psychedelia band The Soft Boys in 1976, recording their first EP, "Give It to the Soft Boys", at Spaceward studios, Cambridge, in 1977.[7][8] After recording A Can of Bees (1979) and Underwater Moonlight (1980), the latter of which was described in Rolling Stone as a "classic" and influential on bands such as R.E.M. and The Replacements,[1] the group broke up in 1981.[9]

In 1981, Hitchcock released his solo debut, Black Snake Diamond Röle, which included instrumental backing by several former Soft Boys.[9] He followed it in 1982 with the generally critically maligned Groovy Decay.[10] Following his solo acoustic album I Often Dream of Trains in 1984, he formed a new band, The Egyptians, comprising former members of the Soft Boys (Andy Metcalfe and Morris Windsor, supplemented at first by early keyboardist Roger Jackson), resulting in their 1985 debut Fegmania!, which featured typically surrealist Hitchcock songs such as "My Wife and My Dead Wife" and "The Man with the Lightbulb Head".[9] (A live album, Gotta Let This Hen Out!, was released at the end of that year.) Their popularity grew with the 1986 album Element of Light and they were subsequently signed to A&M Records in the U.S.[9] The album Globe of Frogs, released in 1988, further expanded their reach, as the single "Balloon Man" became a college radio and MTV hit,[9] followed in 1989 by "Madonna of the Wasps" from their Queen Elvis album. In 1989, they also teamed up with Peter Buck of R.E.M. and Peter Holsapple of The dB's, playing two gigs as Nigel and the Crosses, mostly covers.[11][12]

At the beginning of 1990, Hitchcock took a break from the Egyptians and A&M Records to release another solo acoustic album, Eye, then resumed with the band's Perspex Island release in 1991.[9] 1993's Respect, influenced a great deal by his father's death,[13] marked the last Egyptians release and the end of his association with A&M Records.

Reunions and solo career, 1994–2006 edit

Early in 1994, after disbanding the Egyptians, Hitchcock embarked on a short reunion tour with the Soft Boys. His work received a slight boost in 1995 when his back catalogue (including both solo releases and Egyptians albums) were re-packaged and re-issued in the United States by the respected Rhino Records label. For the rest of the decade he continued recording and performing as a solo artist, releasing several albums on Warner Brothers Records, such as 1996's Moss Elixir (which featured the contributions of violinist Deni Bonet and guitarist Tim Keegan), and the soundtrack from the Jonathan Demme-directed concert film Storefront Hitchcock in 1998. The 1999 release Jewels for Sophia, also on Warner, featured cameos from Southern California-based musicians Jon Brion and Grant-Lee Phillips, both of whom often shared the stage with Hitchcock when he played Los Angeles nightclub Largo. An album of outtakes from the Sophia sessions called A Star for Bram, released on Hitchcock's own label, followed, and his subsequent albums appeared on a variety of independent labels.

In 2000 the Italian music writer Luca Ferrari released a long interview with Hitchcock, A Middle Class Hero (Stampa Alternativa), in the form of a 96-page booklet in English and Italian accompanying a three-song CD of unreleased tracks.

In 2001 Hitchcock reunited and toured with Kimberley Rew, bassist Matthew Seligman, and Morris Windsor for the Soft Boys' re-release of their best-known album, 1980's Underwater Moonlight. The following year they recorded and released a new album, Nextdoorland, which was accompanied by a short album of outtakes, Side Three. The reunion was short-lived.

The 2002 double album Robyn Sings comprised cover versions of Bob Dylan songs, including a live re-creation (performed in 1996) of Dylan's so-called Live at the Royal Albert Hall 1966 concert. Hitchcock celebrated his 50th birthday in 2003 with a concert at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in London at which his then-new solo acoustic album Luxor was given away as a gift to all those attending, and an original poem of his was read by actor Alan Rickman.[14] He continued collaborating with a series of different musicians, as on the album Spooked, which was recorded with country/folk duo (and longtime Hitchcock fans) Gillian Welch and David Rawlings. The Soft Boys re-formed again in 2006 to perform a live concert of Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd covers in London, benefiting Médecins Sans Frontières.

The Venus 3 to present edit

Hitchcock at Coolidge Corner Theatre in 2010

In 2006 Olé! Tarantula was released with the Venus 3, a band which consisted of longtime friends and collaborators R.E.M.'s Peter Buck and Young Fresh Fellows' frontman Scott McCaughey, as well as Ministry's Bill Rieflin (by then also R.E.M.'s full-time drummer). The song "'Cause It's Love (Saint Parallelogram)" was written with Andy Partridge of XTC.

In 2007, he was the subject of a documentary, Robyn Hitchcock: Sex, Food, Death... and Insects, directed by John Edginton,[15] shown on the U.S. Sundance Channel and in the UK on BBC Four (and later released on DVD). "Food, sex and death are all corridors to life if you like. You need sex to get you here, you need food to keep you here and you need death to get you out and they’re the entry and exit signs."

The filmmaker eavesdrops on Hitchcock at work on his latest collection of songs with contributors including Nick Lowe, former Led Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones, Peter Buck and Gillian Welch. The film culminates with Hitchcock and the band taking the songs on the road in America. A live EP with The Venus 3, Sex, Food, Death... and Tarantulas, was released in conjunction with the documentary. The film also includes candid interviews with Hitchcock, who reveals much about the source of his work: "At heart I'm a frightened angry person. That's probably why my stuff isn't totally insubstantial. I'm constantly, deep down inside, in a kind of rage."

Late in 2007, Hitchcock's music was again re-packaged and re-released in the U.S., as Yep Roc Records began an extensive reissue campaign with three early solo releases and a double-CD compilation of rarities, which would be available separately or as part of a new boxed set release, I Wanna Go Backwards.[16]

In 2008, that boxed set was followed up with Luminous Groove, a boxed set of three early Egyptians releases and two further discs of rarities. In 2009, the electro-pop artist and remixer Pocket released an EP featuring Hitchcock called "Surround Him With Love", while Hitchcock released an entirely separate new album, Goodnight Oslo, with the Venus 3. At the end of the year, a live album called I Often Dream of Trains in New York documented the late-2008 onstage re-creation of his acclaimed 1984 acoustic album (a limited-edition deluxe version also included the materials to construct a kind of moving-image generator called a phenakistoscope).

In 2009, Hitchcock contributed to The Decemberists' concept album The Hazards of Love, performing the short instrumental solo "An Interlude." Also in 2009, Hitchcock provided the score for the film Women in Trouble, a feminist/exploitation "chick flick".

Concurrent with the redesign of his official website in early 2010, Hitchcock began to offer a series of "Phantom 45s" as downloads, each "45" being two newly recorded songs that would initially be offered as a free download. He also released the Propellor Time album, containing new material partially based on the "Sex, Food, Death" sessions shown in the 2007 documentary, but mainly featuring the Venus 3. In 2011, he released Tromsø, Kaptein, an album of songs written in Norway, and released physically only in that country. Hitchcock was chosen by Jeff Mangum of Neutral Milk Hotel to perform "I Often Dream of Trains" at the All Tomorrow's Parties festival, to be curated by Mangum in March 2012 in Minehead, England.[17] The album Love From London (working title: File Under Pop) was released on Yep Roc Records on 5 March 2013. The label also released his subsequent record, The Man Upstairs, on 26 August 2014.

April 2015 saw Robyn Hitchcock team up with Emma Swift to release a limited Record Store Day 7" single "Follow Your Money," backed with a stripped back cover of Neil Young's "Motion Pictures."[18] The pair subsequently toured, releasing another 7" single double A side with the songs "Love Is A Drag" and "Life Is Change," produced by Teenage Fanclub's Norman Blake.[19]

In 2017, Hitchcock released his eponymous album Robyn Hitchcock.[20] Working with Brendan Benson as co-producer, the album saw a return to a full band sound after his previous release, with guest appearances from Gillian Welch and Emma Swift.

Hitchcock wrote the song "Sunday Never Comes" for the 2018 film Juliet, Naked, which was sung in the movie by Ethan Hawke's character, an aging, reclusive musician.[21] He later released a companion video of his own version of the song.[22]

Hitchcock backed by Yo La Tengo in 2019

In September 2019 Hitchcock collaborated with XTC frontman Andy Partridge on a four-song EP Planet England, co-writing the songs and both singing.[23][22]

In 2020, he released The Man Downstairs: Demos & Rarities, an album of outtakes recorded in 2013 as demos for The Man Upstairs.[24][25] He also appeared on Emma Swift's album of Bob Dylan covers, Blonde on the Tracks, recorded between 2017 and 2020 in Nashville, Tennessee and produced by Wilco's Pat Sansone.[26]

Personal life edit

Hitchcock was born in Paddington, London, England, son of novelist Raymond Hitchcock (writer of Percy).[27]

Hitchcock collaborated with director Jonathan Demme in 1998 for a live concert and film Storefront Hitchcock, and later appeared in Demme's 2004 remake of The Manchurian Candidate, in which he played double agent Laurent Tokar. He also appeared in Demme's Rachel Getting Married in 2008, singing and playing guitar in the wedding-party band.

In September 2008 Hitchcock joined the Disko Bay Cape Farewell expedition to the West Coast of Greenland. Cape Farewell is a UK-based arts organisation that brings artists, scientists and communicators together to instigate a cultural response to climate change.[28]

In August 2015, Hitchcock moved to Nashville, Tennessee.[29]

He lives in East Nashville with his partner Emma Swift and their cats.[30] He had a daughter, Maisie, from a previous relationship.[31] On August 13, 2023, he announced via his Instagram page that Maisie had died due to peritoneal cancer.[citation needed]

Discography edit

Studio albums edit

EPs edit

Compilations edit

  • Groovy Decoy (1985) – A re-worked version of Groovy Decay, featuring demo versions of many of that album's songs)
  • Invisible Hitchcock (1986) – Outtakes and rarities: 1980–1986
  • Gravy Deco (1995) – A compilation of the Groovy Decay and Groovy Decoy sessions
  • You & Oblivion (1995) – Outtakes and rarities: 1981–1987
  • Mossy Liquor (1996) – Outtakes and prototypes from Moss Elixir
  • A Star for Bram (2000) – Outtakes from Jewels for Sophia
  • A Middle-Class Hero (2000) – Italian-English authorised interview book written by Luca Ferrari with CD-EP of outtakes included
  • Obliteration Pie (2005) – Japan-only collection of live tracks, rarities, and new studio re-recordings
  • I Wanna Go Backwards (2007) – Boxed set of reissued albums, with many previously unreleased outtakes and rarities
  • Shadow Cat (2008) – Outtakes and rarities: 1993–1999
  • Luminous Groove (2008) – Boxed set of reissued albums, with many previously unreleased live performances, outtakes and rarities
  • There Goes the Ice (2013) – Vinyl-only collection of rarities, most previously issued as digital-only tracks between 2010 and 2013
  • The Man Downstairs: Demos & Rarities (2020) – Outtakes and demos recorded in 2013 for the Man Upstairs sessions[24][25]

Live albums edit

Best-of compilations edit

Compilation appearances edit

  • Time Between - A Tribute to the Byrds (Imaginary Records, 1989) – "Wild Mountain Thyme"
  • Pave the Earth (A&M Records, 1990) – "Birdshead (live)"
  • Alvin Lives (In Leeds): Anti Poll Tax Trax (Midnight Music, May 1990) – "Kung Fu Fighting"
  • The Best of Mountain Stage, Volume 2: Live (Blue Plate Music, 1991) – "The Arms Of Love"
  • The Bob No. 42 (1991) – "A Day In The Life"
  • The Bob No. 54 (1997) – "Alright, Yeah (German version)"
  • Succour: The Terrascope Benefit Album (Flydaddy Records, September 1996) – "She Was Sinister But She Was Happy"
  • More Oar: A Tribute to the Skip Spence Album (Birdman Records, 1999) – "Broken Heart"
  • Ernie: Songs of Ernest Noyes Brookings (Gadfly Records, 2001) – "Book"
  • Listen to What the Man Said: Popular Artists Pay Tribute to the Music of Paul McCartney (Oglio Records, 2001) – "Let Me Roll It"
  • Wig in a Box (Off Records, October 2003) – "City Of Women"
  • Terry Edwards Presents... Queer Street: No Fish Is Too Weird for Her Aquarium Vol. III (Sartorial Records, February 2004) – "Are 'Friends' Electric?"
  • This One's for the Fellows: A Sonic Salute to the Young Fresh Fellows (BlueDisguise Records, April 2004) – "Mamie Dunn, Employee of the Month / Good Times Rock & Roll"
  • Live at WMSE Vol. 10 (April 2009) – "NY Doll"
  • Abbey Road Now! (Mojo Magazine Free CD, October 2009) – "I Want You (She's So Heavy)"
  • The Madcap Laughs Again! (Mojo Magazine Free CD, Mar 2010) – "Dark Globe"
  • All Ready for the 25th? (Sartorial Records, 2012) – "There Ain't No Santa Claus on the Evenin' Stage"
  • Son of Rogues Gallery: Pirate Ballads, Sea Songs & Chanteys (ANTI-Records, February 2013) – "Sam's Gone Away"
  • Way To Blue: The Songs Of Nick Drake (Story Sound Records, April 2013) – "Parasite"
  • Songs in the Key of Paul (Mojo Magazine free CD, November 2013) – "Let Me Roll It"
  • An Autumn Almanac (Uncut Magazine free CD, December 2010) Robyn Hitchcock and the Venus 3 – "Belltown Ramble"
  • Ramble On! (Uncut Magazine free CD, September 2014) – "Trouble in Your Blood"

References edit

  1. ^ a b Holdship, Bill (13 March 2001). "The Soft Boys: Underwater Moonlight". Rolling Stone. Archived from the original on 2 October 2007. Retrieved 15 February 2015.
  2. ^ Trager, Oliver (4 December 1997). The American Book of the Dead. Simon and Schuster. p. 64. ISBN 978-0-684-81402-5. Hitchcock developed a sizable cult following on the heels of the critical acclaim he received in the mid-1980s for his highly poetic, if somewhat obscure, songs.
  3. ^ "Julia Darling (1956–2005)". Literary Winchester. 2011. Archived from the original on 2 April 2015. Retrieved 10 January 2015.
  4. ^ Jim DeRogatis (2003). Turn on Your Mind: Four Decades of Great Psychedelic Rock. Hal Leonard Corporation. p. 331. ISBN 9780634055485. Retrieved 18 August 2012.
  5. ^ Bayard Catron (2001). "Pre-Soft-Boys Bands". Archived from the original on 19 July 2013. Retrieved 18 August 2012.
  6. ^ "The Soft Boys Biography :". Retrieved 18 August 2012.
  7. ^ Denise Sullivan (2012). "The Soft Boys – Music Biography, Credits and Discography : AllMusic". Retrieved 17 August 2012.
  8. ^ Bayard Catron (2001). "fegMANIA! – Robyn Hitchcock Chronology". Archived from the original on 16 July 2012. Retrieved 18 August 2012.
  9. ^ a b c d e f Colin Larkin, ed. (1992). The Guinness Who's Who of Indie and New Wave Music (First ed.). Guinness Publishing. p. 137. ISBN 0-85112-579-4.
  10. ^ The Rough Guide to Rock, Peter Buckley, 2003
  11. ^ "R.E.M. side-projects". Retrieved 22 March 2012.
  12. ^ "Robert Loerzel interviews Hitchcock". Archived from the original on 22 February 2012. Retrieved 22 March 2012.
  13. ^ "Robyn Hitchcock: Respect : Music Reviews : Rolling Stone". Rolling Stone. 15 April 1993. Archived from the original on 14 January 2009. Retrieved 7 June 2017.
  14. ^ "Robyn Hitchcock". Robyn Hitchcock. 11 June 2012. Retrieved 7 June 2017.
  15. ^ "Robyn Hitchcock: Sex, Food, Death…and Insects | Otmoor Productions | Documentaries and Consultancy". Otmoor Productions. Retrieved 7 June 2017.
  16. ^ Matt LeMay (30 November 2007). "Robyn Hitchcock: I Wanna Go Backwards Album Review". Pitchfork. Retrieved 7 June 2017.
  17. ^ "ATP curated by Jeff Mangum". Retrieved 22 March 2012.
  18. ^ "Robyn Hitchcock, Emma Swift – Follow Your Money (Vinyl)". 18 April 2015. Retrieved 7 June 2017.
  19. ^ "Robyn Hitchcock & Emma Swift – Love Is a Drag". Retrieved 7 June 2017.
  20. ^ "Robyn Hitchcock – Robyn Hitchcock". Retrieved 7 June 2017.
  21. ^ Olsen, Mark. "How the 'Juliet, Naked' team created a lost great album with help from Ryan Adams, Robyn Hitchcock and more". Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles. Retrieved 11 August 2020.
  22. ^ a b Hertweck, Nate (8 December 2019). "Robyn Hitchcock On Nashville Living, His 'Planet England' EP, John Lennon's Legacy & Making "Beatles Music"". Retrieved 11 August 2020.
  23. ^ Gray, Julia (4 August 2019). "Andy Partridge & Robyn Hitchcock Announce Collaborative EP Out Next Month". Stereogum. Retrieved 2 April 2020.
  24. ^ a b Bill Pearis (7 August 2020). "Robyn Hitchcock covers Nick Drake, Pink Floyd on new rarities album for Bandcamp Friday". Brooklyn Vegan. Retrieved 10 August 2020.
  25. ^ a b Darryl Sterdan (7 August 2020). "Reviews: Robyn Hitchcock, The Man Downstairs: Demos & Rarities". Tinnitist. Retrieved 10 August 2020.
  26. ^ McKenna, Brittney (13 August 2020). "Emma Swift Salutes Many Sides of Dylan on Blonde on the Tracks". Nashville Scene. Nashville, Tennessee. Retrieved 11 October 2020.
  27. ^ Harris, W. "A chat with Robyn Hitchcock,", 10 February 2006. Retrieved 9 February 2013.
  28. ^ "Robyn Hitchcock". 10 September 2021. Retrieved 8 September 2023.
  29. ^ Hurt, Edd (20 April 2017). "Robyn Hitchcock Reinvents Himself in Nashville". Nashville Scene. Retrieved 30 May 2019.
  30. ^ Trageser, Stephen (19 March 2020). "Robyn Hitchcock and Emma Swift Settle In at Home". Nashville Scene. Nashville, TN. Retrieved 14 May 2021.
  31. ^ "Robyn Hitchcock feels jolly good". SF Examiner. 30 April 2013.

Further reading edit

External links edit