top of page

CHARABANCS, A THIRD EYE AND OTHER WAYS TO BRING ROBYN HITCHCOCK JOY


(Photo by Bleddyn Butcher)


A MAN UNFEASIBLY, UNREASONABLY STILL not elevated to the House Of Lords, Robyn Hitchcock, greets me from under the flight path in Marrickville, sometimes almost flinching as a plane practically scrapes the rooftop. What’s more, we both know a huge storm is not far away, the kind that grabs and devours, kicks you in the showers.


Lesser musicians might run, but not even the prospect of imminent close engagement with a 747 is going to put him off. First of all, Hitchcock’s been here for weeks already, and this isn’t his first long stay in Sydney’s inner west. Secondly he has a few shows to play on the east coast he’d like us to attend.


Gigs aren’t even the end of it. The trolleybus-loving Englishman who across nearly 50 years as a performer has sometimes been called eccentric but is more accurately described as uniquely equipped for a new psychedelic pop era, has been busy. He’s released two records in the past couple of years, one of them an instrumental album, the other a deeply satisfying collection of pop songs; has a memoir due midyear –1967: How I Got There And Why I Never Left – and an album to accompany the book, featuring his interpretations of a dozen songs from 1967.


(Yes, of course one of them is a Syd Barrett song. The founder of Pink Floyd is a foundational artist for Hitchcock, but not the only figure of adoration and influence.)


There will be lots more to talk about when that book and album arrive but in the spirit of each of them, here’s a chance to engage the Reverse Marie Kondo – across five categories asking Robyn Hitchcock what brings him joy that he would like to have, or have more of, in his life – while we literally and metaphorically keep dodging the undercarriage of life.


A PLACE

Sydney, the inner west, I love it. Circumstances see me down here for a variety of reasons but I am so love being in this city. It is the most sensual city that I know of. London has got a lot of attitude and it’s got a very strong pulse, particularly around the river, the heart of London, and you can’t beat the energy if you are just walking around Blackfriars or somewhere like that. And there are some lovely places laced with money and garnished with love, like Hampstead and Kensington and things.


But I think because of the landscape and the climate there is something about the way this city is laid out it’s like a much kinder version of San Francisco. It’s got the hills, it’s got these beautiful houses – sometimes you can just own things with your eyes: mostly one can’t afford those places, but you can wander past and have a look.


(Surry Hills in bloom)


I often think they should just charge money, like they have those coach trips around Beverly Hills, to go up and down through Woollahra or Surry Hills in a charabanc and look at the properties.


I don’t know, there is some lodestone buried under it or it’s on some kind of ley line, the confluence of the skies or whatever it is. I would certainly like more of it in my life, and it looks like it’s probably going to happen at this rate. The question is should you actually spend your life in the place that you actually like the best, or should that be a kind of treat? Should that be a mistress rather than a wife?


A SONG

My key touchstone songs I’ve discussed so much, like Visions Of Johanna by Bob Dylan, and there’s nothing much I can say about Wolfpack by Syd Barrett or Surf’s Up by The Beach Boys, certain songs that I think distill everything that I like about the way songwriting went in the ‘60s. And the reason I write songs is because I am trying to continue on that path, or at least write in that genre.


I’m never going to come up with anything as original or vibrant or beautiful as Surf’s Up or Visions Of Johanna, or Wolfpack, which was very damaged Syd Barrett but was still him reaching for something extraordinary. But I really like Wichita Lineman, by Jimmy Webb. I think Bob Dylan recently said he thought it was the best song ever written and I thought that was a sign of taste. That was one I picked up from Emma [Swift, his partner, the Australian singer/songwriter and recent interpreter of Dylan].



We could go back to the The Beatles singing There’s A Place on the first record: those extraordinary harmonies, the way John and Paul use their voices. It’s probably only two minutes long, it’s not as famous as they later work, their rococo period that was more written about, but it’s still an extraordinary piece of music.


There is an ache, an emotional ache, in both of those songs.


Oh, I think the best songs do have an ache. I mean, it’s quite hard to be jubilant; what makes people write songs generally is some kind of loss. That’s why Bob Dylan is so eternal, because there is a sense of loss in Dylan, from Song To Woody to Key West. There is that terrible feeling that something’s gone and, I guess you don’t celebrate loss, you mourn it, you definitely acknowledge it. And the reason I am in music, rather than trying to be a writer, is because music is more emotional. It’s the most emotional art form I think, and it is that feeling of loss.


A PERSON

I’ve already got Emma so I don’t think I could bring her in any more. But she certainly made an enormous difference to how I feel … everything really. It’s been a sort of emotional fertiliser. But in terms of who I would bring in, I love working with Davey Lane [who, among other things he has done with Hitchcock including this current tour, helped produce the 1967 album] but the person I fantasise about meeting would be John Lennon.


Would I have got on with John Lennon? What was he like as an individual? But the chances are I don’t suppose I would have necessarily even liked him. I’ve never wanted to meet Bob Dylan because I know that he has met too many people and he’s got rather a contempt for them I think. People will do anything he wants so everybody is a pushover and I think I wouldn’t want to meet him. I don’t think you’d come away thinking, oh my what a great guy, or what a mensch.


(Bert Jansch)


I would have probably liked to have known maybe Bert Jansch. Johnny Marr got to know Bert Jansch, Bert gave him a guitar, but Johnny’s like that. Johnny gets to know everybody. He’s got a calling card, he can go high or low: his elevator stops at many stories. Me? I would love to have played guitar with Bert Jansch. I have played with Martin Carthy a few times, and he is my other guitar hero.


But that’s the problem. TS Eliot, he probably was like a real dry old bat. I don’t suppose he walked into the room when you thought, hey high five TS. The people who would be great to have in your life are probably somebody that you’ve never heard of.


BOOK/FILM/ART

I would love to have an original [early Italian surrealist, Giorgio] de Chirico painting, from the Great War period. Things like The Disquieting Muses. Those landscapes that de Chirico painted that were industrial [settings], he did a lot of mannequins coming up from floor boards, and he did statues with aviator sunglasses, and he did Italian railway stations with little red green sunsets behind them. He created what could be known as a psychic landscape. It was a world that you would be in that wasn’t as fantastical as Salvador Dali, but it was more of landscape, a place you could be in.


(Giorgio de Chirico's The Disquieting Muses)


There’s another painter called Paul Delvaux [Belgian sometimes considered a surrealist] did a lot of pictures of naked women in trams by moonlight, which ticks a lot of my boxes. I’d love a Delvaux, they’re probably a bit cheaper than a de Chirico. If anyone would like to get me a classic Delvaux or a de Chirico, they are two of my favourite painters, I’d be thrilled. If people gave me enough of them, I could sell some and buy a place in Surry Hills. It would be great.


HIS CHOICE OF SOMETHING TO BRING INTO HIS LIFE

What I would like is evolution. I would like this species to very, very suddenly find an evolutionary corner, starting with myself and then spreading outwards, where our third eyes opened en-masse and suddenly we become an empathic, telepathic species that is able to feel what we do to other people and ourselves. Not in a kind of punitive, do unto others as you would do to yourself vindictive, religious way, but more in a kind of ‘oh, okay, I see what I’m doing here and what that is making people feel’. I suppose like a biological empathy.



Maybe people were like that once but we are not, but if we are going to survive, which I think is unlikely in our present form, we will have to adapt or mutate very fast. Maybe because we are about to merge with our phones.


As Emma is fond of saying, there are no coincidences. I think this sudden rise in artificial intelligence, and the proliferation of the iPhone, coinciding with the acceleration of climate change and to some extent the rise of authoritarian regimes around the world, is propelling us from many directions into a sort of centrifugal crisis. And to me one solution would be if we actually developed a telepathic response. Not too much to ask. Or I’d settle for a place in Surry Hills.

 

We’ll leave Robyn Hitchcock with the thought that given the prices in Sydney, that third eye evolution is probably more likely, but meanwhile he will play: The Great Club, Marrickville, March 1; The Tote, Collingwood, March 8; Merri Creek Tavern (acoustic set), March 10.





(Robyn Hitchcock finding joy)

Comentários


bottom of page