music

Live Hitchcock

In 1998, I was explaining the differences between yo-yos to a customer in Spitalfields Market, when I realised that the person behind him looking at the stall was Robyn Hitchcock. “Hello Robyn,” I said, to his back, just a fraction too late, as he wandered away.

Meanwhile in Exeter last night, I caught the last night of Mr Hitchcock’s current British tour. It only occurred to me just a few minutes before he was due on stage that these days you don’t have to wait to call out song requests, so I tweeted one through. Slim chance, maybe, but why not?

Robyn Hitchcock - Exeter

While “singer-songwriter” (with added twisted adjectives of your own preference) is an accurate description, one of the good things about an RH gig is that you get to be entertained between the music too. Tonight, after a brief false start with a harmonica rack and a guitar lead that had impertinently failed to plug itself in, Robyn told us tales of, amongst other things, trolley busses, fire alarm memories, ancient ancestors and their trains to Aberdeen, and the problems of Neolithic Grandma Architecture. All of which were quite as they should be in a world where reality and history are parallel quirks of space-time.

Oh, and there were songs too, new and old and in between. I may have been too late with my tweet, but… Antwoman, swiftly followed by 52 Stations, gained early multiple ticks in my book. Along the way, we also had some stunt guitar to close I’m Only You, Raymond And The Wires, Virginia Woolf and I Want To Tell You About What I Want from the latest album, The Cheese Alarm, and Only The Stones Remain. (Wait! It was BEADS and fish that changed hands? I’ve been singing “meat” for years.)

Peppering the evening were also many implausible requests to the sound desk (“can you make this sound like well-played 12-string, with a touch of sober David Crosby”), which each later seemed to have managed to end up going to have been what was about to have happened. (See the note about time earlier.)

Emma Swift joined Robyn for some songs at the end, and her harmonies gave a lift to Glass Hotel in particular. Closing up with the neither-Dylanesque-nor-Morrisseyan-yet-perhaps-related – I paraphrase – Queen Elvis, and the crowd bayed for more.

Shirtwatch: off-acid pink, with blue and maroon floral motif.

Robyn came back, solo, and said “apparently someone requested this”. OH! Seems I’d not been too late after all, so hooray, I got to hear 1974 live for the first time. (It’s been quite a while since my last RH gig.) I can almost taste the coffeemate and the denim. And to exit, for fun (until the melancholic Unforgiven line) Gene Hackman. An excellent evening’s distraction.

Well Robyn, I may not have sold you a yo-yo way back then, but when I got to design my own custom kendama recently, you got swirled in the paint a little, so that seems to close that loop.

Royal Kendama


Down the motorway for a mooch around the rainy seaside, shelter in a coffee shop, and then the first night of Unfold at the Sunfold. The basement of said hotel was our venue, and first up were drinks, and food laid on. Very civilised.

First act of the night was our genial host, under the moniker of The Steven Morricone Tyranny. Solo at the mic’d-up upright piano, in the guise of evil crooning haunter, we were treated to a selection of songs from the vault. Cheap Guitar, Vesuvius, I Am The Blind and more, together with a Fall cover, and a new song of perspective Then I Met Joanna. Grave Peril was the standout for me.

After a short break, next up was Gigantelope, or, as he introduced himself, Dave. When he started singing, I realised Dave was a fellow Being 747 alumni. He reminded me at first of Brian, although less twee. Both of which are no bad things in my book. Acoustic guitar, both with and without backing track (“opinion is split”, apparently), we had songs of companionship, meditation (“Take A Thought Holiday”), paeans to ice cream and HD TV, and of the horror-relief of the Night Bus home.

Second brother of the night, and shirt of the evening, was billed as Paul Morricone & Con Medicine, although unless CM was the tape machine, it seemed to be Paul alone. Alternating with and without guitar, to backing tracks, we heard songs from the upcoming solo LP. Two openers were songs of reminiscence (…These Tears), before we were asked that age-old question “Do you want to hear a song about Huddersfield?”. A Man Possessed, Happiness, some lovely chorussed guitar, and Like I Was Never There* followed. Last up was “a cover version”, which turned out to be the first live outing of Be Nothing, a beautiful song of ego-crushing self-realisation.



Our headliner was Thomas Truax, who I first heard, I think, played by John Peel, and who I last saw live in 2007. If this was Melody Maker, I might describe Thomas as Hal Hartley redirected by de Chirico, or as how Kerouac would write about George Shearing if he only had a theremin instead of a typewriter, or spying through your neighbours’ window, whistling silently as they watch reruns of The Twilight Zone. But it isn’t, so I won’t.* With a plethora of pedals, a resonator guitar, and homemade instruments The Hornicator and Mother Superior (Stringaling was sulking tonight), we had songs of giant butterfly girls, foxes, treed kittens, moonlight (including an off-stage, out-of-room, and indeed -building, excursion), the wind and beehive hearts. Who wants to be on a wall anyway?




An intimate gig, a top night’s entertainment, and the veggie chilli was great too.

*Facts and actual song titles may vary. Your Scaramangary rights are not affected. Click to enlarge photos, but preferably find Dave’s shots instead. Please hold to speak to one of our unco-operators.

Sunday, there are a few records in the charts you want to hear, but everyone’s waiting for 7 o’clock. It’s the Annie Nightingale request show. I never wrote in, but always loved the humour and stories shared between the listeners and Annie. (Did the songless Rebeccas ever get a tune? Whither green ink? How do you spell “The Murks/Mercs/?”? Where are all the Durannies now?) I’ve got loads of tapes of songs I recorded from the show, but when I saw Annie tweet that “most of the request shows were wiped. I have no copies.”, I thought “oh, complete shows? I’ve got one!”. On digging out my cassettes, it turned out I had four complete shows.
cassettes of Annie's shows
Great! Now to dig out a walkman. Oh, it doesn’t work anymore. No problem, I’ve got a spare one. Oh, that doesn’t work either. So a couple of days later, it was off to Argos to splash out on a brand new £17 walkman. Cheap as bananas, but… it works.
three walkman players - one worked
Now to plug everything into my Mac, and capture with Audacity. Seems like a couple of the shows were recorded at a touch too high level, so there’s a bit of blast at the top, but it’s listenable.
audacity software screenshot
What a trip down memory lane to listen to these! Turns out that I always think of the words “MOno SOdi-um GLU-ta-mate” in that particular cadence because of Toyah’s “Creepy Room”. I’d totally forgotten that track. Who remembered the “neckless men in blazers and cravats”? Or Mr Murray’s daftness? Wow.

Well, Annie, thanks so much for all the great tunes, the memories, and I’m delighted to be able to respond to your official BBC request (well, that’s how I’m taking it) by giving you something back. So for The Kamikaze Pilots, Magazine, for Christina’s Is That All There Is?, for The Ramones, The Blue Nile, for Here And Now and It’s A Fine Day, for The Passions, for Fish Heads and This Mortal Coil, for Wood Beez, Split Enz, for Siouxsie, Janis and the Cocteaus, Germans, Prince Buster and The Icicle Works, and all the rest, Merry Xmas, Annie, you legend.
With love, from The Void. x

Captured to AIFF, compressed to 256kbps .m4a AAC files.
Control-click and download, folks. Please don’t stream them on (Apple) devices that won’t save files (save my bandwidth!):
Annie Nightingale 1984 Halloween Special Pt1 94Mb
Annie Nightingale 1984 Halloween Special Pt2 93MB
Annie Nightingale 1984 Halloween Special Pt3 50MB
Annie Nightingale 2nd Anniversary Show Pt1 88MB
Annie Nightingale 2nd Anniversary Show Pt2 91MB
Annie Nightingale 2nd Anniversary Show Pt3 61MB
Annie Nightingale 1984 Special Pt1 61MB
Annie Nightingale 1984 Special Pt2 88MB
Annie Nightingale 1984 Special Pt3 91MB
Annie Nightingale 1985 Special Pt1 61MB
Annie Nightingale 1985 Special Pt2 93MB
Annie Nightingale 1985 Special Pt3 41MB
Annie Nightingale 1985 Special Pt4 45MB