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Hitchcock, Robyn

Robyn Hitchcock

Singer, songwriter, guitarist

"I wished for the impossible when I was a kid," British rocker Robyn Hitchcock once told Rolling Stone. "When I couldn't realize it, I retreated into fantasy." Thirty-some years and eleven albums later, the eccentric Hitchcock has yet to fully emerge. With his witty lyrics and surrealist imagery, the singer/songwriter has created an elaborate fantasyscape populated by bizarre life forms—slimy amphibians, antennaed insects, and creepy crustaceans. And behind the artist's psychedelic inventions is a devoted cult following; Hitchcock's fans have developed quite a taste for his peculiar brand of primordial soup.

Born in London in 1953, Hitchcock developed an "intense contempt for normalcy in all its forms" at an early age, he told the San Francisco Chronicle. Inspired by Bob Dylan's "Like a Rolling Stone," he gravitated toward music as a means of expressing that contempt. At 16, Hitchcock discovered William Shakespeare and avant-garde rock figure Captain Beefheart, the two influences that would establish the foundation for his unique musical perspective. In the early 1970s his interest in Shakespeare led him to study English at Cambridge University, while the allure of Beefheart propelled Hitchcock to the coffeehouse folk scene, where he explored his burgeoning musical style as a solo guitarist.

On the coffeehouse circuit Hitchcock developed the distinctive right-hand picking style that Guitar Player called "a kind of finicky folk that's not sentimental enough for the coffeehouses, and too acerbic and sharply poetic for most rock audiences."

Following the demise of his short-lived acoustic quartet, Maureen and the Meatpackers, Hitchcock formed his first recording group with bassist and keyboardist Andy Metcalf and drummer Morris Windsor in 1976. Dubbed the Soft Boys, the art-punk rock band derived its title from two William Burroughs novels, The Soft Machine and The Wild Boys. Its mission: to "avoid cliche whenever possible." That was the group's "manifesto," Hitchcock told the Chronicle.

It was with the Soft Boys that Hitchcock perfected his signature surrealist style, characterized by a psychedelic quality that was typical of the musicians of his generation. Although the Soft Boys developed a consistent following after the release of the band's first recordings in 1977 and 1978, their irreverent pop sound was ultimately drowned out by angrier young men like the Sex Pistols; unable to withstand the punk rock tide, the group disbanded in 1981.

Three years later the Soft Boys were reborn as the Egyptians; in addition to Hitchcock, Metcalf, and Windsor, the group counted two new members, Otis Horns Fletcher and Roger Jackson. The band fared well in the United States in its new incarnation. The albums Fegmania!, Gotta Let This Hen Out!, and Elements of Light, released on the alternative Slash and Relativity labels, rated high on college radio playlists. The band's reputation was enhanced by the enthusiastic endorsement of R.E.M. guitarist Peter Buck, with whom they began a lasting musical collaboration. In 1988 the Egyptians recorded Globe of Frogs, their first album on the major label A&M. Queen Elvis and Perspex Island followed in 1989 and 1991, respectively.

Perspex Island, Hitchcock's first recording with an outside producer, Paul Fox, was "mixed on a car stereo in L.A. because it's designed to be listened to in traffic," reported the Chicago Tribune. The album showed a different aspect of Hitchcock's talent. "There's a side of me I've been hesitant to reveal in the past," he told Pitch magazine. "I've always avoided being too vulnerable, too open, afraid of coming off maudlin."

The emotional openness reflected on Perspex Island seemed to reflect Hitchcock's new-found contentment, which may have had something to do with contributions from Peter Buck and R.E.M. vocalist Michael Stipe. Buck played guitar and mandolin on eight of the album's 11 tracks, and Stipe contributed vocals to the cut "She Doesn't Exist."

Despite its sincerity, Perspex Island did not sacrifice the surreal imagery so dear to Hitchcock's die-hard fans. The album's title, in fact, was inspired by an acrylic material that's used to make souvenir paperweights; trinkets are suspended in the substance, creating a fossilized Jello effect. "Birds in Perspex," one of the singles off the album, "is basically about wanting something that's dead or frozen to suddenly reanimate, " Hitchcock explained in an A&M Records press release. In fact, that "something" does come alive on the album's cover, a creature-filled composition of Hitchcock's own making.

Critics were overwhelmingly positive about Perspex Island's accessible love songs, assuring Hitchcock that his fear of "coming off maudlin" was unfounded. Quickly becoming a college favorite, the album was praised not only for its exacting rhythms and three-part harmonies but also for its disarming candor. The first single, "So You Think You're in Love," rose to the top of the CMJ Album Network, Gavin Report, and Radio and Records Alternative charts.

Fittingly, Perspex Island's popularity mirrored Hitchcock's feelings about his shift in musical style. He told Spin, "It's taken about half my life to actually stagger into accepting being Robyn Hitchcock. My aim now is to write songs that have emotion."

Hitchcock followed up Perspex Island with 1993's Respect, which he dedicated to his late father. He earned critical praise for such songs as "The Yip Song," "When I Was Dead," and "Wafflehead." The album also featured Hitchcock's guitar mastery on the solo instrumental "Serpent at the Gates of Wisdom." Reviewing the album for Rock: The Rough Guide, Iain Smith wrote that the album was "Robyn Hitchcock & the Egyptians most finely crafted work to date."

Respect was Hitchcock's final album for A&M. He signed to Warner Brothers for his 1996 release Moss Elixir. In 1998 director Jonathan Demme filmed Hitchcock's solo live performances in the concert film Storefront Hitchcock, and a soundtrack album was released. His last album for the label was 1999's Jewels for Sophia. Subsequent releases on independent labels have yielded positive results. Of Luxor, released in 2003, All Music Guide critic Brian Downing wrote: "There is not only a strong sense of his own musical past evident, but also the past of pop music in general; sort of like a musical tea party with the ghosts of Syd Barrett, John Lennon, and Bob Dylan as the special guests."

Spooked, released in 2004, and Ole! Tarantula, released in 2006, featured guest appearances by Gillian Welch and David Rawlings on the former and Peter Buck, Ian McLagan, and Kimberley Rew, recording as the Venus 3, on the latter. Ole! Tarantuala was notable for Hitchcock's songwriting collaboration with XTC mainstay Andy Partridge, "'Cause It's Love (Saint Parallelogram)." According to All Music Guide critic James Christopher Monger: "His greatest strength has always been his ability to toss a clear nugget of profundity into his most surrealist rants…. It's that perfect balance of sadness, vitriol, and absurdity that makes Hitchcock (when he's on) such a legendary social commentator. He's the jester, the king, the convict, and the executioner all wrapped up into one."

Selected Discography

(With the Soft Boys) Underwater Moonlight (import), Armageddon, 1980.
(With the Egyptians) Fegmania!, Slash, 1985.
Gotta Let This Hen Out!, Relativity, 1985.
Element of Light, Relativity, 1986.
Globe of Frogs, A&M, 1988.
Queen Elvis, A&M, 1989.
Perspex Island, A&M, 1991.
Respect, A&M, 1993.
Solo releases I Often Dream of Trains, Relativity, 1984.
Eye, Twin/Tone, 1990.
Moss Elixir, Warner Bros., 1996.
Storefront Hitchcock, Warner Bros, 1998.
Live at the Cambridge Folk Festival, Varese, 1998.
Jewels for Sophia, Warner Bros., 1999.
A Star for Bram, Editions PAF!, 2000.
Robyn Sings, Editions PAF!, 2002.
Luxor, Editions PAF!, 2003.
Spooked, Yep Roc, 2004.
Obliteration Pie, 3rd Japan, 2006.
Ole! Tarantuala, Yep Roc, 2006.
This Is the BBC, Hux, 2006.

For the Record …

Born in London, England, in 1953. Education: Attended Cambridge University.

Member of acoustic quartet Maureen and the Meatpackers, early 1970s; with bassist-keyboardist Andy Metcalf and drummer Morris Windsor, formed band the Soft Boys, 1976; group disbanded, 1981; group re-formed as the Egyptians, 1984; signed with A&M Records, and released Globe of Frogs, 1988; released Respect, 1993; signed with Warner Brothers and released Moss Elixir, 1996; released soundtrack to Jonathan Demmedirected Hitchcock film Storefront Hitchcock, 1998.

Addresses: Record company—Yep Roc Records, P.O. Box 4821, Chapel Hill, NC 27515-4821. Publicist—Yep Roc, Nic Brown, phone: (336) 395-1141, e-mail: nic@yeproc.com, or Tresa Redburn, Dept. 56, phone: (818) 702-6253, e-mail: tmumba@aol.com.

Sources

Books

Rock: The Rough Guide, Rough Guides, Ltd., 1999.

Periodicals

Chicago Tribune, February 23, 1992.

Guitar Player, April 1992.

High Fidelity, May 1988.

Lincoln Journal (Lincoln, NE), September 1991.

Los Angeles Reader, September 13, 1991.

Musician, September 1991; April 1992.

Pitch (Kansas City, MO), August 21, 1991.

Pulse!, September 1991.

Rolling Stone, January 29, 1987; November 4, 1991.

San Antonio Light, August 18, 1991.

San Francisco Chronicle, September 22, 1991.

Spin, September 1991; October 1991.

Washington Post, January 31, 1992.

Online

All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (Nov. 14, 2006).

Additional information for this profile was obtained from an A&M Records press release, 1991.

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"Hitchcock, Robyn." Contemporary Musicians. . Encyclopedia.com. 13 Dec. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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Hitchcock, Robyn

Robyn Hitchcock

Singer, songwriter

Avoid Cliche Whenever Possible

Soft Boys a Casualty of Punk

Perspex Island Marked a Departure

Selected discography

Sources

I wished for the impossible when I was a kid, I British rocker Robyn Hitchcock once told Rolling Stone. When I couldnt realize it, I retreated into fantasy. Thirty-some years and 11 albums later, the eccentric Hitchcock has yet to fully emerge. With his witty lyrics and surrealist imagery, the singer and songwriter has created an elaborate fantasyscape populated by bizarre life formsslimy amphibians, antennaed insects, and creepy crustaceans. And in the psychedelic ooze these inventions trail is a devoted cult following; Hitchcocks fans have developed quite a taste for his peculiar brand of primordial soup.

Born in London in 1953, Hitchcock developed an intense contempt for normalcy in all its forms at an early age, he told the San Francisco Chronicle. Inspired by Bob Dylans Like a Rolling Stone, he gravitated toward music as a means of expressing that contempt. At 16 Hitchcock discovered William Shakespeare and avant-garde rock figure Captain Beefheart, the two influences that would establish the foundation for his unique musical perspective. In the early 1970s his interest in Shakespeare led him to study English at Cambridge University, while the allure of Beefheart propelled Hitchcock to the coffeehouse folk scene, where he explored his burgeoning musical style as a solo guitarist.

On the coffeehouse circuit Hitchcock developed the distinctive right-hand picking style that Guitar Player called a kind of finicky folk thats not sentimental enough for the coffeehouses, and too acerbic and sharply poetic for most rock audiences. Hitchcock explained: There werent chorus pedals in the early 70s, and it was hard to make a nice noise, so I innately started picking, which makes you sound like [folk-rocker] Roger McGuinn or something. Everybody else was trying to play like Eric Clapton, but when I did leads I tried to play like Barry Melton from Country Joe and the Fish.

Avoid Cliche Whenever Possible

Following the demise of his short-lived acoustic quartet, Maureen and the Meatpackers, Hitchcock formed his first recording group with bassist and keyboardist Andy Metcalf and drummer Morris Windsor in 1976. Dubbed the Soft Boys, the art-punk rock band derived its title from two William Burroughs novels, The Soft Machine and The Wild Boys. Its mission: to avoid cliche whenever possible. That was our manifesto, Hitchcock told the Chronicle.

It was with the Soft Boys that Hitchcock perfected his signature surrealist style. Although characterized by a

For the Record

Born in London, England, in 1953. Education: Attended Cambridge University.

Member of acoustic quartet Maureen and the Meatpackers, early 1970s; with bassist-keyboardist Andy Metcalf and drummer Morris Windsor, formed band the Soft Boys, 1976; group disbanded, 1981; group reformed as the Egyptians, 1984; signed with A&M Records, and released Globe of Frogs, 1988.

Addresses: Record company A&M Records, 1416 North La Brea Avenue, Hollywood, CA 90028. Management (U.S.) Triad Artists, 16th Floor, 10100 Santa Monica St., Los Angeles, CA 90067; (England) Bugle Group, Bugle House, 21 A. Noel Street, London W1V3PD, England.

psychedelic quality typical of the musicians of his generation, his was a method, he insisted, that was not drug-induced. I was influenced by people who had taken LSD, he told the Chicago Tribune, but I didnt take very much acid. I dont think I needed to, really, because Id already thought myself into that state. The effect of that condition was captured on the single Kingdom of Love, recorded in the late 1970s. Offering a classic Hitchcockian juxtaposition of the familiar and the bizarre, it laments: Youve been laying eggs under my skin I Now theyre hatching out under my chin I Now theres tiny insects showing through I All them tiny insects look like you. Although labeled a classic paranoid delusion by a psychologist, Hitchcock explained to Rolling Stone, the song was intended to describe the way people have an effect on each other and sometimes have kids.

Soft Boys a Casualty of Punk

Although the Soft Boys developed a consistent following after the release of the bands first recordings in 1977 and 78, their irreverent pop sound was ultimately drowned out by angrier young men like the Sex Pistols; unable to withstand the punk-rock tide, the group disbanded in 1981.

Three years later the Soft Boys were reborn as the Egyptians; in addition to Hitchcock, Metcalf, and Windsor, the group counted two new members, Otis Horns Fletcher and Roger Jackson. The band fared well stateside in its new incarnation. The albums Fegmania!, Gotta Let This Hen Out!, and Elements of Light, on the alternative Slash and Relativity labels, rated high on college radio playlists. The bands reputation was enhanced by the enthusiastic endorsement of R.E.M. guitarist Peter Buck, with whom they began a lasting musical collaboration. In 1988 the Egyptians recorded Globe of Frogs, their first album on the major label A&M. Queen Elvis and Perspex Island followed in 1989 and 91, respectively.

Perspex Island, Hitchcocks first recording with an outside producer, Paul Fox, was mixed on a car stereo in L.A. because its designed to be listened to in traffic, reported the Chicago Tribune. Here the artist emerged for the first time from behind his well-fortified wall of crustaceans and alien vegetation. Theres a side of me Ive been hesitant to reveal in the past, he told Pitch magazine. Ive always avoided being too vulnerable, too open, afraid of coming off maudlin.

Perspex Island Marked a Departure

The emotional openness reflected on Perspex Island could be credited to Hitchcocks new-found contentment. I havent had therapy or anything, he explained to the Chicago Tribune, I just have a great girlfriend. Peter Buck and R.E.M. vocalist Michael Stipe also had something to do with the new confessional mode. Hitchcock told Pitch, Theyre very into that sort of thing. Buck played guitar and mandolin on eight of the albums 11 tracks, and Stipe contributed vocals to the cut She Doesnt Exist.

Despite its sincerity, Perspex Island did not sacrifice the surreal imagery so dear to Hitchcocks diehard fans. The albums title, in fact, was inspired by an acrylic material thats used to make souvenir paperweights; trinkets are suspended in the substance, creating a fossilized Jello effect. Birds in Perspex, one of the singles off the album, is basically about wanting something thats dead or frozen to suddenly reanimate, Hitchcock explained in an A&M Records press release. In fact, that something does come alive on the albums cover, a creature-filled composition of Hitchcocks own making.

Critics were overwhelmingly positive about Perspex Islands accessible love songs, assuring Hitchcock that his fear of coming off maudlin was unfounded. Quickly becoming a college favorite, the album was praised not only for its exacting rhythms and three-part harmonies but also for its disarming candor. The first single, So You Think Youre in Love, rose to the top of the CMJ Album Network, Gavin Report, and Radio and Records Alternative charts.

Fittingly, Perspex Islands popularity mirrors Hitchcocks feelings about his shift in musical style. For a long time, I would rather have been [1960s Pink Floyd guitarist] Syd Barrett or Bob Dylan than me, he told Spin. Its taken about half my life to actually stagger into accepting being Robyn Hitchcock. My aim now is to write songs that have emotion.

Selected discography

With the Soft Boys

Underwater Moonlight (impon), Armageddon, 1980.

With the Egyptians

Fegmania!, Slash, 1985.

Gotta Let This Hen Out!, Relativity, 1985.

Element of Light, Relativity, 1986.

Globe of Frogs, A&M, 1988.

Queen Elvis, A&M, 1989.

Perspex Island, A&M, 1991.

Respect, A&M, 1993.

Solo releases

I Often Dream of Trains, Relativity, 1984.

Eye, Twin/Tone, 1990.

Sources

Chicago Tribune, February 23, 1992.

Guitar Player, April 1992.

High Fidelity, May 1988.

Lincoln Journal (Lincoln, NE), September 1991.

Los Angeles Reader, September 13, 1991.

Musician, September 1991; April 1992.

Pitch (Kansas City, MO), August 21, 1991.

Pulse!, September 1991.

Rolling Stone, January 29, 1987; November 4, 1991.

San Antonio Light, August 18, 1991.

San Francisco Chronicle, September 22, 1991.

Spin, September 1991; October 1991.

Washington Post, January 31, 1992.

Additional information for this profile was obtained from an A&M Records press release, 1991.

Marcia Militello

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Hitchcock, Robyn." Contemporary Musicians. . Encyclopedia.com. 13 Dec. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Hitchcock, Robyn." Contemporary Musicians. . Encyclopedia.com. (December 13, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/hitchcock-robyn

"Hitchcock, Robyn." Contemporary Musicians. . Retrieved December 13, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/hitchcock-robyn