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live review// Robyn Hitchcock
words// Patrick Widdess

800 px Robyn Hitchcock in Tree

Robyn Hitchcock – The Junction 2 – March 2nd 2013

It’s the eve of Robyn Hitchcock’s 60th birthday and the release of his 19th solo album. Where better to mark these twin milestones than a gig in his former hometown? “I used to live here, then I didn’t” Hitchcock explains during a ramble of reminiscences about The Cambridge Evening News, Mitcham’s Corner, the market and his parents who met in the city “a long time before I was conceived.” He then instructs us to, “imagine you’re in a place like this,” which seems easy enough whilst enjoying a selection of the 500 odd songs he has written since the late 70s.

Hitchcock effortlessly hops about his back catalogue but it’s not so simple for accompanying vocalist Lucy and cellist Jenny, recently recruited and probably not born when some of the songs were written. He bluntly tells Lucy she doesn’t really know one song and leaves her to join in when she’s worked out what the words are. Other songs are preceded by short consultations or rehearsals. ‘“The sheen of perfection won’t spoil this set,” Hitchcock assures us. Despite the lack of practice the trio work well together with particularly strong renditions of ‘Queen Elvis’ and ‘Wreck of The Arthur Lee’ early on in the set.

It’s only later that he starts playing new songs from the album ‘Love From London,’ which, like all the others is not available for sale in the foyer. He also introduces old friends. Radio DJ Nick Barraclough joins the group on banjo for a couple of numbers including new song ‘Be Still’ which already feels like a seasoned classic with characteristic folk rhythms and surreal lyrics. He’s replaced by Katrina and the Waves guitarist Kimberley Rew who, Hitchcock recalls, “appeared through a trapdoor on Victoria Road.” Finally all five musicians join together to bring the main set to a rousing finish.

Hitchcock and Kimberley Rew start the encore with ‘Terrapin’ by Syd Barrett and the other musicians return one by one. More songs follow exceeding their 90 minute slot interspersed with a couple of Hitchcock’s distinct monologues in which he talks about there being no pope meaning there’s no one to explain how babies are made and something about being young and the Queen vomiting with bus stops, Keith Richards, bikes and iPhones somehow getting mixed in. These words along with lyrics about broken skies, tarantulas, enigmatic women and other random elements turn shifting and fragmenting in a mental kaleidoscope creating delightful distractions that make imagining you’re in a place like this a lot more difficult.