Coming just a year after his last Cambridge show, Robyn Hitchcock returns this time in support of acclaimed new album ‘The Man Upstairs’. The LP features stark, beautiful originals as well as readings of others’ which are often much more affecting than their originals. It’s the latest in a prolific and varied career which has included a stint with short-lived post-punk outfit The Soft Boys as well as formidable backing bands for his solo career like the Egyptians and Venus 3.
C Joynes, also from Cambridge, played in the same room relatively recently for Bad Timing’s Monomania festival. Playing solo onstage, his playing conjures up vivid images; a style which bears the hallmark of his prior work where he primarily played an acoustic guitar where he now uses an electric guitar. Disaster strikes as he breaks a string with his second guitar then refusing to stay in tune. The crowd are patient however, and he gets back on track with his striking ‘Libertango’ interpretation.
The more straightforward furrow on his new record is for a while left alone, Hitchcock preferring to muse on cheese alarms and a satirical take on an Olympic anthem: ‘Dismal City’.
In these songs his irreverent wit seeps in lyrically from his fairly long and always hilarious between-song monologues. After such a talk on a tennis court situated on the site of The Junction in the 70s, microphone stands and Spandau Ballet, he plays ‘I Often Dream Of Trains’ from LP of same name, a crowd favourite and great reading.
‘My Wife And My Dead Wife’ is also a welcome hark back to his Egyptians material; Hitchcock’s charm and quick thinking always makes for funny moments when he’s between tunes.
Being a hometown show, locals radio DJ Nick Barraclough and fellow Soft Boy Kimberly Rew are on hand to provide mandolin/ banjo and guitar respectively. The pace is changed as they shift through a few covers and old songs with the familiarity of old friends.
It’s nice to see the three of them together onstage enjoying themselves and that enthusiasm does translate, but the absence of most of Hitchcock’s latest and most well-received album for some time is somewhat disappointing considering the sublime ‘San Francisco Patrol’, ‘Comme Toujours’ and several more aren’t touched. When he’s such an excellent songwriter in his own right a Beatles cover does seem a little superfluous. The moments where he fully inhabits his own songs alone are stunning, so it’s maybe a shame he doesn’t take the opportunity to do so more often.
Words from Connor Browne