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Copyright Nick Morgan and crew

Concert Review by Nick Morgan
with Graham Coxon, KT Tunstall and Kathryn Williams
Queen Elizabeth Hall, London, January 30th 2010
I think, Serge, that this is what the Sports TV channel would call a Super Saturday.  Mind you, I began to wonder whether Saturday would ever happen as I sat on a plane for almost three hours at Aberdeen the previous evening in a snowstorm waiting for the runway to be cleared and the plane’s wings to be de-iced.  But London’s a different country, it’s sunny and not quite freezing, so a perfect afternoon to be at Craven Cottage to watch the Villa record a strangely unconvincing 0-2 win over injury-hit Fulham.  It’s a pretty and old-fashioned little ground next to the mighty River Thames, and what it lacks in atmosphere (West Londoners only shout at parking wardens, and, occasionally, at their nannies), it makes up for in friendliness.  Aston Villa

So we enjoyed a hearty and largely consensual debate with some Fulham fans, some Villa diehards, a group of Irish Liverpool supporters (obviously lost) and a pair of bewildered Finns with very little English, on the futility of Emile Heskey, a subject which might merit a degree course in its own right.  But not here.  Many layers of thermal clothing were discarded as we hotfooted it from the Cottage to an untried pizza joint (too much onion, soggy cheese, nice Primitivo) on the South Bank, thence to the Queen Elizabeth Hall.

A couple of years ago, Robyn Hitchcock went on an Arctic expedition, courtesy of Cape Farewell, a charity dedicated to engineering  “a cultural response to climate change”.  He sailed in good company, including from the musical world Jarvis Cocker, K T Tunstall (she was on her honeymoon with husband Luke Bullen) Laurie Anderson and Martha Wainwright. 
Why?  Well, according to Hitchcock’s blog, “as the scientists aboard research the effects of ice-melt on the ocean bed, and trace the possible mutation of the Gulf stream through salination tests, we artists are being exposed to a landscape that cannot fail to affect our work …we will take the story back with us and spread it like butter on the toast of our item-rich society”.  And tonight, a ‘Maritime Evening’ presented by Hitchcock as part of the Shift Festival, (Artists’ take on Climate Change) is part of the spreading. Polar bear
For an evening in support of such a hot topic, there was a strange absence of propaganda or proselytizing; perhaps Hitchcock was leaving the music to speak for itself, aided of course by some of his occasional outbursts (“Humanity is doomed, but it’ll make no difference in the long run”).  He began with a jaunty rock and roll sea shanty (something about a ghost ship as I recall), followed by a version of Martin Carthy’s ‘Polly on the shore’ (“but not with his ridiculously complicated tunings”), when he was joined by cellist Jenny Adejayan, whose playing added a very distinctive and haunting character to several songs. 
This was followed by Hitchcock’s  ‘Raining twilight coast’, and the subversive ‘Wreck of the Arthur Lee’ (a tribute to the great, if not unpredictably late Mr Lee, whose response was also unpredictable: “"I'll wreck HIM!" and "I'm gonna kick his *#!& ass!". Then, "I don't care if he's ALFRED Hitchcock...I'm gonna mess him up").  By this time Hitchcock had been joined by his current UK touring band, and on acoustic and electric guitars Graham Coxon, looking every bit like rock and roll’s answer to Alan Bennett. Coxon was followed by the very pregnant and very tuneful Kathryn Williams who sang her own ‘Winter is sharp’ (about the hardship of life in fishing communities), and duetted with Hitchcock on ‘The Grey Funnel Line’.  Adding depth to her performance were the two backing singers (names sadly unknown) who, as with Adejayan’s cello, added a real presence to the evening.  One provided beautiful harmonies to Hitchcock’s voice as they played ‘Bay of Biscay’ at the end of the first set. Hitchcock
The evening continued in a similar vein: the two backing singers opened the second half with a pretty ‘Drop the anchor’.  Hitchcock sang ‘Oceanside’ from his album Perspex Island, with some very loud guitar from Graham Coxon, who then picked his way through ‘Brave the storm’, and blasted through ‘Caspian Sea’, both from the Spinning Top album.  KT Tunstall arrived on stage (a diminutive yet powerful presence) fresh from finishing her new album in Berlin and sang first ‘Slow motion rock’, then an unaccompanied, and very cleverly written composition on the fate of the hunted whale, followed by a song that may have been called ‘Greenland’ or ‘Qeqertarsuaq’, or ‘Uummannaq’, inspired by one of the towns visited on the Cape Farewell adventure.  Remember the name: it was, we were assured, a world exclusive.  And Hitchcock then played his Arctic composition, ‘There goes the ice’, which sort of speaks for itself, before the ensemble returned for a rousing finish of his ‘Underwater moonlight’, giant octopus and all.  This was a thoroughly enjoyable show, full of wit and pathos and some great performances.  But very notable, I should not forget to say, was Hitchcock’s singing, as he spent the evening launching himself at a succession of impossibly high and low notes with great verve and aplomb.  He is a performer well worth the price of a ticket (unlike Emile Heskey, perhaps) and tours the UK and the USA soon.
And where are the photographs, I hear you say?  Ask Big Colin.  The last time I saw him was in the middle of a skirmish outside the famous Embassy Suites in Tottenham, simultaneously ejecting three hoodlums from a party.  He’s like an Anglo-Saxon Mike Tyson on steroids and angry pills with a neck like a very, very big bull.  No doubt sent to the wrong place but he’s here, prowling at the front of the stage at the QEH, hands clasped menacingly in front of his stomach.  When he saw a hapless soul just in front of us pull a camera from a pocket he simply leant forward and bit it in half, handing the two pieces back to the hapless snapper.  Discretion, we decided, was very much the better part of valour on this occasion.  Thanks, Big Colin. – Nick Morgan Mike Tyson
Listen: Robyn Hitchcock

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