I don’t know if Brian Ferry’s ears were burning the other night but if so it was probably because he received several mentions from Robyn Hitchcock in his fantastical and extremely funny in between song patter at Glasgow’s Oran Mor. Ferry was but one thread in Hitchcock’s surrealistic tapestry of tales as he let his imagination roam, talking of handkerchiefs zapped into space and how to determine a song’s cheese factor amongst other oddities.
Mr. Ferry’s name came up two songs into the set. Hitchcock opened with an old Soft Boys classic, ‘Tonight’, setting the tone for the evening, his unmistakeable voice emphasising the menace inherent in the song’s lyrics before singing, from his latest album, ‘I Pray When I’m Drunk’, a more serious delivery than the recorded version when delivered solo. Songs done Hitchcock began fiddling with the cuff of his polka dot shirt, hamming magnificently before telling the tale of Dylan’s cuff buttons hitting his guitar on the unreleased takes of ‘Blood On The Tracks’ adding that this would never would have happened to Ferry, that he would probably have had someone rolling up his cuffs for him. Hitchcock then mentioned that it was Dylan’s 77th birthday and he was going to celebrate it by playing a set of Robyn Hitchcock songs.
And what songs they are. Hitchcock readily admits his admiration for Dylan, The Beatles and other sixties icons while he is often compared to Syd Barrett but he is undeniably a singular artist who has created his own world in his work. Roaming throughout his career with only brief nods to the latest disc we were treated to versions of ‘The Lizard’, ‘Fifty Two Stations’, ‘Madonna of the Wasps’ and, most excellently, ‘I Wanna Destroy You’. And while his forays into entomology and herpetology continue to bewitch and bewilder his rendition of the noirish ‘Raymond Chandler Evening’ was perhaps the highlight of the night, simply beautiful. There was no sense here of disappointment that Hitchcock was solo tonight, his band only playing the two opening shows of the tour. His request to the soundman to make his guitar sound like a bunch of Nashville experts backing a UK expat (along with several other whimsical requests throughout the night) was his introduction to ‘I Want To Tell You What I Want’, the second song tonight from the latest album, a song which draws a straight line from his earliest days to the present without hesitation, deviation or repetition.
Drawing to the close of the show Hitchcock advised he would be offering an adult encore, i.e. he would play a few more songs and then depart. He then returned to the occasion of Bob’s birthday and announced that to note it he’d play a Lou Reed song before giving us a perfect ‘Caroline Says’. Tease over he then sang ‘Love Minus Zero/ No Limit’, the crowd totally hushed, before finishing with what was obviously a heartfelt tribute to our very own Nobel prize winner, a haunting ‘Visions of Johanna’. A tremendous end to a very special night from an incomparable singer songwriter.
Supporting Robyn Hitchcock were the London based duo The Left Outsides, a couple who seem to be trying to harvest a crop sown by some hybrid Handsome Family/English folk psychedelic seed. With Mark Nicholas on guitar and Alison Cotton on violin and harmonium they set up an interesting sound on songs such as ‘All That Remains’ and ‘All That I Danced With Are Gone’ while they closed with a Grant McLennan song, ‘Civil War Lament’. Their low key serenades struggled against numerous latecomers just arriving for Robyn Hitchcock with much chatter in the background but it has to be admitted that their minimal stage presentation didn’t help, they really needed (at least tonight), a charisma transplant. That might seem unfair but when they packed up after their last song it was a surprise as there was no mention of it being their last. However having seen them and now checked out their recordings they are well worth investigating if you are in to weird folk (music that is).