When people talk about “songbirds”, in the literal sense of a bird that sings a pretty song perched upon a tree branch, you might picture a sparrow, a bluebird, or a nightingale.
Although half of the birds you’ll encounter are technically “songbirds” (lest we forget the caged types – parrots, budgies, et al.), birds such as these we’ve listed above come to mind readily, as their singing is considered by most to be quite pleasant.
Take this delightfully chirpy robin for example…does it not fill your heart with mirth?
Of course, there are other birds out there who sing frequently as well, but they don’t get nearly as much credit…like our friend here, the common grackle, who probably wasn’t the bird the Carpenters had in mind for their song, “Close To You”, because when grackles “suddenly appear”, people freak out, man!
The term “songbird” is also quite often applied to people, and usually we are referring to individuals who can often be found singing frequently and melodiously. Mariah Carey, Paul McCartney, and Stevie Wonder – each of these people could easily be described as natural songbirds. But there are others…
Now, take Robyn Hitchcock, the songwriter / poet / cartoonist / singer / guitar player. He could quite easily be deemed to be a “songbird”, although he is quite a rare bird indeed.
If you are not familiar with Robyn’s musical and/or vocal stylings, let us introduce him to you by way of one of the more memorable and undeniably strange songs that he has written -the acapella “Uncorrected Personality Traits”. PS: he’s the guy in the middle.
Who Is Robyn Hitchcock?
For those unfamiliar with this fine and rather mellow fellow, Robyn Hitchcock is a English songwriter, known for his rather unusual musical offerings in bands like The Soft Boys, The Egyptians, and The Venus 3, not to mention his extensive output as a solo artist. He is frequently associated with words and descriptors such as “groovy”, “psychedelic”, and “surreal”. When you write an album (complete with title track) called “Globe Of Frogs”, it isn’t hard to see why these words float about him like a fine mist or, if you prefer, a tide of filth.
Robyn sure enough does have a penchant for melody, many of the tunes he writes are as sweet as pudding, but, that said, he also lets his inner-grackle come out to caw, composing melodies that are not typically considered “lovely”. Take, for example, the lead-off track from The Soft Boys’ debut album, “A Can Of Bees” – a little ditty called “Give It To The Soft Boys”. It not a song for that your mom is bound to like…much.
In terms of the biological facts, Robyn Hitchcock was born March 3 1953, to a man and a woman – what a surprise! The man, named Raymond, is best known for writing Percy, upon which a movie was based. In addition, Raymond Hitchcock has his own catalogue of work including several cartoons, farces, and thrillers.
You can tell that Raymond’s creativity must’ve had an impact on Robyn’s work, whether it be in terms of comedic slants, or just in terms of sheer down home British oddness. Just by scanning some of his dad’s works’ titles (eg. There’s A Girl In My Soup), you can probably guess that an infant Robyn probably took a few notes, pacifier in mouth and quill pen in hand. As to Robyn’s mom… sorry, we can’t tell you anything!
The Soft Boys
Robyn Hitchcock’s first band of some notoriety was none other than The Soft Boys, who are part punk rock, part 8 Miles High. For your average band, sneering punk rock and Byrds-ian arpeggiation and harmony are two very different styles that ought to be kept separate, but The Soft Boys obviously saw some value in cramming them together, or perhaps they had no other choice, such is the power of influence.
Originally made up of Kimberly Rew, Morris Windsor, Robyn Hitchcock, and Andy Metcalfe, The Soft Boys were part of the British post-punk movement that saw bands like Magazine, The Cure, and other such art-y English bands, rise to prominence.
With only 3 official albums to their name, including A Can Of Bees (1979), Underwater Moonlight (1980), and Nextdoorland (2002), the legacy of this band runs like a underground geyser, pumping away somewhere deep beneath the mountain of Mt. Rock (a kilometer straight down from a carved bust of Steven Tyler) providing some nutrition to the scraggily foliage and mossy scrub that grows down in the chasms, perpetually hiding in the shadows.
Your average rock music fan is probably not familiar with The Soft Boys, as they never had a true radio “hit”, and often only find airplay due to the efforts of late night college DJs that are used to feverishly pouring over stacks of obscure records.
Underwater Moonlight, the band’s second LP, was as close as they would come to gaining popular acclaim, as the album did eventually receive the credit it deserved as a really, really excellent, boundary-ignoring album for the ages.
The band was in fine form, grooving out on odd-metered instrumentals like “You’ll Have To Go Sideways”, skronkers like “Old Pervert”, Byrds-ian tributes like “Queen Of Eyes”, etc. That said, so far as hits go, all of theirs were invisible, but still, some can detect them.
Robyn Hitchcock lyrics like these from their song, “Tonight”, are just one example of why the band was destined to greatness, but at the same time not achieve mainstream attention. Just too off the beaten path for most people to follow.
“In the places nobody goes
I’ll be there with a very long nose
Tonight, Where nobody sees
Tonight, I’m under the trees
It’s all right”
Robyn Hitchcock & The Egyptians
If it was Robyn’s goal to eventually become the next circa-Avalon Bryan Ferry or maybe even Richard Butler, that definitely did not happen with the formation of the Egyptians, which was – yet again – quite bizarre, and which featured 3 of the 4 Soft Boys, namely: Morris Windsor, Andy Metcalfe, and of course Robyn himself.
The Egyptians, although just as pop-influenced as The Soft Boys, were also just as kooky, sticking together for about a decade and releasing several wild and wooly albums such as Fegmania! (1985), Queen Elvis (1989), and Perspex Island (1991), to name but a few. Meanwhile, Kimberly Rew, the other original member of The Soft Boys, was off working with Katrina & The Waves at this time, writing one of the poppiest pop songs ever with “Walking On Sunshine”.
Robyn, always following his muse for better or worse, was never the type to deliver a “hit” the way that anyone might be expecting, lease of all the music industry. When you hear a song like “A Globe Of Frogs”, we still are able to hear the ghost of Pink Floyd’s original psychedelic pioneer, Syd Barrett (who happened to actually be alive at this time when A Globe Of Frogs was written, for the record) smiling down upon the song with a satisfied smirk. The point is is that A Globe Of Frogs is a weird song, yet again, although catchy and quite enjoyable!
Solo Robyn Hitchcock
Robyn Hitchcock, for all the effort he has put into bands over the years, has put just as much if not more effort into his solo career, which continues on until this day. Indeed, should you choose to dive into the full solo discography, at this point, you will start to feel the scope of Robyn’s endeavours, which includes a slew of solo albums, many of which highlight his more acoustic side.
In addition, he’s been on numerous tribute albums (Skip Spence, The Byrds, Syd Barrett, The Beatles), and has an extensive catalog of rare tracks that are out there for those who are particularly insatiable.
If one were to try to define Robyn Hitchcock as one type of musician or another, perhaps the singer songwriter role suits him the best, as nauseating as that term can come across. Be that as it may, this simplified approach comes across with many of his records, which feature Robyn and his songs, stripped down to their bare essentials.
One album that highlights Robyn’s more stripped down side is the album “Eye”, from 1990. Here is one of his many great acoustic numbers contained therein, called “Raining Twilight Coast”.
The Hen Has Once Again Escaped Its Confines
When it comes to Robyn Hitchcock, asking who he is is not as simple as asking if Cheerios float in milk yes/no (of course they do). No, instead (and ill-advisedly), we are trying to define an actual human being.
We all must take a moment to realize that we are talking here about an artist who has been active in the music business for about 4 decades and counting, and who has more songs floating around his head than …well, let’s just say you wouldn’t want all those songs in your head…would ya?
That said, hopefully this article has at least somewhat answered the question, “Who is Robyn Hitchcock?”, as tough as it is. We do know that to ask such a question isn’t exactly fair to begin with, as the answer may not be readily available, humbly though we might pose such a question in the first place. On the other side of the coin, no one ever asked an anglepoise lamp such a question, so maybe we’ll just leave it at that then!