Back to the Sixties With Robyn Hitchcock, Joe Boyd

Photo © 2011 by Mark Rifkin / www.twi-ny.com
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"I've been havin' a sweet dream," Robyn Hitchcock sang, strumming a guitar and lying flat on his back, as if in a delighted trance. The British singer-songwriter was performing the Lovin' Spoonful's 1966 single "Daydream" on March 11th, at Le Poisson Rouge in New York City, right after the American producer Joe Boyd told a long and winding story about hanging out at the old Night Owl Café ("right down the street"), seeing a 16-year-old Stevie Winwood singing Leadbelly songs in England, stealing donuts from doorsteps in Toronto and trying to create a New York folk-rock supergroup – which ultimately became the Spoonful.

It was the stuff of dreams, based in fact, rendered by two men steeped in the adventure and happenstance of the 1960s: Boyd as a primary mover and eyewitness; Hitchcock as a living soundtrack. The two were on a short U.S. tour, alternating chatter and song in a kind of psychedelic talk show. Combining free association with formal reading from his incisive 2007 memoir, White Bicycles, Boyd reminisced about his time and record-making with Pink Floyd, the late Nick Drake, Fairport Convention and the Incredible String Band, among others. There were tales of Bob Dylan (singing "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall" at a party in a Boston apartment in 1963);  the Butterfield Blues Band (Boyd suggested adding guitarist Mike Bloomfield to the lineup); the ISB (the night Boyd inadvertently introduced them to Scientology) and the Floyd's star-crossed founding guitarist Syd Barrett (before he flew off the rails).

Hitchcock illustrated the action with hymns from that history, including Dylan's "All I Really Want to Do," "Reynardine" from Fairport's electric-folk milestone Liege and Lief and "The Yellow Snake" from the 1968 ISB double album, The Wee Tam and the Big Huge. "Joe is Frankenstein," Hitchcock remarked early in the evening, referring to Boyd's presence and effect at the creation of the Sixties counter-culture. "I am one of his monsters." But Hitchcock, wearing a William Morris floral-patterned shirt and red-lensed spectacles, rendered the music with a spare, moving authority, tracing the roots of his own long pursuit of transformation through song. His version of Drake's "River Man" was accurate without mimicry: at once gorgeous and spooky, like that era as we know it now, with all of its glories and dead ends.

There was an unavoidable melancholy at the end of the night – the sense that nothing has come, so far, to fully replace the hole left by those events and memories. But Hitchcock picked the right tune to punctuate Boyd's flashbacks on Barrett, when the Floyd guitarist was of sound mind and provocative ambition: the boy-ish cheer of "Bike," from the Floyd's 1967 debut album, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn. "I know a room full of musical tunes/Some rhyme/Some ching/Most of them are clockwork/Let's go into the other room and make them work," Hitchcock sang in the last verse – a beautiful idea that never gets old.

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