I had a great time chatting with Robyn Hitchcock for the AV Club’s Set List, which was no real surprise, as all of our previous conversations have been quite enjoyable as well. (I can’t find any trace of the interview I did with him and Kimberley Rew for Amplifier Magazine, but you can access the two Bullz-Eye pieces here and here.)
Not a lot of leftovers this go round, thankfully, but for the sake of the fans, I thought I’d offer up Mr. Hitchcock’s takes on a Soft Boys classic as well as a duet with one of the frontmen for Squeeze.
The Soft Boys, “Insanely Jealous” (from 1980’s Underwater Moonlight)
Me: Although this song didn’t make the cut for your best-of, it was a highlight of Rykodisc’s Soft Boys’ best-of set, 1976-1981.
Robyn Hitchcock: Ah, well, that was written about the same time as “I Wanna Destroy You,” though. I think I wrote it on the bass guitar. Yeah, I remember just seeing a magazine about some bands that were playing somewhere, and I thought, “Bastards! They’re doing something we’re not!” The song wasn’t about that at all, but my initial kind of malevolence was actually directed toward another group that was probably having more luck than we were in some sphere…and has now probably completely evaporated. [Laughs.] Envy is a potent state of mind and generally doesn’t do very good at all, but, yeah, I probably nailed a feeling on that song. And I think that the band played beautifully. Morris (Windsor) decided to stick to a high-hat throughout. He didn’t sort of bring in the big slams or anything like that. Kim (Rew) was very restrained, and then when he cut loose, he cut loose really incisively. And Matthew (Seligman) had that very tense bass that suddenly went off into a sort of melodic run. I think that showed that line-up of the Soft Boys at their most inventive. So, y’know, it could only have happened with that group of people. And, again, it was a one-off. It was not something that we could have done another version of, and it’s not something that fitted into the kind of jangle-pop canon that sort of flowed from Buddy Holly via the Byrds to Alex Chilton to us to R.E.M. and beyond. It was really outside of that. It was one of those songs that…you can only do one song like that. [Laughs.] And we did it. And I’m very proud of that one.
Robyn Hitchcock and the Egyptians, “Flesh Number One (Beatle Dennis)” (from 1988’s Globe of Frogs)
Me: Had you known Glenn Tilbrook at all before he harmonized with you on this song?
RH: Not at all. I’d never met him at that point. I’ve met him a few times since, but, no, Andy Metcalfe, who was working with me and Squeeze at the time, brought Glenn in. Somebody thought it would be nice…I think we probably thought, because it was a Beatle-y type song and I called it “Beatle Dennis,” that if I was being Lennon, Glenn could be McCartney. I know it’s got a lovely line that Peter Buck plays, which was the very first time that Peter and I played together on some demos. He just made that line up instantly, and it’s stuck ever since. So, yeah, that features Peter and Glenn. It’s a good one.