Once A Day

Nick West's reviews for Bucketfull Of Brains and Rock'N'Reel

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Location: London, United Kingdom

Co-editor and publisher of Bucketfull Of Brains since 1996.

Saturday, December 06, 2008


I Wanna Go Backwards


As Sir Henry Rawlinson put it, in another context, Robyn Hitchcock is as “English as tuppence, changing yet changeless”. Across three decades, through the twists and turns of a solo career, the former Soft Boy has shown us a window to his macabre and beautiful world. A surrealist jester, folk-rock troubadour, psychedelic poet, and a much under-rated guitarist, he learnt well from his idols - Dylan, Carthy, Barrett, and McGuinn - and produced songs of wit, strangeness, love and regard. Singing of an old and new weird England he’s out of the same mould as Peter Hammill and Nikki Sudden.

Always better appreciated in the USA, he’s now found a berth at Yep Roc, that haven for many remarkable if uncommercial talents. Following his collaborations with Gillian Welch and The Minus 3 they have set him on a work of retrospection of which I Wanna Go Backwards is the first fruit. This five CD box comprises the first post-Soft Boys 1981 album, Black Snake Diamond Role, 1984’s I Often Dream Of Trains, and 1990’s Eye, along with two further discs of demos and outtakes entitled When Thatcher Mauled Britain.

It’s beautifully put together with replica sleeves, cartoons, poems, and short stories. There’s plenty of information and material enough to satisfy both the neophyte and the long-term fan. Hitchcock’s canon has always been a sea to be dived into anywhere and he thrives on serendipity. This collection permits both a random meander together with an overview of his journey through that low decade.

Black Snake was perhaps transitional, involving all the old Soft Boys plus Knox and Thomas Dolby, but it gave us ‘Brenda’s Iron Sledge’ his riposte to the Blessed Margaret. The mainly solo and acoustic I Often Dream Of Trains, brimming with sexual perversity (‘Uncorrected Personality Traits’) and public transport (‘Trams Of Old London’ and the title track) saw him reach his stride and left a generation of American indie kids in thrall to the romance of Basingstoke. By Eye he knew exactly what he was about and since then, absolutely, positively, he’s never looked back.


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