Today was another studio day working on Ahad’s album so if you are waiting to hear from me, tomorrow is my proposed emailing day. It seems I have to plan the day I email and put it in my diary. How much time did I have in my twenties? I was obviously completely taken up with being in a band but apart from reading that’s all I did. I remember in those early days I lived on Bondi Beach and never went there, it didn’t occur to me that visiting the beach, going in the sea, might be a pleasurable thing to do. Coming from the north of England and playing guitar, the two activities seemed incongruous. Oh, the sweet and narrow focus of youth.
Today it was all Fender Stratocaster, fuzz and wah-wah, I can think of worse ways to spend the day. Although one of my pedals (echo) seems to be broken, maintaining equipment can be time-consuming and expensive. For example, having a few guitars sounds like fun, right? All those guitars need strings and have to be strung. I have actually done a video on how to string a Rickenbacker 12 string (not online yet). Guitars need to be intonated, a guitar has to be in tune, up and down the neck, they have to be serviced, the electrics can break down, the neck can twist and buckle, the action rises, the bridge saddles flip, the nut breaks, the machine heads lose their tension. Then there’s the guitar leads that break, power packs fail, amps die, valves stop working, speakers rattle. All this needs techs to fix the problems and that’s not me.
A trip into town had me meet two lovely people, Jasmine and Poppy. As I was walking up the street I passed by these two teenage girls and one of them said, “Cool T-shirt”. How nice of them to say. I told them that Olivia had drawn it after an idea I had for an In Deep T-shirt based on an angler fish (in the deep), instead of a light on the head there’s a record for musical enlightenment. So I chatted with Jasmine and Poppy for a bit, so nice to see two interested intelligent young women communicating with the older dudes.
It’s still raining here and clearing up as the day moves on. The rest of the country and Europe is hot and after a couple of days of studio I needed a walk to the sea. It had cleared up but the clouds were still strangling the blue patches and the ground was still wet. The construction on the prom is in full flight and the recycling bins are four days away from being removed. We went past the skate park and onto the stony beach. The sea was as high as I’d ever seen it and the waves were breaking fast. There seemed to be quite a few fishing boats out in the bay, two of them, both orange, looked like they were from the same fleet with others too distant to grasp their shapes and sizes. We left the beach for the supermarket and found our way back to the studio (via the giant sci-fi plant life in Morrab Gardens), ate there and watched an episode of Humans.
The news has been terrible. The explosion in Beirut and the doctored videos that are being circulated. Nobody knows what’s true anymore. It’s one thing to disagree it’s another to trick people into believing something that isn’t true in order to get them onto your side. What kind of hell beast does this? Then there’s the battle between all the sides over the children going back to school. Where will it end?
In sport, we have the match of the month with Real Madrid at Man City tomorrow in the second leg of the Champions League battle. City lead 2-1 and play at home. Don’t miss this one. This is what it’s all about beyond your team, other teams, great teams, entertaining fans of a sport they follow. I can’t imagine not wanting to see this if you are a football fan. There’s England vs Pakistan in the cricket where England are in big trouble and at one stage were 12 for 3. Sadly as I don’t get BBC I can’t watch the snooker, probably a good thing, as I’d be mesmerised by the slow beauty of the game and the levels of skill as well as the soothing commentary.
Music today is a slight look at the work of Kevin Coyne, slight because there’s a lot to say, a lot of material and it doesn’t end with music, there’s painting, poetry, writing and a unique approach to music as evidenced on his many thoughtful albums of hope, despair and humour. The first album came as part of the band Siren released on John Peel’s Dandelion label in 1969. It’s Blues-based written with bassist and co-producer Dave Clague and pianist guitarist Nick Cudworth. John Chichester played lead guitar and Tat Meager played drums (although there’s only four of them on the cover). You know someone is missing the point somewhere when there’s no Wikipedia page for Siren, thankfully there’s one for Kevin Coyne. For a band with barely a mention and despite Kevin Coyne’s presence, they have an impressive sound and vibe with songs like Wake Up My Children showcasing their folky Blues sixties angst, something like Eric Burdon meets Mick Jagger in a mixed Blues boom and Jug band. It’s actually easier to look back on this from the heights of Coyne’s later works, one might mistake this for just another late sixties British Blues band, it isn’t. They cover BB King’s Rock Me Baby but you have to remember that Rock Me Baby was controversial then. You have to judge things in the spirit of the times, like say, Beatles haircuts if it wasn’t for them, their songs, their look, their philosophical ideas – and their hair, the world would be a much different place today – Blumpo might be seen as moderate.
In his early years, Coyne worked in a psychiatric hospital in Preston and as a drugs councillor in London and the experiences of working with mental illness and addiction never left him when the arts took over. Asylum on Side 2 of the first Siren album becomes all the more clear. Let’s say he had a realistic take on the world and later became known as the ‘anti-star’. Before he began a long prolific solo career, Siren made Strange Locomotion (1971). Mick Gratton takes over on lead guitar which probably explains the four-piece photo on the first album and the five-piece photo on the inner sleeve of the second album. On this record, the direction is clearer. Coyne’s voice is distinctive (I’m All Aching) and the stories he tells, like on Some Dark Day, reveal a talented narrator of human insights. Before Dandelion ceased operating as a label Coyne made Case History (1972), I don’t have it – yet. Its title suggests that those experiences working in a mental institution are dealt with again on this record. It’s actually still the lads from Siren playing but it had become apparent that he was the magic and after this record, all Siren members were consigned to Coyne’s history.
When Coyne signed to Virgin as a solo artist, the second artist to be signed after Mike Oldfield, he made the amazing Marjory Razorblade (1973) with the opening title track a disturbing a capella – angst doesn’t really cover it. Marlene, the next track, showcases Coyne’s voice, sounding like a manic Van Morrison. It’s a double album in the UK, a single album in the US, Coyne sings and plays guitar, Gordon Smith plays guitar, Jean Roussel keys, Chili Charles drums and Tony Cousins bass. The fourth track, Eastbourne Ladies, is one of his best-known songs and this album is the place to start should you be interested in exploring him further. If you haven’t heard Good Boy on Side 4 and a cocktail of eccentricity, humour and pain is your thing, then look no further. (A nod here to my friend Jan in Stockholm who loves this track.)
His next album, Blame It On The Night (1974), seems to have some slight aspiration to accessibility to a bigger audience whilst making sure that it doesn’t happen with the more acoustic tracks. Lyrically strong, the consistently captivating voice and melodies, you’ll be hard pressed to find anyone more direct than Kevin Coyne. You may never have heard anything like Witch or ever will again. Gordon Smith, Tony Cousins and Chili Charles follow him onto this album. It’s another forgotten album from the seventies by another forgotten artist of talent, sincerity and quality. Don’t let him disappear off the planet completely.
Kevin Coyne on The Old Grey Whistle Test 1973 with Gordon Smith on guitar and Chili Charles on percussion playing I Want My Crown and House On The Hill from Marjory Razorblade, Virgin Records (1973):
Kevin Coyne performing together with Zoot Money for a live audience in Köln, Germany (1979) – The World Is Full Of Fools and Having A Party from the 1979 album Millionaires and Teddy Bears.