While some recording artists tame their sound or succumb to nostalgia with age, Robyn Hitchcock is keeping it weird. Hitchcock’s latest release, “Love from London,” is a 10-song collection that includes the chamber-music-tinged “Harry’s Song,” the strumming love letter of “Be Still,” and the electronically charged “I Love You,” with the opening verse: “Tendrils grow between us, tendrils you can’t see. I’m dissolving into you, you’re rolling into me” — pure Hitchcockian wordplay that sticks to the British songsmith’s fascination with organisms, nature and even food. “Tendrils look good to me: miniature roots that need no soil — delicate, yet binding — pale green tubers almost like hairs that one organism uses to clasp onto another, to survive,” Hitchcock says. “I guess I’d rather write about tendrils than, say, football or the military.”
Northeast Florida music lovers get a chance to experience Hitchcock’s unique songcraft when he performs a solo concert on Jan. 25 at Ponte Vedra Concert Hall.
In the late 1970s, London-born Hitchcock split open the punk-rock scene with The Soft Boys, a band more akin to Syd Barrett than Sex Pistols. In 1981, Hitchcock released his solo debut, “Black Snake Dîamond Röle,” an album that was a mix of dark psychedelia and post-art-rock songcraft — a fitting prelude to his subsequent body of work. In the three decades since, either as a solo artist or with his backing bands, The Egyptians and The Venus 3, Hitchcock has released more than 40 albums featuring fan favorites such as “I Wanna Destroy You,” “I Often Dream of Trains” and “Raymond Chandler Evening.” Hitchcock even scored a college radio hit with 1988’s “Balloon Man,” a tune celebrating an unfortunate gourmand-glutton who explodes, spraying unexpecting bystanders with food, delivered with a deceptively upbeat chord progression.
Hitchcock has maintained a devoted audience on the strength of his material, covering diverse topics ranging from the aforementioned flora and fauna to sinister fables and environmental odes, filtered through the vision of a Romantic poet of the highest order. Hitchcock, who credits Bob Dylan as his primary influence, is considered a folk artist in many circles, albeit a folkie who seems more interested in organic matter, shadowy realms and mind-bending lyricism than in jug band blues or traditional sing-alongs. “Well, I am more a folk artist that I am, say, a rapper or dance artist or even a rockster,” says Hitchcock. “I suppose I am a folk artist in the way that Richard Thompson and Gillian Welch are folk artists. We’re all Children of Bob.”
However you choose to label him, Hitchcock is undoubtedly prolific, having penned and recorded a staggering 500 songs. Hitchcock explains that if he has a definable creative method, it is in recognizing both the good and bad elements brewing within a seemingly intuitive process. “Maybe I have discovered what doesn’t work, in music if not in life. It can be easier to find out where the song is letting you down if you’re running through it with other musicians,” Hitchcock says. “But you have to have them all there at the time, running through material that hasn’t congealed yet, with the clock ticking and the wolf outside.”
In a grander scale, Hitchcock’s collective body of work can be viewed as a post-punk offshoot of a decidedly British and esoteric lineage that includes William Blake, Mary Webb, Gerard Manley Hopkins and Evelyn Underhill — literary visionaries with whom Hitchcock shares an almost-mystical view of and relationship to the natural world and its parallel realities. In hindsight, does the now-60-year-old Hitchcock see his work tethered to an ongoing tale or grand parable? “I hope so. Artists leave messages for the future,” says Hitchcock, offering that while we live and die, our culture doesn’t have to perish with us. “If we’re lucky, and careful, we might be part of a long story that may help the future understand itself better. When you sing a traditional melody, or see an artist’s world through his vanished eyes, you’re hooked up with the past; it’s flowing into you, and death is being defied.”
A relentless touring artist, Hitchcock will have already finished more than two dozen performances when he hits Northeast Florida and then continues on up the Eastern Seaboard before he takes a much-needed break. This modern-day troubadour, delivering a strange blend of the beautiful and bizarre, is not exactly celebratory of a life spent on the road. “Rembrandt goes on tour, Vermeer goes on tour, The Rolling Stones go on tour, Bob Dylan lives on tour — it’s all a museum now. If you’re lucky, you get to be some kind of exhibit.”