SURREALIST folk-rocker Robyn Hitchcock is to play Newcastle’s O2 Academy tomorrow, but his connection with the North East goes back more than half a century.
“My dad was in Gateshead during the war,” he remembers. “He spent nine months in hospital. He developed a love of folk music from hearing the nurses sing, so we grew up listening to folk music, and here I am.”
Hitchcock may trace his musical influences back to the area, but has a personal history here, too. He first played in Newcastle with Cambridge psychedelic outfit The Soft Boys, in 1979.
Since then he has enjoyed a prolific solo career, churning out 16 studio albums and countless compilations and live recordings.
His latest LP, Goodnight Oslo, is out this month, but is apparently no indication of what to expect from his live show.
“The album is very produced, and the show won’t be,” explains Hitchcock.
“The show is a power-trio with bass and drums, and might be quite loud, whereas the album has got Peter Buck and me playing guitar, and cellos and an angelic waft of harmonies.”
Peter Buck is of course a name that all American rock fans will recognise as REM’s guitarist.
However well the new album is accepted, it’s unlikely to make much headway into the mainstream – a common theme throughout Hitchcock’s back-catalogue.
“I’ve never been burdened with a hit record,” he says, with a complete lack of regret.
“The object of the game for me was always to write good songs, and I was never really bothered with what happened to them; I never really jumped through the hoops you had to, to get in the Top 20.”
This slow-burning success has perhaps been the secret to sustaining such a long career, but where would he be now if it had fizzled out?
“It’s so long ago, I could be working in a florist, or working in an off-licence.
“My dad tried to make a living as a painter, and didn’t have much luck. I can’t imagine making a living as an artist. I don’t really know what I’d have done if I hadn’t done this.
“To make a living out of doing what you love most is a real gift. I think musicians realise that as they get older, you often don’t when you’re younger.”
Despite his modesty, Hitchcock’s artwork is far from amateur, and most of his albums have featured at least one piece. However, his wife, Michèle Noach, stepped in to design the cover for the latest record.
“She adapted an old Norwegian postcard, and the album is Goodnight Oslo, so it had just the right feel.”
Robyn Hitchcock brings tracks, centred on surreal interpretations of everyday life from his expansive back catalogue, to O2 Academy in Westgate Road, Newcastle tomorrow night. With support from Catherine Feeny. Doors open at 7pm. Visit www.o2academynewcastle.co.uk or call (0191) 260-2020.