"Kevin, you look beautiful."
March 22, 2010 3:57 AM   Subscribe

Kevin Coyne plays his song "Having A Party" live in Köln, 1979.

More of that excellent concert is also available on Youtube: "Right On Her Side," "Saviour," and "Marjory Razorblade."

Of the many unsung and underappreciated heroes of late 20th century music, perhaps the greatest is the English blues rock singer and songwriter Kevin Coyne. Revered by many musicians, from Johnny Rotten to The Mekons to Andy Summers, who backed him up in his band, Coyne recorded about a dozen masterful and soulful records over his forty-year career in and out of music.

For a good written overview of Kevin Coyne's work, a good place to turn is this fine retrospective by Chris Plummer [on the always-excellent Perfect Sound Forever]:
His voice cuts to your soul, while tingling your spine along the way. His deep, powerful cords give a voice to society's outcasts- the mentally ill (with whom he worked with for many years after dropping out of art school), the working class, battered women, the countless lonely, the deserted elderly. But, all the people he so champions in his songs are also a parallel to himself- a stoic loner cast into the arena of popular music.
As Plummer notes, Kevin Coyne was a social worker for many years between art school and his erstwhile music career. His intimate connection with the people he worked with there has always taken a prominent place in his music, and his songs are often portraits of those that other rock musicians don't tend to focus on. One of Coyne's most striking tunes from his early masterwork Marjory Razorblade was "House On The Hill," a vivid description of the mental hospital in which he'd worked. Another was "Talking to No One," a simple, direct expression of the difficulty of social interaction for those living with mental disorders:
Talking to no one is strange
Talking to someone is stranger...
And in what I'm sure is one of the most harrowing tunes ever recorded by anybody, "Mona, Where's My Trousers," Kevin spreads across two vocal tracks laying out, as the Youtube description there puts it aptly, "an everyday story of physical child abuse and the borderlands of mental illness." (As you might guess, this tune is not a good idea for those who have been abused and are sensitive to triggers.)

More fantastic Kevin Coyne tracks that give a good picture of his broad style and range: "House On The Hill," live 1973 - A song about what it was like to be Hitler, featuring Dagmar Krause, 1979 - Poor Swine," live at Hyde Park, 1974 - "An Evening with Kevin Coyne," a concert introduced with an interesting video pastiche from 1977: [1 | 2 | 3] - "Take Me Back to Dear Old Blighty" - a rocking version of "Dynamite Daze," circa 1993 - "I Only Want to See You Smile" - "Don't Make Waves"

Kevin never much liked the recording industry, and they didn't much like him at all; and by the 80s and 90s, when he was working as an artist and writer, many people to whom he sold his books and paintings didn't even realize that he'd once had a music career. But his music seems to have had a bit of a renaissance in 1997 and 1998, when he gave several very good interviews (one with Richie Unterberger and one with the aforementioned Chris Plummer). Kevin died six years ago, but respect and love for his music lives on, and his home page is still updated by his son Eugene.

Delightfully, two months ago, brand-new and remastered versions of the classic double album Marjory Razorblade and the anthology I Want My Crown were released by EMI in collaboration with Kevin's estate. What's more, for the first time, EMI is making available for download MP3 versions of four of Kevin's other classic albums, each with a full disc's worth of outtakes and bonuses: Blame It On The Night, Matching Head and Feet, Dynamite Daze, and In Living Black and White – altogether a stupendous surfeit of great material now released.

Some more excellent web resources on Kevin: Pascal's Kevin Coyne Page and the Kevin Coyne Complete Lyrics page.
posted by koeselitz (8 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Now that I've done it, this all looks far too technical for the subject matter. Ah well. Suffice it to say: Kevin Coyne's music is wonderful, a comfort in a dark world, and has gotten me through a lot of difficult moments. Just start clicking away... there are plenty of brilliant tunes up there to enjoy. Hope this leads a few more people into the wondrous world of Kevin Coyne.
posted by koeselitz at 3:59 AM on March 22, 2010

How did you end up being one of the first acts on Virgin Records?

Well, that was interesting. They rang me one day. Richard Branson, actually. I think he was fairly rich then [already]. He rang me, I guess either '72 or '73, I can't remember exactly when -- '72, I think it probably was. I went down to meet them, and I thought they were just a record shop. I was rather ignorant, I didn't realize that they had sort of recording ambitions. But I went to meet him and realized they were very serious. They admired things like Dandelion Records [a label Coyne had recorded for with Siren], and they wanted to create an alternative label, as it was at that time. So I went over and signed up. Simple really.

That's a great story.

Nice post koeselitz. Well done. A bit hard work on a Monday morning, but I'll come back to it when I have a drink in my hand.
posted by three blind mice at 4:37 AM on March 22, 2010

Thanks, three blind mice. There's also the interesting story there about how, before they'd even buried Jim Morrisson, Elektra wanted Kevin as a replacement frontman for The Doors. (!) Maybe I should point out, also, that Kevin's first record label, Dandelion Records, was the label that John Peel founded before he started making it in radio. One more great musician who got his start because of John Peel.
posted by koeselitz at 4:43 AM on March 22, 2010

A true original. Saw him at Polgooth Fayre around the same time - with Zoot Money. His Virgin albums are all wonderful
posted by Jonesisdying at 5:49 AM on March 22, 2010

Excellent use of the more inside! Great post.
posted by acro at 8:06 AM on March 22, 2010

I didn't even know he was dead. I saw him in Bordeaux, France about 15 years ago in a club featuring a red phone box. At one point he said "That reminds me, I must phone my wife" long pause "I haven't phoned her in about twenty years." Yeah, well, maybe you had to be there.
posted by Lezzles at 2:14 PM on March 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

Rumor has it that the other Virgin albums will be reissued on CD under license on a smaller label. The label confirmed that to me about six weeks ago, but no news yet.

Coyne was really special.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 4:19 PM on March 22, 2010

You're right, Dee – Eugene says the same at the Coyne home page – and for the kiddies playing along at home, that smaller label that should release these recordings is Mark Powell's fine label, Esoteric Recordings. Watch them for possible new releases.
posted by koeselitz at 4:33 PM on March 22, 2010

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