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Concert Review by Nick Morgan
Queen Elizabeth Hall, London, September 4th 2009
It’s Pestival time at the Southbank and we’re celebrating “insects in art, and the art of being an insect”. Actually it’s more than that: “Pestival is a mobile arts festival examining insect-human interactivity in bioscience, through paradigms of contemporary art, cinema, music and comedy as well as direct scientific demonstration and educational projects”.
Amidst a variety of installations, films, workshops and lectures is Robyn Hitchcock and an unlikely assembly of fellow bug lovers. “I've always liked the look of insects,” said Hitchcock in a pre-gig interview. “They are echoed in the design of helicopters, planes, small cars, and even sailing boats, so maybe that's why they--and arachnids like the tarantula--appear from time to time in my songs.” And before you tread on that pesky ant, or wash that hairy old spider down the bathroom plug-hole, remember Hitchcock’s prescient observation from the stage (shortly after he had revealed, to much astonishment, that Brian Ferry is an insect – “just look at his forehead”), “One of the things we have in common with insects is that we exist”.
Hitchcock kicked off the evening solo with the bee-filled ‘Agony of pleasure’ notable for his rhyming of ‘digesting’ with ‘intestine’ , followed by ‘Dragonfly’, written especially for the performance, and performed with Blur guitarist Graham Coxon, and Jenny Adejayan on cello. It’s one of those evenings where people come and go from the stage all night; just the right side of shambolic, surprisingly well rehearsed, with a very forgiving audience. In addition to Hitchcock’s UK band (Adejayan, with Paul Noble on bass and Rob Ellis on drums) there’s sound sculptor Max Eastley (who joins for the song ‘Insect Mother) and organist and trumpeter Terry Edwards who joins the whole band for ‘Red Locust frenzy’. Musical polymath and Dorian Gray look-alike Green Gartside along with journalist, blogger and keyboard player Rhodri Marsden (better known perhaps as Scritti Politti), take the stage to perform three songs: ‘The human fly’, ‘Where fat lies ants follow’ and the Scritti top ten UK hit ‘Wood beez’. Robyn
They’re followed by the Incredible String Band’s Mike Heron, who along with his daughter Georgia Seddon, and the assembled multitude, sing the ISB’s ‘Cousin caterpillar’, and ‘A cellular song’ (a tribute to the amoeba); the latter from their masterpiece of 1960s hippy self-indulgence, The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter. ‘I used to levitate to these songs back in the 1960s’ said Hitchcock. He probably still does.
Robyn Hitchcock
The second half of the gig began with poet and comedian John Hegley presenting some largely insect-themed verse, before performing another cellular song, ‘Amoeba’ with Hitchcock on guitar. Alessi’s Ark (it’s a person, not an ark) sang a hesitant, and not very creepy-crawly themed ‘Woman’, before the ensemble returned (in various combinations) to bash through Hitchcock’s ‘Snail’s lament’ and ‘Madonna of the wasps’, Coxon’s ‘Dead bees’ (Coxon’s guitar, I should add, was becoming increasingly animated at this stage, ) Hitchcock’s ‘Ant woman’ and the marvellous ‘Ole Tarantula’, before returning to the stage for an unlikely cover of Wire’s ‘I am the fly’. “Happy Christmas” said Hitchcock, true to form, as he led the band from the stage.
It was a thoroughly entertaining and suitably eclectic evening, but not without its serous side. So let me leave you with this thought, from Harvard University’s Edward O Wilson. “If all mankind were to disappear, the world would regenerate back to the rich state of equilibrium that existed 10,000 years ago. If insects were to vanish, the environment would collapse into chaos”. So mind where you put that boot! – Nick Morgan (concert photographs by Kate)
Listen: Dragonfly Me (BBC video)
Gig mp3s

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