Some called Kevin Coyne the ultimate anti-star and others referred to him as a cosmically sized talent. Both, as this DVD reveals, are true. Captured live in 1979 for the legendary German TV show Rockpalast, Coyne pulls out all the stops with this 18-song set, spotlighting what amounts to the cult artist’s greatest hits twixt 1973 and 1979. With as unorthodox a guitar style as any you might see and a vocal delivery that had more in common with commoners down at the corner pub than rock stars on the Wembley stage, Coyne proved a perfect artist for this intimate television show.
Championed early on by John Peel, Coyne became a favorite of artists such as Sting, John Lydon, and, later, Will Oldham. His early albums, including 1973’s Marjory Razorblade and 1974’s Blame It On The Night remain strong testaments to his talents and to those who held him in high regard––Police guitarist Andy Summers was an early collaborator.
Never without a sense of humor, as evidenced by “Dance Of The Bourgeoisie” and “Strange Locomotion”, Coyne, a former psychiatric nurse, frequently tackled the poor treatment of the mentally ill in his lyrics and favored a presentation that was never less than theatrical and entertaining. If you’ve never before encountered Coyne, the first three or four songs here might cause you to frown with concern––there’s not in the way of flash and ludicrously wide dynamics––but the intimacy of the affair quickly works its magic as he moves to material such as “Having A Party”, “Brother Of Mine” and “Marjory Razorblade”.
Joined by his long time friend Zoot Money (George to his mum) on some of the material, Coyne is never less than sharing with his music, treating Money as an equal as the pair wind down the evening in good spirits with fine music.
The smiles and laughs may have covered deep pain––within half a decade of this recording Coyne suffered a nervous breakdown, left England for Germany, and sobered up. His latter years found him in as prolific a mode as ever, however, as he continued to write and record music (collaborating with guitarist Gary Lucas and Jon Langford of The Mekons, among others). He also wrote poetry and mounted exhibitions of his paintings on a regular basis. He also participated frequently in stage productions––a trade for which he can only be described as a natural.
Coyne died in 2002, at 60 years old, but his work remains as interesting as ever––and ripe for a full-on rediscovery. A 2010 boxed set I Want My Own Crown does a worthy job of telling Coyne’s story in sum and several posthumous releases reveal the continuing evolution of his talent and the energy he expended in perfecting his craft.
It might be tempting to categorize Coyne as an outsider artist and that may be true to a degree but his music had––and still does––the potential to reach and enrich many lives. This performance is as a good a place as any to start your friendship with an artist who will truly be glad to meet you.
An interview with Coyne and Money sweetens the deal.
// Short Ends and Leader
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