With a little help from his friends (Mike Heron from the Incredible String Band, Scritti Politti’s Green Gartside, Alessi’s Ark, and Graham Coxon), Robyn Hitchcock got the Southbank Centre’s Pestival underway in fine style on Friday night with a concert of buggy, ear-wiggy and otherwise insect-related songs. Hitchcock set the oddball tone for the night when he arrived on stage and launched into an anecdote comparing Bryan Ferry to an ant (affectionately, hem, hem).
In truth, Hitchcock’s brand of eccentric banter wore thin pretty quickly; his surrealism is channelled far more effectively in his wonderful song-writing. His performances of “Insect Mother,” “Red Locust Frenzy,” “Madonna of the Wasps” and, best of all, “Olé Tarantula” were superb.
The friends came and went, contributing backing vocals and taking the occasional lead. The mild-mannered Coxon unleashed a cathartic, furious squall on “Dead Bees”, Gartside offered “The Human Fly” ("an anti-essentialist reading"), “Where Fat Lies Ants Follow” and “Wood Beez,” Alessi’s Ark beguiled with “Woman” (“I haven't written many songs featuring insects … but this one has a web in it”), while the exuberant Mike Heron all but stole the show with his leads on ISB’s “Cousin Caterpillar” and a mesmerizing pre-interval version of the truly odd “A Very Cellular Song.” A more forced brand of British eccentricity came courtesy of John Hegley’s poetry reading, though Hegley did at least get the audience singing along on his charming ode to the amoeba. A fun night.
"Agony of Pleasure" – Robyn Hitchcock (solo)
"Dragonfly" – RH, Graham Coxon and Jenny Adejayan
"Insect Mother" – RH, JA, Max Easton
"Red Locust Frenzy" – RH and band
"The Human Fly" – Green Gartside and Rhodri Marsden
"Where Fat Lies Ants Follow" – GG, RM
"Wood Beez" – GG, RM
"Cousin Caterpillar" – Mike Heron, Georgia Seddon, RH, rest of band
"A Very Cellular Song" – MH, RH and rest of band
Poems by Jon Hegley
"Amoeba" – RH, JH
"Woman" – Alessi’s Ark
"Snail’s Lament" – AA, RH, band
"Madonna of the Wasps" – RH, band
"Dead Bees" – Graham Coxon, RH, band
"Antwoman" – RH, band
"Olé! Tarantula" – RH and everyone
"I Am The Fly" – RH and everyone