A fan: "Could I have your autograph?
I listen to your records everyday"
Kevin Coyne: "You must lead a very boring life..."
wonder if that Pascal is all there"
to the memory of a great artist,
and an admirer of Kevin Coyne:
Vic Chesnutt (1964-2009)
Foreword by Tony Donaghey
Some time in my distant past, I read a review of Kevin Coyne's live double album 'In Living Black And White' and something must have clicked cos off I went and bought said LP. Needle hits the first side and I hear some bizzarre mutterings, some pounding on a piano, a nursery rhyme-like song about a dead head and chasing it down the street. Then suddenly, the scene changes to a morgue where Coyne recalls an incident from his social worker past when he is called to identify a body of someone who has a piece of paper in his pocket with Kevin's name on it. The realisation that he could have helped this bloke if only he'd managed to get to him in time just echoes thru the speakers.
Just when your spirits are down, in comes a song about a fat girl going to commit suicide – but while your still reeling, in kicks one of the greatest live bands of the time with a song John Lydon listed as a favourite – 'Eastbourne Ladies'. An obsession was born.
Sometimes I've tried to share this obsession with others but know of no other artist who so polarises so many people. He was never a musician's musician – having one of the most basic guitar techniques you'll ever see. He was in no way pin-up material and he had a voice which at times could strip paint off metal. But his body of work contains some of the most real and thought provoking lyrics you'll ever hear and, even when going thru his own breakdown, he didn't shy away from recording it on album on the astonishing 'Bursting Bubbles'.
Coyne died in 2004 from lung failure which in his last years saw him singing aided by a breathing tube and in a wheel chair.
Despite forty albums to his name, isn't Kevin Coyne all but forgotten? He's gone missing from the racks of most record shops, although he was still able to fill the 100 Club in London in October 2004, at the end of a final UK tourÉ
Back in the 70's, he was deservedly compared to some great names: Beefheart, Van Morrison, Joe Cocker, even Dylan. One of the first signings to a (by then) brand new label, Virgin, he packed London's Hyde Park in 1974 and made the cover of NME. Showered with praise by Nik Kent, called 'A national treasure' by BBC Andy Kershaw, championned by John Peel who had been the first to sign Coyne in 1969 on his short-lived Dandelion Records label, Kevin played and recorded with Robert Wyatt, Carla Bley, Andy Summers, Zoot Money, Brian Godding, Dagmar Krause, Gary Lucas, David Thomas, David Moss, Brendan Croker, Jeffrey Lewis, The Ruts or The Mekons, to name but a few.
After a couple of years in the late '60s with the British Blues band ÔSirenÕ (and two albums on Dandelion), Kevin released two powerful solo albums ('Case History', 1972) and the masterpiece 'Marjory Razorblade' (1973). Says Dave Thompson from All Music Guide: 'Yes, there are four or five Kevin Coyne albums that can be described as his best. But 'Marjory Razorblade' remains the greatest of them all.'. All of the Kevin Coyne signature are already here: the folk, the blues and the boogie, the incredible voice that can go from Captain Beefheart's blues shouting down to some heartrending ballads, the wild acoustic guitar strumming, the sad and funny lyrics, many of them ('House on the Hill') fuelled with his experience as a social worker and a nurse in a psychiatric hospital. Add to that the exciting live act that England soon discovered (including the unforgettable gigantic Hyde Park concert) and here are all the ingredients for a legend.
Yet, for some reason – and probably due to his own dislike of fame and compromise – Kevin Coyne never became a rockÕnÕroll star.
Maybe Coyne's approach never fitted with the designated record company career path: he was too demanding, not brainless enough, without enough of the Sid Vicious. He was just Kevin Coyne, with lyrics as well as a voice, a singer with something to say. Uncompromising, honest, sensitive, intelligent; a rock critic rolls out words that aren't supposed to apply to the dumb universe of sex and drugs and rock and roll...
The comparison with Captain Beefheart is interesting for many reasons. Both men were consumed by an incurable artistic sensibility, with a love of the blues shaping their voices – but while the Captain apparently settled for comfortable dementia, Coyne was clearly engaged from the outset in a struggle against madness. The 1979 Rockpalast TV show, for example, where a new audience got to know him, displayed such a powerful character, such a disturbing and fired-up live performer that he was immediately classified as a parading lunatic. But there Coyne was only pretending, giving a performance. 'Better to be mad than sad' as he sang on 'Pretty Park'É. Coyne the former mental therapist knew so well how to portray madness that later it did come close to consuming him.
Coyne recorded several other great albums for Virgin (highlights include 'Dynamite Daze', 'Millionaires and Teddy Bears' or 'Babble' with Henry Cow singer Dagmar Krause, an album that singer-songwriter Wil Oldham claimed 'changed his life'), some of them with future Police guitarist Andy Summers, culminating with a double live album, 'In Living Black and White', featuring the famous artwork picturing a smiling Kevin hiding a razorblade behind his back.
In the '80s, lack of recognition, a drinking problem, finally led to a major nervous breakdown and a divorce. Kevin quit Virgin to join Cherry Red, for which he recorded two great albums with jazz-rock band GLS (Brian Godding, Steve Lamb, Dave Sheen + Steve Bull).
Coyne let England for Germany where he settled in Nuremberg and, for a couple of chaotic years, fell off the radar of music fans and critics.
A new marriage, an alcoholic cure helped him to get back on the tracks. In the '90s, Coyne began recording again with German musicians, also with his sons Eugene and Robert, as well as, in 2002, with folk guitarist Brendan Croker for a smashing acoustic album, 'Life is almost Wonderful'.
The early 2000s saw him tour the U.S. for the first time (where he met Vic Chesnutt, one of his long time fans), and recorded a great rocking album in Chicago with Jon Langford of the Mekons ('One Day in Chicago', 2002)
Kevin was also a painter and a writer.
In his final years, sane and sober, but ageing and in poor health, Coyne continued his work in the face of indifference contrasted with the deep respect of a handful of fans. His concerts remained absolutely unique experiences that usually left the audience in wonder.
Coyne died peacefully at his home on December 2nd 2004 from a lung fibrosis. He is survived by his wife Helmi and his sons Eugene, Robert and Nico.
This book/website is the story of Kevin Coyne with an introduction to each of his forty and more albums followed by quotes from Kevin and the people who knew him. For each album , you will also find a link to more information about each album (line up, song titles, dates etc.) and another link to the lyrics to the songs - these links go to my website http://kevincoynepage.tk And for those who discover Coyne's work, I added a couple of songs I found on youtube (I did not make these films). I hope that will make you want to hear some more...
If you think some of this material belongs to you and should not be there let me know: andreperdreau [a] free.fr Please note that this is a non-profit project. Please quote "Kevin Coyne Warts and All, The Oral History" by Pacal Regis, http://kevincoynebook.tk if you're using some of its content in any form.
Pascal REGIS, Sep 2012
The early years (1944-1969)
'Case History' (1972)
'Marjory Razorblade' (1973)
'Blame it on the Night' (1974)
'Matching Head and Feet' (1975)
'England England' (1976)
'Beautiful Extremes' (1974–1978)
'Dynamite Days' (1978)
'Elvira/Songs from the archives' (1979/1983)
'Bursting Bubbles' (1980)
'Sanity Stomp' (1980)
'Pointing The Finger' (1981)
'Legless In Manilla' (1984)
'Peel Sessions' (1973/1990)
'Stumbling Onto Paradise' (1987)
'Burning Head' (1992)
'Tough And Sweet' (1993)
'Knocking On Your Brain' (1996)
'Sugar Candy Taxi' (1999)
'Room Full of Fools' (2000)
'Life Is Almost Wonderful' (2002)
'One Day In Chicago' (2002)
'Donut City' (2004)
This book © Pascal REGIS – 2009-2012
andreperdreau [a] free.fr