Kevin Coyne

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Kevin Coyne
Kevin Coyne Singing.jpg
Coyne at "The Edge" in Toronto, 5 June 1981
Background information
Birth name Kevin Coyne
Born (1944-01-27)27 January 1944
Derby, Derbyshire,UK
Died 2 December 2004(2004-12-02) (aged 60)
Nuremberg, Germany
Genres Rock,new wave, alternative rock
Occupation(s) Musician, composer, singer, artist, writer, poet, filmmaker
Instruments Vocals, harmonica, guitar
Years active 1968–2004
Labels Dandelion Elektra, Virgin, Cherry Red, Blast First Petite
Associated acts Siren, Dagmar Krause, Brian Godding
Website Official site

Kevin Coyne (27 January 1944 – 2 December 2004) was a musician, singer, composer, film-maker, and a writer of lyrics, stories and poems. The former "anti-star"[1] was born on 27 January 1944 in Derby, UK, and died in his adopted home of Nuremberg, Germany, on 2 December 2004.

Coyne is notable for his unorthodox style of blues-influenced guitar composition, the intense quality of his vocal delivery, and his bold treatment of injustice to the mentally ill in his lyrics. Many influential musicians have described themselves as Coyne fans, among them Sting and John Lydon. In the mid-1970s, prior to the formation of The Police, Coyne's band included guitarist Andy Summers. Prominent BBC disc jockey and world music authority Andy Kershaw has described Coyne as "a national treasure who keeps getting better" and as one of the great British blues voices.

Over many years Coyne produced the distinctive art work for many of his own album covers but his move to Germany, in the 1980s, saw his work on full-size paintings blossom in its own right.[2]

Early days[edit]

As a teenager and young adult Coyne studied at the Joseph Wright School of Art from 1957 to 1961 and then studied graphics and painting at Derby School of Art from 1961 to 1965. There he met Nick Cudworth (piano, acoustic guitar).[3] His love of American bluesmen developed, as did his song-craft and his guitar and vocal talents.

At the conclusion of his arts training, Coyne began the work that would change him forever – he spent the three years, from 1965 to 1968, working as a social therapist and psychiatric nurse at Whittingham Hospital near Preston in Lancashire and then for "The Soho Project" in London as a drugs counsellor. During this period of working with the mentally ill he performed regularly. Subsequently, his musical aspirations took precedence and he signed a record deal in 1969.[3]

Joined by Dave Clague (bass, acoustic guitar, ex-Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band), Coyne's band got an early break as a result of a demo heard by John Peel, who in 1969 signed them to his Dandelion Records label. At first billed as Coyne-Clague (an early Dandelion release erroneously named them just "Clague"), the band soon altered its name to Siren.[3]

An established artist[edit]

In 1973 he appeared on the BBC's Old Grey Whistle Test, performing "I Want My Crown" and "House on the Hill" with guitarist Gordon Smith and percussionist Chilli Charles.

Late 1975 and 1976 Coyne completed the musical England, England, written with playwright Snoo Wilson, and described as "an evocation of the Kray Twins". The musical, directed by Dusty Hughes, was performed on stage in August 1977 at the Jeannetta Cochrane Theatre, in Holborn, London. It was one of the first theatre pieces to reference the fascist associations of a kind of British nationalism that later became more prevalent with the rise of the National Front and the election of Margaret Thatcher. From 18 August to 24 September 1977 it played at the Bush Theatre in Shepherds Bush.[4]

In 1978 Coyne collaborated with fellow Derby Art School graduate Ian Breakwell to produce the film The Institution based on Breakwell's Artist Placement Group work at Rampton Hospital in Nottinghamshire.

Early in his career, Coyne turned down a meeting with founder of Elektra Records Jac Holzman (Coyne's band Siren were on Elektra in America) to discuss replacing Jim Morrison in The Doors. "I didn't like the leather trousers!" was Coynes' alleged reason.[5]

The uncompromising stance continued even when he was one of the first artists signed to Virgin Records and it was this attitude that endeared him to label-mates such as John Lydon, who played "Eastbourne Ladies" on a Desert Island Discs–type show, and The Mekons, who recorded his "Having a Party", a scathing attack on Richard Branson.

Marjory Razorblade album cover with portrait photograph of Coyne.

Coyne's first solo album Case History (1972), primarily with just his own voice and guitar, was powerful and direct, was recorded for Peel's Dandelion label. When Dandelion ceased to exist, the album largely sank into obscurity. But not before it had come to the attention of Virgin Records, who were sufficiently impressed to sign Coyne and release his 1973 album Marjory Razorblade.

Described as being musically "... a mixture of blues and music hall comedy, with a punk edge", the 1973 album contained many notable songs, such as the bitter and irreverent "Eastbourne Ladies" and the plaintive "House on the Hill" about life in a psychiatric institution. It was the record that was to be largely responsible for putting Coyne on the map of mainstream rock.

Another Virgin album release, Babble, by Coyne and singer Dagmar Krause, courted controversy when Kevin suggested, in the theatre presentation of the piece, that the destructive relationship between the two lovers could have been based on The Moors Murderers. Two performances at the Theatre Royal in Stratford, London were cancelled at short notice by Newham Council following negative press reports in The Sun and The Evening Standard. The show was eventually staged, for four nights, at the Oval House in Kennington. Reviewing the show for the NME, Paul Du Noyer wrote:

`Babble' is a particularly thorough, painstaking exploration of the reality of one relationship, stripped of romance and artifice. The format employed is correspondingly stark. Against a stage-set of light-bulb, table and chairs Coyne and his partner Dagmar Krause stand at either side; the only accompaniment comes from Bob Ward and Brian Godding, playing electric and acoustic guitar in the gloom behind.[6]

American singer/songwriter Will Oldham claimed that the Babble album had "changed my life" and he recorded two of the songs himself. Oldham also went on to form a side project called The Babblers – who strictly played covers of songs from Babble.

In 1982 Coyne appeared in concert with his band (Peter Kirtley (guitar), Steve Lamb (bass), Steve Bull (keyboards) and Dave Wilson (drums)) in Berlin. The concert was later issued on DVD as The Last Wall (Dockland Productions, 2007, Meyer Records).

Nuremberg[edit]

Following a nervous breakdown and increasing difficulties with drink, Coyne left the UK in 1985. He settled in Nuremberg, Germany and having given up alcohol, never stopped recording and touring, as well as writing books and exhibiting his paintings. A selection of Coyne's writings, including many of his poems, can be viewed on the internet.[7]

Coyne's move to Germany saw his writing and painting career truly blossom. He published four books, two of which, Showbusiness and Party Dress, by Serpent's Tail in London.[8] There were numerous exhibition of his visual work throughout Europe and the response was reassuringly strong. Those in Berlin, Amsterdam and Zürich being particularly well reviewed and attended.[9] The paintings gained some notoriety[10] and still attract commercial attention today.[11]

In the late 1980s Coyne acted on stage, playing the small part of a rock star in Linie Eins (Line One), a German musical, at the Nuremberg Opera House, but appearing only at the very end of the play.[3] His 1995 album, The Adventures of Crazy Frank, was based on a stage musical about English comedian Frank Randle – with Coyne in the title role. It also starred the singer Julia Kempken who was erroneously listed in the Guardian obituary as Kevin's wife.[1] Kempken later wrote fondly of this mistake, suggesting that her performance on stage as Randle's wife had been so strong as to transform her, in the eyes of the press, into Kevin's actual wife. In reality Kevin married only twice, first to Lesley and second to Helmi, having another relationship between the two which saw the birth of his son Nico.

In Germany his sons from his first marriage, Eugene and Robert, appeared on recordings such as Tough And Sweet (1993) and Sugar Candy Taxi (1999), with guitarist and multi-instrumentalist Robert joining his band. His later German recordings, including Knocking on Your Brain (1997) often featured the "Paradise Band". In later years he also collaborated with Brendan Croker on Life Is Almost Wonderful, with Jon Langford of The Mekons (on One Day in Chicago) and with Gary Lucas once of Captain Beefheart's The Magic Band (on Knocking on Your Brain). A reunion with original Siren members Dave Clague and Nick Cudworth happened for a John Peel's Dandelion Records DVD, alongside solo performances by Coyne. Siren performed all material for the film without any prior rehearsals.[citation needed]

Death[edit]

Diagnosed with lung fibrosis in 2002, Coyne died peacefully at his home. He is survived by his wife Helmi and his sons Eugene, Robert and Nico.

His wife Helmi intends to continue releasing recordings Kevin made in his last years on Kevin's own Turpentine Records label. The first was Underground (2006).

2007 tribute year[edit]

2007 would be the year that Kevin Coyne at last began to garner some of the attention for his work. The Nightingales recorded a version of "Good Boy" for their album Out of True and Jackie Leven recorded a song about Kevin on his album Oh What A Blow The Phantom Dealt Me!, and "Here Come The Urban Ravens" featured on the album, Whispers From The Offing – A Tribute to Kevin Coyne, put together by Kevin's friend Frank Bangay.

The full track listing for the CD version of the album was:

  1. "Black Cloud" – Nigel Burch
  2. "Talking To No One" – Big Mehr and friend
  3. "Born Crazy" – Razz
  4. "Sand All Yellow" – Goldfish
  5. "Cycling" – Dog Latin
  6. "Marlene" – Nikki Sudden
  7. "Raindrops on the Window" – Kevin Hewick
  8. "Hello Judas" – Alternative TV
  9. "I Only Want To See You Smile" – Veronique Acoustique
  10. "Blame It on the Night" – Grae J Wall
  11. "My Evil Island Home" – Jowe Head
  12. "Case History No 2" – Pascal Regis
  13. "House on the Hill" – Leo O'Kelly
  14. "Mad Boy No2" – Frank Bangay and almost real
  15. "Looking for the River" – Chris Connelly
  16. "Victoria Smiles" – Heinz Rudolf Kunze
  17. "Are We Dreaming?" – The Otters (Ft. Mark Astronaut)
  18. "Strange Pictures" – Dave Russell
  19. "Weirdo" – Joey Stack
  20. "A Loving Hand" – Clive Product
  21. "Lonesome Valley" – Stumble on the Valves
  22. "Here Come The Urban Ravens" – Jackie Leven
  • The downloaded version also includes two bonus tracks – Sally Timm's "I'm Just A Man" and Jon Langford's "Having a Party" in Coyne's own voice.

In 2008 Swiss performance artist Pipilotti Rist produced a video in which she mimes "Jackie and Edna" against the background of various images, including film taken from a moving train. This video was exhibited in Helsinki's Kiasma Gallery in January 2012 as part of the "Thank you for the Music" exhibition.[12]

Influences[edit]

In a 2004 interview with Frank Bangay, Coyne named his favourite blues musicians as Robert Johnson, Leroy Carr, Peetie Wheatstraw and Tommy McClennan[13]

Critical appraisal[edit]

Although Coyne has been neglected by popular music historians and academics, George McKay's 2013 book Shakin' All Over: Popular Music and Disability, features a critical discussion of Coyne's work. The book opens with an epigraph from Coyne, from one of the pre-recorded dialogues featured on his 1977 album In Living Black and White: 'anything that rhymes with "me"'. Describing him as 'the great lost English singer-songwriter' with his 'social-work approach to pop', McKay discusses the 1978 song "Having a party" in the context of songs about the destructive economy of the pop industry. He also notes Coyne's 'anti-star' status and his innovative 'anti'-guitar playing: "Not being able, or electing not, to play the instrument "properly", and hearing other voices while singing: there is something culturally disabling about each of these artistic choices, quite apart from the lyrical terrain".[14]

Discography[edit]

Albums[edit]

Solo and with his band
  • Voice Of The Outsider: The Best of Kevin Coyne – 2014
  • I Want My Crown: the Anthology (CD boxed-set) – 2010
  • On Air – 2008 (Live at Radio Bremen, 18 August 1975)
  • Underground – 2006
  • One Day in Chicago (with Jon Langford) – 2005
  • Donut City – 2004
  • Carnival – 2002
  • Life is Almost Wonderful (with Brendan Croker) – 2002
  • Room full of Fools – 2000
  • Sugar Candy Taxi – 2000
  • Bittersweet Lovesongs – 2000
  • Live Rough and More – 1997
  • Knocking on Your Brain – 1997
  • The Adventures of Crazy Frank – 1995
  • Elvira: Songs from the Archives 1979–83 – 1994
  • Sign of the Times – 1994
  • Tough and Sweet – 1993
  • Burning Head – 1992
  • Wild Tiger Love – 1991
  • Peel Sessions – 1991
  • Romance – Romance – 1990
  • Everybody's naked – 1989
  • Stumbling on to Paradise – 1987
  • Rough – 1985
  • Legless In Manila – 1984
  • Beautiful Extremes et cetera – 1983
  • Politicz – 1982
  • Live in Berlin – 1981
  • Pointing the Finger – 1981
  • The Dandelion Years – 1981
  • Sanity Stomp (with Robert Wyatt) – 1980
  • Bursting Bubbles – 1980
  • Millionaires and Teddy Bears – 1979
  • Dynamite Daze – 1978
  • Beautiful Extremes – 1977
  • In Living Black and White – 1977
  • Heartburn – 1976
  • Let's Have A Party – 1976
  • Matching Head and Feet – 1975
  • Blame It on the Night – 1974
  • Marjory Razorblade – 1973
  • Case History – 1972
  • The Club Rondo – 1995 (with material recorded in 1969/1971)
  • Let's do it – 1994 (with material recorded in 1969/1970)
  • Rabbits – 1994 (with material recorded in 1969/70)
With Siren
  • Strange Locomotion – 1971
  • Siren – 1969
With Dagmar Krause
  • Babble – Songs for Lonely Lovers – 1979

Singles[edit]

  • "Mandy Lee / Bottle Up and Go" – 1969
  • "The Stride / I Wonder Where" – 1969
  • "Ze-Ze-Ze-Ze / And I Wonder" – 1970
  • "Strange Locomotion / I'm All Aching" – 1971
  • "Cheat Me / Flowering Cherry" – 1972
  • "Marlene / Everybody Says" – 1973
  • "Lovesick Fool / Sea of Love" – 1973
  • "Marlene / Sea of Love" – 1973
  • "Marlene / Jackie and Edna" – 1973
  • "I Believe in Love / Queenie Queenie Caroline" – 1974
  • "Rock 'n' Roll Hymn / It's Not Me" – 1975
  • "Saviour / Rock 'n' Roll Hymn" – 1975
  • "Lorna / Let's Have A Party" – 1975
  • "Let's Have A Party / Lorna" – 1975
  • "Saviour / Lonely Lovers" – 1975
  • "Don't Make Waves / Mona Where's My Trousers" – 1976
  • "Walk on By / Shangri-la" – 1976
  • "Fever / Daddy" – 1976
  • "Marlene / England Is Dying" – 1977
  • "Amsterdam / I Really Love You" – 1978
  • "I'll Go Too / Having A Party" – 1979
  • "So Strange / Father, Dear Father" – 1982
  • "Happy Holiday (Open and Close) / Pretty Park" – 1985

Books[edit]

  • The Party Dress (1990), London: Serpent's Tail
  • Paradise (in German) (1992)
  • Show Business (1993), London: Serpent's Tail
  • Tagebuch eines Teddybären (in German) (1993)
  • Ich, Elvis und Die Anderen (in German) (2000)
  • That Old Suburban Angst – (2004) Tony Donaghy Publishing, ISBN 0-954900-30-8

DVDs[edit]

Coyne features in the 2008 DVD "John Peel's Dandelion Records" (Ozit/Morpheus Records)

Film[edit]

References[edit]

External links[edit]