Music today is a slight look at the work of Kevin Coyne, slight because there’s a lot to say, a lot of material and it doesn’t end with music, there’s painting, poetry, writing and a unique approach to music as evidenced on his many thoughtful albums of hope, despair and humour. The first album came as part of the band Siren released on John Peel’s Dandelion label in 1969. It’s Blues-based written with bassist and co-producer Dave Clague and pianist guitarist Nick Cudworth. John Chichester played lead guitar and Tat Meager played drums (although there’s only four of them on the cover). You know someone is missing the point somewhere when there’s no Wikipedia page for Siren, thankfully there’s one for Kevin Coyne. For a band with barely a mention and despite Kevin Coyne’s presence, they have an impressive sound and vibe with songs like Wake Up My Children showcasing their folky Blues sixties angst, something like Eric Burdon meets Mick Jagger in a mixed Blues boom and Jug band. It’s actually easier to look back on this from the heights of Coyne’s later works, one might mistake this for just another late sixties British Blues band, it isn’t. They cover BB King’s Rock Me Baby but you have to remember that Rock Me Baby was controversial then. You have to judge things in the spirit of the times, like say, Beatles haircuts if it wasn’t for them, their songs, their look, their philosophical ideas – and their hair, the world would be a much different place today – Blumpo might be seen as moderate.

In his early years, Coyne worked in a psychiatric hospital in Preston and as a drugs councillor in London and the experiences of working with mental illness and addiction never left him when the arts took over. Asylum on Side 2 of the first Siren album becomes all the more clear. Let’s say he had a realistic take on the world and later became known as the ‘anti-star’. Before he began a long prolific solo career, Siren made Strange Locomotion (1971). Mick Gratton takes over on lead guitar which probably explains the four-piece photo on the first album and the five-piece photo on the inner sleeve of the second album. On this record, the direction is clearer. Coyne’s voice is distinctive (I’m All Aching) and the stories he tells, like on Some Dark Day, reveal a talented narrator of human insights. Before Dandelion ceased operating as a label Coyne made Case History (1972), I don’t have it – yet. Its title suggests that those experiences working in a mental institution are dealt with again on this record. It’s actually still the lads from Siren playing but it had become apparent that he was the magic and after this record, all Siren members were consigned to Coyne’s history.

When Coyne signed to Virgin as a solo artist, the second artist to be signed after Mike Oldfield, he made the amazing Marjory Razorblade (1973) with the opening title track a disturbing a capella – angst doesn’t really cover it. Marlene, the next track, showcases Coyne’s voice, sounding like a manic Van Morrison. It’s a double album in the UK, a single album in the US, Coyne sings and plays guitar, Gordon Smith plays guitar, Jean Roussel keys, Chili Charles drums and Tony Cousins bass. The fourth track, Eastbourne Ladies, is one of his best-known songs and this album is the place to start should you be interested in exploring him further. If you haven’t heard Good Boy on Side 4 and a cocktail of eccentricity, humour and pain is your thing, then look no further. (A nod here to my friend Jan in Stockholm who loves this track.)

His next album, Blame It On The Night (1974), seems to have some slight aspiration to accessibility to a bigger audience whilst making sure that it doesn’t happen with the more acoustic tracks. Lyrically strong, the consistently captivating voice and melodies, you’ll be hard pressed to find anyone more direct than Kevin Coyne. You may never have heard anything like Witch or ever will again. Gordon Smith, Tony Cousins and Chili Charles follow him onto this album. It’s another forgotten album from the seventies by another forgotten artist of talent, sincerity and quality. Don’t let him disappear off the planet completely.

Kevin Coyne on The Old Grey Whistle Test 1973 with Gordon Smith on guitar and Chili Charles on percussion playing I Want My Crown and House On The Hill from Marjory Razorblade, Virgin Records (1973):

Kevin Coyne performing together with Zoot Money for a live audience in Köln, Germany (1979) – The World Is Full Of Fools and Having A Party from the 1979 album Millionaires and Teddy Bears.

The musical musings in this post are an excerpt from my daily blog, TO WHERE I AM NOW, featured on my main website. See more pictures and read the full post here.