In music there are those conscious enough—or, more often, just lucky enough—to have been present when history happened. People who found themselves, Forest Gump-like, at certain outdoor rock festivals of the 1960s or wandered into some basement coffeehouse where a future superstar was getting their act together. But then there’s that most select handful of savvy and observant operators, tastemakers who were ahead of the cultural curve—or, as they likely saw it then, right on time. Elite individuals who actually made music history. Producer Joe Boyd is one of them. Accompanied by one of his most ardent disciples, singer-songwriter Robyn Hitchcock, Boyd will read from White Bicycles
, his revelation rich 2006 memoir, in an evening titled “Live and Direct from 1967” at MassMOCA on March 12.
Helping dial in Bob Dylan’s PA mix for his infamously pivotal “electric” set at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival. Road managing Muddy Waters and other blues and jazz greats on their influential early ’60s tours of Europe and the UK. Producing Pink Floyd’s first single, as well as classic albums by Nick Drake, Fairport Convention, Nico, the Incredible String Band, and dozens of other luminaries. To borrow a line from LCD Soundsystem, Joe Boyd was there. Or, rather, whoever else was there was there largely because of him. So what is it, exactly, that has made Boyd one of music’s most prescient harbingers?
“Being an aficionado and so obsessed with a lot of older music made it easier for me to understand where music that was seen as cutting-edge at the time was reallly coming from,” Boyd says via phone from England. “Music is always a conjunction of whatever energy’s around—the zeitgeist—and this buried subterranean monster called musical history.”
Robyn Hitchcock has been making his own musical history since the late 1970s. From his early days with British psych-punks the Soft Boys, Hitchcock has been crafting a peculiarly English, whimsically bemusing brand of pop that proudly references Boyd’s work with Syd Barrett-era Floyd and the like. By way of his quirky performances and the 17 solo albums—not to mention dozens of anthologies and live sets—he’s released since the early 1980s, Hitchcock is revered as one of rock’s most beloved and unique cult artists.
“I’d been a fan of Robyn’s for years when we ran into each other in 2007 at [Texas music conference] South by Southwest, and he invited me on stage to read from White Bicycles between his songs,” Boyd recalls. “His stage banter is very funny and entertaining anyway, but we worked so well together we decided to keep it going.” For “Live and Direct from 1967,” the two intimately bat the ball back and forth, with Boyd reading key passages from his book and Hitchcock riffing on whatever’s at hand with solo acoustic versions of related songs (Dylan, Barrett, Drake) and grilling the author-producer with fannish questions. Like the music it celebrates, the program is sure to put followers of Hitchcock and Boyd-associated artists in high heaven.
Robyn Hitchcock and Joe Boyd will present “Live and Direct from 1967” at MassMOCA in North Adams, Massachusetts, on March 12 at 8pm in the facility’s Hunter Center. Tickets are $18, $22, and $28. (413) 662-2111; www.massmoca.org