I never saw Kevin Coyne live despite being a fan of his unique work throughout the seventies. With the absence of any UK TV coverage at the time, it was only with the dawn of the internet age that I chanced upon bootleg footage of his appearance on the German Rockpalast show from 1979. It was a great performance that reinforced my enthusiasm for the man’s music and happily the show is now officially available, remastered from the broadcast tapes, on DVD thanks to Blast First Petite. Although the quality is slightly better than my old bootleg, 1979 transmissions hardly compare to today’s HD standard, but then I guess most Kevin Coyne fans are probably not technophile obsessives.On record, Coyne comes over as the unlikely progeny of Max Miller and Memphis Minnie, and the visual element actually emphasises this even further. Clad in resolutely unstylish dungarees and scarecrow hair, Coyne knocks out a selection of songs from his back catalogue using his idiosyncratic guitar technique – “borrowed from Jimi Hendrix,” he quips – using only the thumb of his left hand. By “Saviour,” he has discarded the guitar altogether, donning a top hat to sing to a bare drum machine backing, armed with a toy gun as a prop. “Marjorie Razorblade” is even further stripped down, Coyne’s mannered voice laid completely naked. “Brother of Mine” is dedicated to Johnny Rotten – “a great man” – and it’s easy to see how Coyne’s gritty socially-conscious songs and eccentric delivery endeared him to the punks at a time when most singer-songwriters were finding themselves out of a job. He even throws in snippets of “Pretty Vacant” and “God Save the Queen” to affirm his allegiance. The drum machine returns for a bizarrely theatrical “Dance of the Bourgeoisie” that verges on stand-up, before Brit-blues veteran Zoot Money joins Coyne on stage for the remainder of the show. Money’s electric piano and backing vocals slightly broaden the palette, while allowing Coyne the freedom to indulge in some inelegant displays of ‘dancing.’ Through the 90 minute set, Coyne dips into most of his albums ranging from his pre-solo Siren days to the then-current Millionaires and Teddy Bears, although not a single song sounds even close to the released version. Coyne treats songs as raw material to stretch and bend, heading off in all directions lyrically and musically whenever the whim takes him. Simultaneously stripped naked and endlessly expanded, the songs take on a wholly new character in the live environment.
We must be grateful that Rockpalast had the vision to give such marginal artists full 90 minute showcases at a time when all they could hope for in the UK was a ten minute spot on The Old Grey Whistle Test. It’s great to see so many of the shows surfacing now, providing rare visual documentation of a fascinating era… and even greater that this Kevin Coyne show is among them. There are some quibbles to be had with this release- the packaging could certainly be more informative and there are no chapter idents for the individual songs, making the performance only watchable as a whole (possibly a good thing?), but really it is a pretty essential, if long-overdue release.