Chicago Reader, Sept. 1999:
"Kevin Coyne ...
Rolling Stone, Feb. 2000:
... a peculiar blues singer ...
"British expatriate Kevin Coyne (now a resident of Germany) is a peculiar blues singer, even by relaxed standards. Since the late 1960s, Coyne has forged a unique path in folk blues: interior monologues of pain and giddy delusion, the extremes of everyday neurosis made flesh in his chesty yowl. Sugar Candy Taxi attests to his underminished powers. Coyne's wounded courage, dry comic touch, and the self mocking are not quite the blues in name but definitely in feeling."
The Independent, April 25, 2001:
Return of a great blues singer
"Edgy yet magnetic, the return of a great blues singer ... Coyne has stayed resolutely selective in his appeal, ... Coyne shakes his jowls like a possessed creature, and his buried works' greatness becomes clear ... " by Nick Hasted - London
GUARDIAN film unlimited, February 7, 2003
ONE ROOM MAN - KEVIN COYNE
It's perhaps depressing that it has taken a German film student to show the world the idiosyncratic charm of British singer- songwriter Kevin Coyne, but as a snapshot of the great man - doodling on his guitar whilst dispensing home-spun Northern philosophy - this is an intriguing insight. Whilst the art-school framing (Coyne spent one night being filmed stuck in one room) is part Eraserhead, part dodgy Depeche Mode video, the eccentric humanity of the veteran singer will have you searching out his albums. (Matthew Tempest )
Chicago metromix, December 17, 2002:
Music review, Kevin Coyne at Old Town School of Folk Music
Recognition can be slow in coming to deserving artists. In fact, it sometimes seems that the better the artist is, the longer it takes to arrive.
For legendary British singer-songwriter Kevin Coyne, fame apparently booked passage on a leaky barge with a crippled motor and has been drifting haplessly in some distant ocean for years. Yet that hasn't stopped Coyne from forging an impressive 30-year career that's encompassed music, poetry and visual art.
To a degree, Coyne's eclectic spirit has contributed to his obscurity. His early records were rooted in earthy folk-blues music, yet for all their robust energy and homespun lyricism, Coyne's penchant for depicting socially marginalized characters using unorthodox song forms kept him from being embraced by some.
Coyne's subsequent records were even more daring and unpredictable, exploring hard rock, free improvisation, jazz-accented pop and more. Yet regardless of its orientation, Coyne's music was often as compelling as it was impossible to pigeonhole.
So the measure of respect accorded Coyne during his Sunday night appearance at the Old Town School of Folk music was long overdue. For the first time since he began returning to Chicago several years ago, Coyne had an opportunity to perform in one of the city's premier venues supported by a large, able band that included his son Robert (guitar, drums) and local luminaries Jon Langford (guitar), John Rice (guitar), Pat Brennan (organ) and Sally Timms (vocals).
Coyne responded with his most uninhibited and sometimes hilariously unhinged set in recent years. From the prickly blues riffing of set opener "Saviour" to the bruising hard-rock of the encore finale "Room Full of Fools," Coyne was in peak form, belting out lyrics with the fervor of a backwoods preacher shouting down a legion of demons.
Coyne isn't a singer in the conventional sense; he's closer to a jazz artist in his fondness for tossing improvised lyrics, odd inflections and quirky non-sequiturs into his songs. But rather than sounding disjointed, Coyne's stream of consciousness rants and asides on the barroom blues-rocker "Money Like Water" and the steamy R&B workout "Precious" imbued them with the unique, spontaneous dazzle of Zen sketches.
As good as Coyne's backing band was, he was often most riveting during his solo acoustic numbers. "Blame It on the Night" and "Karate King" mixed rough, aggressive, unorthodox strumming with wild, untethered singing to produce music that was simultaneously primal and almost avant-garde.
Coyne used the same elements to particularly chilling effect on "Lunatic," which drew on his youthful experience of working in a mental hospital. The blend of Coyne's manic barre chords and harrowing lyrical imagery evoked a searing pathos that left the audience in a discomfited silence.
It's exactly that type of unvarnished, almost brutal honesty that's kept Coyne a cult artist for so long. But it's also what will keep anyone who witnessed the concert from forgetting it anytime soon.
by Rick Reger
MOJO 1000. The Ultimate CD Buyers Guide, Winter 2001:
After a spell with John Peel's Dandelion label, Coyne became Virgin's second signing and released the bleakly powerful double LP Marjory Razor Blade. Giving voice to life's also rans on Jackie And Edna and Old Soldier and perhaps hope by Coyne's emotive, Beefheart-ian keen. Marjory ... mingles folk-rock, the Mississippi Delta and end-of-the-pier cabaret to unique effect. JC.
Record Collector, July, 2002:
One flew over the cuckoo's nest - the story of Kevin Coyne
Kevin Coyne is one of England's finest white blues singers. He first emerged in the late 60's with the band Siren and became Richard Branson's second signing to the newly formed Virgin label, basing his writings on his experiences as a social worker in mental institutions. He is best remembered in the UK for his Virgin material from the 70's, when he delivered 11 distinctive albums, achieving minor 'cult' status, and when he earned his reputation live performances.
In 1971, the day after Jim Morrison's death, Coyne was asked to replace him in the Doors. He showed little interest, as he didn't rate the band at all! Coyne never did make it to the mainstream - his music was far too raw, abstract and uncommercial - and he wasn't prepared to compromise. His songs were original and different, displaying an empathy with life's outsiders.
His were not mainstream themes. Choosing to write mainly about life's more 'difficult' subject matter was destined to consign him to the fringes of the music business. However, Coyne has carved out a remarkable 35-year career, having released over 40 CD's. He has spent the last 17 years living in Germany, now his home, where he has also developed parallel careers - as a painter, writer, poet and playwright. He has had numerous highly regarded exhibitions of his paintings in galleries throughout Europe and is an author with four published books (3 in German).
So what is the Kevin Coyne story? He was born in January 1944 in Derby. In his youth his first musical influences were black American rock 'n' rollers - Little Richard, Fats Domino and Chuck Berry. Although always drawn to music, Coyne started out studying graphics and painting. At art college Kevin discovered new and lasting musical influences in American blues and R'n'B - Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker and Jimmy Reed.
Coyne's first job after leaving Art College was as a social therapist at Whittingham Hospital, near Preston, in Lancashire. He used his art as therapy and encouraged the psychiatric patients to explore their own creativity. In late 1968 he moved to London and worked for the Soho Project as a counsellor for drug addicts. This formative experience of social work was to be the source for many of his early songs.
In London, with Nick Cudworth and Dave Clague, formerly of the Bonzo Dog Band, they formed Siren and were quickly signed to John Peel's Dandelion label. Siren recorded two albums for Dandelion, "Siren" and "Strange Locomotion". Neither album was a strong seller, but both were well received and established Coyne's reputation as a promising vocalist and a talented writer.
Kevin returned to social work at the Mental Health Centre in Camden Town. The final Dandelion album was to be effectively his first solo album - "Case History" (1971) (re-issued on CD with extra tracks on See For Miles in 1995). It was a bleak but triumphant debut, drawing on and reflecting the ardours of his day job.
Following the demise of Dandelion Records Coyne was quickly signed to Virgin Records. His first Virgin release was the extraordinary double album "Marjory Razorblade" (1973) featuring some stunning material, including the epic 'House on the Hill', a harrowing tale of institutional life, and the rousing 'Marlene'. This is a classic Coyne 70's album. "Blame it on the Night" (1974) and "Matching Head and Feet" (1975) swiftly followed.
1976 saw another landmark release in the live double album, "In Living Black and White". The album neatly covered off his career highlights from the first half of the 70's. The live band featured guitarist Andy Summers (later Police) and keyboardist Zoot Money. "Dynamite Daze" (1978) closed a chapter of sorts. Coyne stopped working with a band and started to work with stripped down studio line-ups and opted to play solo live. "Millionaires and Teddy Bears" (1979), included 'Having a Party', a biting criticism of the record industry, who increasingly saw Coyne as a maverick outsider.
In 1980 Coyne released the marvellous "Babble" (1980) made with Dagmar Krause (Henry Cow / Slapp Happy). This was a controversial album themed around the Moors Murderers. The dark and brooding "Bursting Bubbles" (1980) closed the decade. His final Virgin album was the double album "Sanity Stomp" (1980), with the first disc made with punk outsiders The Ruts, following the loss of their lead singer Malcolm Owen.
Kevin's health and stability began to deteriorate in the early 80's. No one could write and perform with such intensity without some personal cost. An overworked Kevin suffered a breakdown. He battled against alcoholism and began to rebuild his life after his marriage dissolved into divorce. He continued to put out music throughout this troubled period. After Virgin Coyne signed up with indie label Cherry Red. He produced "Pointing the Finger" (1981) and "Politicz" (1982).
1985 was a big year of change. Coyne left London and resettled in Nuremberg, Germany. The move was a good one, resulting in the formation of a German group (The Paradise Band), a fresh recording career and drastic change of life-style (he quit drinking for good in 1987). He later re-married. Ten albums have been recorded during his time in Germany, mainly on Rockport. Until his move to German blues label Ruf Records, in 1999, his albums lacked wider international distribution and will be unfamiliar to many in the UK. His most recent Ruf releases, "Sugar Candy Taxi" (1999) and "Room Full of Fools" (2000) have both been well received in the UK.
March 2002 saw Coyne on a small tour of the UK with Brendan Croker. Croker is probably best known for his work with his band The Five O'clock Shadow and Mark Knopfler's Notting Hillbillies. Croker is forthright in his praise of the act he's supporting. "In my opinion Kevin is the only English blues singer ever. There are lots of people who dabble in the Arts but very few artists he is one of the few". Kevin's voice and his stage presence are as compelling as ever. Judge for yourself: a limited edition album, "Life's Almost Wonderful" is to be available on the tour. And there are some strong new songs from their collaboration previewed on the tour. The show at the Recital Rooms in South London's Blackheath included some brilliant takes from the Coyne archive - 'Marlene', 'Blame it on the Night', 'Marjory Razorblade' and 'Bourgeoisie Dance'.
Above all else, Coyne is an entertainer. His recorded work falls into place once you see him live. As with the great bluesmen, he is at his best when he is at his most spontaneous and irreverent. Anyone who has witnessed a Coyne concert will remember the voice, his masterly delivery, his indulgent and instinctive talent for improvisation, his humility and most of all his warmth and humour. Despite his choice of dark themes, on stage, as in life, Kevin is an amiable, good natured, playful and witty person. Kevin's music, as with other great maverick singer songwriters - Cave, Newman, Waits, Cohen - is often misunderstood. However, his finest work possesses a directness, compassion and humanity that few can touch.
RC caught up with Kevin Coyne after his show at the Recital Rooms, Blackheath, 7th March 2002.
How did the Brendan Croker collaboration come about?
"It came about because I met him some years ago at a gig in Bradford, Yorkshire, in the late 80's, at a venue called the Corn Exchange. I've seen him here and there, but with no real contact until about 2 years ago at a festival in Belgium. He was working with a Belgian band. Then last year I did a small tour of England and he arrived on the scene and said he would like to be the support act and offered to do it for free. I said well go on and do half an hour to forty minutes and I liked him. From that we thought that maybe we could take it further. He came over to my place in Nuremberg, Germany for a week and we did some recording, tried a few things out. Then by post he sent me some other tunes on CD's, which I used in the studio and sang over. Then the stuff seemed to gel, spontaneous though pretty well all of it was. He was so enthused he went and put out a record, at least a limited edition. I think there are a couple of companies interested in putting it out at some point".
Are you happy with new material with Brendan?
"I am indeed. It's the way I work now. It's a good insight into the way I work. Most of its improvisation, rooted on a regular musical basis, but the lyrics are in the main improvised on the night, to suit the occasion and the mood. I like working like that".
My impression is that you are best known in the UK for
your 70's / early 80's and then
"That's not true. I have been coming to England on a reasonably regular basis since the late 80's doing tours. In the 90's it's a publicity thing more than anything else. I don't feel hard done by in anyway. I regard myself as an artist. I'm not running around with a placard and banners proclaiming my talent as it were. I'm not particularly interested in any of that and never have been. Suffice to say there is enough of an audience in several countries around the world that I make a reasonable living. I never really wanted to be Rod Stewart or Bob Dylan. As time goes the interest in the singing will probably increase, but I'm not at all concerned about it, because I'm a painter too. I've had numerous exhibitions, write books, though the last three have been in German, I'm pretty absorbed with what I do".
Some of the German releases are hard to come by in the
UK and not that well known.
"If I had to recommend anything in the mid 90's it was a double album called, "Knocking on your Brain", which featured a very high class and well respected group of German musicians from bands you've probably never heard of. The album worked out extremely well. It also featured Gary Lucas, Captain Beefheart's guitarist, who was on a couple of tracks and I've worked with periodically".
What would you say are the classic Coyne 70's albums?
"I like all of them. That might sound egotistical but they all have something to say. My favourite these days would have to be "Bursting Bubbles", probably closely followed by "Marjory Razorblade" and "Case History" from the album before the Virgin days".
You have said that you see yourself as an entertainer.
Your strength is in live performance.
"You have like a computer bank or something, it just floods into your head, memories, facts, accurate and inaccurate, language too, the use of language, you know, I just enjoy doing it. I've tried to unlock the key, that may sound pretentious, but I find a way to do it almost at will, so that it all tumbles out. I'm not a great fan of little exercise books full of scribblings and little neat lyric sheets. I'm not over keen on that"
What are your plans?
"I've got an exhibition running in Germany at the moment with pictures.
This is a very important part of my life. It shares equally with music.
I'm doing a programme for German radio next month of my favourite songs
from an album called "American Blues Roots". I review albums
for the Sueddeutsche Zeitung, which is a paper like the Observer. I do
pictorial reviews, drawings and so on, based on the albums. There are
tours of Belgium, Holland and France to come with Brendan. August I should
be in America as usual. I normally play New York, Chicago and places like
that. I'm planning some exhibitions too in America, in Texas and maybe
Things come in all the time. Interesting things. I'm
not tied to one particular thing".
Los Angeles Times, Saturday, August 12, 2000:
"English singer Kevin Coyne is as colorful as he is
Pop Music Review by Richard Cromelin
The Plain dealer, Cleveland, Sunday, November 12, 2000:
"... Kevin Coyne put out the album of the year. ...
by John Soeder, pop music critic
The New York Times, Friday, September 1, 2000:
Pop and Jazz Guide
It's a privilege to see this English eccentric free-associate
"... Kevin Coyne may be the only blues singer who paints in the Expressionist style, publishes books about Elvis and teddy bears, once worked as a therapist for the severly disturbed and releases albums with titles like 'Sugar Candy Taxi'. ... It's a privilege to see this English eccentric free-associate ..."
The Morning Star, Saturday, March 16, 2002:
BLUES GRANDEES STILL ROCK
Brendan Croker & Kevin Coyne - Blackheath Concert Halls
PARTNERSHIP can be a nasty word when written in the Morning Star, usually meaning some trade Union bureaucrat selling out the members and jumping into bed with management. Well, it's good to see another sort of partnership at work, one which brings together two of Britain's most respected singer-songwriters for a collaboration that some of us hope is not a one-off.
Brendan Croker may not have been on the scene for as long as his stage partner Kevin Coyne, but he has most certainly been around the block a few times, having worked with artists as diverse as Eric Clapton and The Mekons. Coyne, on the other hand, is probably Britain's best exponent of the blues. He has been around for over 30 years and for about the same number of albums. The Blackheath Concert Halls is a rather sedate surrounding for a gig - "a bit like the ballroom in the mental hospital where I worked," says Coyne. But there is nothing said about this duo's performance. Ferocious is Coyne's singing, while Croker displays a range on his guitar that can go from gentle folk to delta blues via hillbilly.
This pair have put together a short tour to highlight some of the songs which they have worked on in the studio over recent months for an album that is, as yet, only being sold at their gigs. lt is this recording Life Is Almost Wonderful which takes up the first part of the concert. Songs such as Pass Me The Memories, Looking From My Window and Whispers In The Night are classic Coyne, with Croker providing the odd verse - which he doesn't do on the album - while the latter's guitar playing provides an essential ingredient. Other new songs to look out for are the tribute to rock and roll Martha and Arthur and the title track of the new record. The second half of the show sees the artists take it in turns to play their own solo favourites. Coyne's Marjory Razorblade is always a treat and he doesn't disappoint on this night, while there is no doubt that, although written about John Major, Lickspittle is now all to do with our present power-crazed but ideological nonentity of a premier. Croker, on the other hand, brings out all musical skills and soulful voice together for a brilliant reworking of the Cole Porter classic Miss Otis Regrets. This is a great collaboration, so let's hope we haven't seen the last of them.
The Independent, March 2, 2002:
COYNE STILL IN CIRCULATION
He's a painter, dramatist, fiction writer and the greatest
British blues musician.
Distracted by traffic on the Ml last year, I accidentally
tuned the car radio to Radio 5 Live's afternoon show with Simon Mayo.
Travelling in the fast lane, in heavy rain, I found myself unable to hit
the off switch with the usual urgency. But then I recognised a welcome
and familiar sound: Kevin Coyne, singing his anthem "Dynamite Daze".
Like my passenger Daniel, who is a fellow admirer of Coyne's, I remained
silent for a few moments. Mayo's programme is generally all talk, with
little or no music. Coyne is played on British radio very rarely, and
never in daylight. But it was still not four o'clock, and they were playing
the whole song. The same sickening thought struck us both, at once. "Jesus
Christ," Daniel said to me. "He's dead."
Kevin Coyne & Brendan Croker are performing at: Windsor Arts Centre (01753 859336) today; Cheltenham Town Hall, 4 March; The Dome, Brighton, 6 March; Blackheath Halls, London, 7 March Swindon Arts Centre, 9 March; The Boardwalk, Sheffield, 14 March; Hebden Bridge Trades Club, 15 March; and The Picturedrome, Holmfirth, 16 March.
New York Times - September 3, 1999:
THE PARANOID DELUSIONS OF KEVIN COYNE
There are unlikely-looking rock stars, and then there is Kevin Coyne. "I'd like to be exciting and entertain you all, and dash around the stage, but I'm getting old and rather obese and I don't care", declared the veteran English singer to the crowd greeting him at the Bottom Line on Wednesday night.
The entire tableau onstage was as incongruous as the Falstaffian gentleman at its center. Mr. Coyne's son, Robert, cockily played crude blues on a Flying V guitar; a pickup bassist, Rob Tebaldi, .... . The drummer, Steve Smith, rolled his eyes heavenward in direct opposition to the cigarette dangling from his lip as he played. Yet this ragtag ensemble tapped a vitality that had nothing to do with grace or style. Mr. Smith, a drummer with a deadly kick, greatly aided the outbursts. But their real impetus was Mr. Coyne's voice, a brassy instrument that compares favorably to the pipes of glamorous stars like Robert Plant.
Mr. Coyne avoided the obvious sexual bravado those singers milk. Instead he sang of paranoid delusions, loneliness and disappointment, his lyrics giving those classic blues themes an English art-rock twist. "In the Park" imagined the distress of a lonely man fearing attack while "Strange Locomotion" performed a musical biopsy on a troubled mind. "Having a Party" recalled a nightmare in which Mr. Coyne was trapped inside a hall full of gold records and condemned for not having any of his own.
That song might have been autobiographical. Thirty years ago, Mr. Coyne recorded for Virgin Records and was approached to join the Doors after Jim Morrison's demise. But even then he was leaning toward music too raw and strange for the mainstream. He became a cult artist and worked as a music therapist for the mentally ill.
In the 1980's Mr. Coyne himself suffered a breakdown brought on by alcoholism. He recovered in Germany, where he has remained incredibly prolific. He has made 30 albums, established himself as a painter and written several books. He is writing a musical about the life of Elvis Presley tentatively titled "Fat Old Hero".
His diverse résumé pegs Mr. Coyne as an art rocker, yet his songs never sacrificed emotion for wit. He dedicated one to the Mississippi-based bluesman R. L. Burnside, and in some ways he is the white European counterpart to that eccentric shouter. His quirkiness feeds his talent for making music that bleeds emotion. He seemed content to follow his obscure path. Before jumping into a cover of "Rock Me Baby" by B. B. King, he sang "Happy Little Fat Man", which he dedicated to himself, and he even did a tiny two-step in the middle of it. ...