Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Lol Coxhill

I was sad to hear of the passing of Lol Coxhill. I first became aware of him back in 1969. I was fifteen and he was a member of Kevin Ayers & The Whole World. I heard Clarence In Wonderland on John Peel's Top Gear programme and I was transfixed. I've been a fan of both Kevin Ayers and Lol Coxhill ever since.

Later on Lol Coxhill teamed up with David Bedford as The Coxhill/Bedford Duo. They recorded a 45, Pretty Little Girl, for John Peel's Dandelion label. It was a jolly little ditty – possibly subversive for its apparent lack of any kind of subversion.

I was lucky enough to see them at the Arnolfini Gallery in Bristol in either 1972 or 73. I was a student at the art college in Bristol at the time. The concert, billed as An Evening With Lol Coxhill & David Bedford, had a profound effect on me - haunting instrumentals silly songs, free improvisation and outright slapstick comedy. Lol Coxhill's impersonation of Frank Sinatra was extremely accurate and for that all the more bizarre visually.
He also impersonated Kevin Ayers – more wine David? Oh I appear to have spilt it.
He pirouetted in a grey boiler suit, they rubbed party balloons on the piano strings and burst them with evident relish. They were weird, freaky and baroque - disturbingly middle-aged to the eighteen year old me. Lol told us that he didn't know why he was always billed as a busker because he'd only ever done it once. He also mentioned that Pretty Little Girl had only sold nine copies. Apparently there was a warehouse full of them somewhere. I wish I'd been able able to find one.

The Arnolfini crowd was artsy and older. Rich bohemian chic. I don't know what they thought but I left the place irreparably altered. I was already into free jazz but I'd never witnessed such an irreverent presentation.

I don't see him play live again until some time in the nineties when he played in Brighton with The Melody Four. In 1978 he appeared on the second Damned album and that was a mystery to me – produced by Nick Mason of the Pinkfloyd - a guest appearance from Lol Coxhill – it was everything that The Damned were supposedly against at the time. I thought Lol was an inspired choice but Nick Mason was an idiocy – that was probably Dave Robinson's idea.

A friend of mine saw Lol Coxhill play in Rotterdam. He was evidently being treated disrespectfully by the organisers. He came on the stage, unpacked his soprano, announced to the audience that he was contracted to play for forty minutes, set an alarm clock and played until it went off.

I met him once - not in my capacity as a minor celeb – I was just a fan bothering him after the show. He seemed very kind.