Musical History Tour: Joe Boyd and Robyn Hitchcock revisit the '60s

Robyn Hitchcock, left, and Joe Boyd.
Robyn Hitchcock, left, and Joe Boyd.
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By Mark Jenkins
Special to The Washington Post
Tuesday, March 8, 2011; 9:32 PM

By Joe Boyd's reckoning, "the '60s began in the summer of 1956" and "ended in October of 1973." There's a sense, however, in which the '60s have yet to conclude for the New Jersey native who found himself at the center of London's acid- and folk-rock booms.

Boyd's witty 2006 memoir, "White Bicycles: Making Music in the 1960s," has kept the era alive for him, and not just on the page. Boyd and singer-guitarist Robyn Hitchcock, whose recording career began in 1977, have developed a show that combines the author's reminiscences with tunes by some of the performers Boyd promoted or produced. They'll do this '60s-rock-swap meet Wednesday at the Birchmere.

At 68, Boyd looks more like an Oxford professor than a Woodstock veteran. He's lived in Britain for most of his adult life and has acclimated nicely. He arrives for an interview wearing suspenders and a corduroy jacket, and asks for tea with milk while waiting for Hitchcock, who's 10 years his junior, to join the conversation via speakerphone.

The two men's collaboration began as an impromptu event at the 2007 South by Southwest festival, and still hasn't hardened into an act. "We've got two whole shows of material," Boyd notes. "We do try to change it up. So I can keep Robyn interested."

They seek to maintain the performance's looseness, Hitchcock says, simply because "it works. And I don't thrive on repetition."

No tunes are guaranteed for any show, but certain songbooks are sure to be opened. "We're definitely going to do a Syd Barrett, definitely a Nick Drake, definitely an Incredible String Band, definitely a Bob Dylan," Boyd assures. "I don't think we've ever not done those four."

Those performers are Boyd touchstones. Barrett was the original leader of Pink Floyd, who played often at London's UFO Club, which Boyd ran, and whose first single he produced. Nick Drake and the Incredible String Band are perhaps the most admired cult acts from Boyd's late-'60s stable. And "White Bicycles'' recounts several brushes with Dylan, notably Boyd's stint as production manager at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival, where the great folk hope broke the peace (and Pete Seeger's heart) with an electric guitar.

Considering the various mid-'60s Dylan tunes he might perform, Hitchcock notes that "I brought a collection of harmonicas and a capo."

"But, Robyn," Boyd interjects, "that means you won't be able to say - "

" 'Has anybody got an E harmonica?' " Hitchcock completes the query - famously asked by Dylan at Newport - in his best nasal American folk-rock accent.

As a young teenager, Hitchcock says, he was profoundly influenced by the Boyd-linked material he now performs. "Some of these songs are more me than I am. And I was one of the people who carried this music, like an ant, from the mid-'60s into the mid-'80s."

"White Bicycles" is a reference to an obscure '60s song, but also to the bikes that Dutch hippies placed around Amsterdam, to be shared in the spirit of utopian cooperation. It was a spirit that didn't last.

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