Early on in this clip from The Old Grey Whistle Test, Kevin Coyne admits that he “knicked” his version of “I Want My Crown” off the song’s originator, Big Joe Williams. Coyne’s interpretation is more spritely, melodic, and memorable than the bluesman’s—it’s the work of an art-school lifer caught in a moment of mainstream success. “Crown” was featured on what is still Coyne’s best known album, Marjory Razorblade, however this bare, immediate live performance ratchets up the song from simply being an English dude’s hard rock blooze jam.
Coyne’s “Crown” recalls T. Rex’s version of “Summertime Blues,” with Chilli Charles’ delicate hand percussion and the strummy guitar work. Coyne is slouched back, gripping at the guitar with only his thumb. He is dramatic when he performs, twisting and contorting his pasty face and frizzy hair while he sings. T. Rex was dramatic too but in a different way: confident, dandyish, loud—in a word, “glam.” Coyne’s drama seems more introspective and tortured. His subject matter is typically grounded more realistic situations, not fantastic, overblown ones. But there’s something a weird and uncomfortable about Coyne’s musical style and frantic, warbly voice.
Coyne made a ton of records over the years, but his earlier work exposes the root for his career-long respect for “the blues” as a form. He also worked as a painter and often was involved with musicals or other theater pieces. He introduces songs during concerts with the pomp of an actor getting into character; perhaps his thespian’s approach is what energizes his unique voice. His later work isn’t as much easy fun as the Marjory Razorblade material or as electrifying as the groovy rawness on display at The Old Grey Whistle Test, but there’s plenty to be had in Coyne’s various musical experiments and digressions. The highlight of these might be Babble, his 1979 collaborative with Dagmar Krause, a weird, phased-out and emotional back and forth between lovers in album/musical form. words/a spoto
Related: Check out previous installments of Videodrome in the archives…