Kevin Coyne – Uggy’s Song

• “Uggy’s Song” set to a picture of the housing album cover. Thanks to sbritt.

9.0 “Classic Blues / Rhythm n Blues from England”

From his debut solo album “Case History” (Dandelion Records 2310-228) released in 1972.

My album review:

The final LP to be released on John Peel’s Dandelion Records was a little beauty; all recorded in a single afternoon’s work in a modest Twickenham studio. After a few years of working with ex-Bonzo-Dogger Dave Clague (as Coyne-Clague then Siren), the 28-year-old Kevin Coyne stepped forward with his first true solo statement in “Case History”, although his good pal Dave remains present on occasional bass and production duties. Main producer Clive Selwood would later look back on “Case History” fondly as “the finest album I ever produced and which still moves me to tears. Kevin Coyne was an extraordinary performer.

The Derby-born musician would become noted for his unorthodox style of blues-influenced guitar composition, the intense quality of his vocal delivery, and for his relentless championing of the underdog – most especially the mentally ill – all traits which are in evidence throughout this debut set. Said Coyne himself: “The album reflects my work in Whitingham psychiatric hospital and as a social worker for the Soho project in London. The intensity of it all reflects my concern and passion for the problems of the underdog. It’s dedicated to the unfortunate among us. One of the songs, ‘Uggy’s Song’, is about a black tramp who was teased and eventually murdered by, I think, the police in Leeds in the early 70s. I read about this case and decided to write the song. The memory of the event still haunts me today.”

Stylistically, he’s in a world of his own – consistently strumming and wailing with an instantly recognisable trademark sound. His self-proffered influences include Ben E King for the soul, and Buddy Guy and Elmore James for the raw guts; all of these make perfect sense. Although the LP is consistently good, the very best tracks are to be found at the beginning and the end. The unrepresentative “God Bless The Bride” gets the album off to a jaunty start, as if luring the listener in for a carefree whistle before the untreated starkness hits. Even by the end of this supposedly cheery opener, Kevin pipes up “God bless the future, I hope it’s not too dim” Hee-hee, the happy tone lasted less than 3 minutes. As early as track 3 Coyne is positively raging, “why should you care?” snaps Coyne, looking down on society and putting his arm around Uggy, the beaten-down black tramp. Anyone who walks over a homeless person after hearing “Uggy’s Song” is not human.

Towards the end of the set, “Message to the People” seems to further confront his stated enemy, society at large: “don’t tie me to your steeple, don’t put me in the stocks in your market square… watch me now because into the tangles I go”. He will tackle the taboo; deal with it. I’m with him. Coyne, the social worker, casts his mind back to Whitingham for “Sand All Yellow”, the excellent closer which recounts a disturbing psychiatric case where an evil-minded Doctor and a caring nurse, Miss Faversham, have different ideas on how best to administer help to the patient. Coyne plays both roles, using a hilarious Beefheart-esque voice to portray the baddie and a more plaintive tone to represent our lovely Miss. The tense atmosphere is underlined by a film-score-esque production which enhances the story. I wouldn’t want to be that patient.

It’s his willingness to let go with all sorts of wild vocal mannerisms, and to touch on subject matters usually shunned, that endears him to punk adventurers. Clearly, he doesn’t really give a fuck what Radio 1 might think of these songs.

You can check out the rest of my album reviews for 1972 here.

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