Kevin Coyne

Profile:
Singer, songwriter, guitarist, painter, poet and writer.
Born Derby, England 27 January 1944.
Died Nuremberg, Germany 2 December 2004.
Father of Robert Coyne

As a teenager and young adult Coyne studied at the Joseph Wright School of Art from 1957 to 1961 and then studied graphics and painting at Derby School of Art from 1961 to 1965. There he met Nick Cudworth (piano, acoustic guitar). His love of American bluesmen developed, as did his song-craft and his guitar and vocal talents.

At the conclusion of his arts training, Coyne began the work that would change him forever – he spent the three years, from 1965 to 1968, working as a social therapist and psychiatric nurse at Whittingham Hospital near Preston in Lancashire and then for "The Soho Project" in London as a drugs counsellor. During this period of working with the mentally ill he performed regularly. Subsequently, his musical aspirations took precedence and he signed a record deal in 1969.

Joined by Dave Clague (bass, acoustic guitar, ex-Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band), Coyne's band got an early break as a result of a demo heard by John Peel, who in 1969 signed them to his Dandelion Records label. At first billed as Coyne-Clague (an early Dandelion release erroneously named them just "Clague"), the band soon altered its name to Siren. Reviewing the band's 1971 LP Strange Locomotion, Robert Christgau wrote in Christgau's Record Guide: Rock Albums of the Seventies (1981): "Like Fleetwood Mac, this is British blues that neither chokes on false roots nor enmires itself in boogie reductionism. Kevin Coyne's humorously belligerent drawl embodies the band's wit and its punk chauvinism. Mistake: 'Fetch Me My Woman,' which (second mistake) goes on for 7:40."

In 1973 he appeared on the BBC's The Old Grey Whistle Test, performing "I Want My Crown" and "House on the Hill" with guitarist Gordon Smith and percussionist Chilli Charles.

In late 1975 and 1976 Coyne completed the musical England, England, written with playwright Snoo Wilson, and described as "an evocation of the Kray Twins". The musical, directed by Dusty Hughes, was performed on stage in August 1977 at the Jeannetta Cochrane Theatre, in Holborn, London. It was one of the first theatre pieces to reference the fascist associations of a kind of British nationalism that later became more prevalent with the rise of the National Front and the election of Margaret Thatcher. From 18 August to 24 September 1977 it played at the Bush Theatre in Shepherds Bush.

In 1978 Coyne collaborated with fellow Derby Art School graduate Ian Breakwell to produce the film The Institution based on Breakwell's Artist Placement Group work at Rampton Secure Hospital in Nottinghamshire.

Early in his career, Coyne turned down a meeting with founder of Elektra Records Jac Holzman (Coyne's band Siren were on Elektra in America) to discuss replacing Jim Morrison in the Doors. "I didn't like the leather trousers!" was Coynes' alleged reason.

Coyne was the second artist signed to Virgin Records, after Mike Oldfield, where he continued his uncompromising stance. It was this attitude that endeared him to label-mates such as John Lydon, who played "Eastbourne Ladies" on a Desert Island Discs–type show, and the Mekons, who recorded his "Having a Party", a scathing attack on Richard Branson.

Coyne's first solo album Case History (1972), primarily with just his own voice and guitar, was powerful and direct, was recorded for Peel's Dandelion label. When Dandelion ceased to exist, the album largely sank into obscurity. But not before it had come to the attention of Virgin Records, who were sufficiently impressed to sign Coyne and release his 1973 album Marjory Razorblade. The single "Marlene" (b/w "Everybody Says"), taken from the album and released in August 1973, was the first Virgin single.

Described as being musically "... a mixture of blues and music hall comedy, with a punk edge", the 1973 album contained many notable songs, such as the bitter and irreverent "Eastbourne Ladies" and the plaintive "House on the Hill" about life in a psychiatric institution. It was the record that was to be largely responsible for putting Coyne on the map of mainstream rock.

Another Virgin album release, Babble, by Coyne and singer Dagmar Krause, courted controversy when Kevin suggested, in the theatre presentation of the piece, that the destructive relationship between the two lovers could have been based on The Moors Murderers. Two performances at the Theatre Royal in Stratford, London were cancelled at short notice by Newham Council following negative press reports in The Sun and the Evening Standard. The show was eventually staged, for four nights, at the Oval House in Kennington. Reviewing the show for the NME, Paul Du Noyer wrote:

"Babble" is a particularly thorough, painstaking exploration of the reality of one relationship, stripped of romance and artifice. The format employed is correspondingly stark. Against a stage-set of light-bulb, table and chairs Coyne and his partner Dagmar Krause stand at either side; the only accompaniment comes from Bob Ward and Brian Godding, playing electric and acoustic guitar in the gloom behind.

American singer/songwriter Will Oldham claimed that the Babble album had "changed my life" and he recorded two of the songs himself. Oldham also went on to form a side project called The Babblers – who strictly played covers of songs from Babble. Extracts from a performance of Babble, in Berlin, were included in the short German film Herz Aus Feuer (1979) by Claudia Strauven and Wolfgang Kraesze.

The album Politicz, featuring Peter Kirtley on guitar and Steve Bull on keyboards, was released in 1982. AllMusic's reviewer Dean McFarlane described the album as "One of the British singer/songwriter's more outwardly experimental records, this album contains some of his most intimate work, deeply personal songs and techniques which were taking him further and further away from tradition... strictly a post-punk album with a humorous political agenda". The same year Coyne appeared in concert with his band (Kirtley and Bull augmented by Steve Lamb on bass and Dave Wilson on drums), live in front of the Berlin Wall at the Tempodrom. The concert was later issued on the 2008 DVD At the Last Wall (Dockland Productions, Meyer Records).

Following a nervous breakdown and increasing difficulties with drink, Coyne left the UK in 1985. He settled in Nuremberg, Germany and having given up alcohol, never stopped recording and touring, as well as writing books and exhibiting his paintings. A selection of Coyne's writings, including many of his poems, can be viewed on the internet.

Coyne's move to Germany saw his writing and painting career truly blossom. He published four books, two of which, Showbusiness and Party Dress, were published by Serpent's Tail in London. There were numerous exhibitions of his visual work throughout Europe and the response was reassuringly strong. Those in Berlin, Amsterdam and Zürich being particularly well reviewed and attended. The paintings gained some notoriety and still attract commercial attention today.

In the late 1980s Coyne acted on stage, playing the small part of a rock star in Linie Eins (Line One), a German musical, at the Nuremberg Opera House, but appearing only at the very end of the play. His 1995 album, The Adventures of Crazy Frank, was based on a stage musical about English comedian Frank Randle – with Coyne in the title role. It also starred the singer Julia Kempken who was erroneously listed in the Guardian obituary as Kevin's wife. Kempken later wrote fondly of this mistake, suggesting that her performance on stage as Randle's wife had been so strong as to transform her, in the eyes of the press, into Kevin's actual wife. In reality Kevin married only twice, first to Lesley and second to Helmi, having another relationship between the two which saw the birth of his son Nico.

In Germany his sons from his first marriage, Eugene and Robert, appeared on recordings such as Tough And Sweet (1993) and Sugar Candy Taxi (1999), with guitarist and multi-instrumentalist Robert joining his band. His later German recordings, including Knocking on Your Brain (1997) often featured the "Paradise Band". In later years he also collaborated with Brendan Croker on Life Is Almost Wonderful, with Jon Langford of the Mekons (on One Day in Chicago) and with Gary Lucas once of Captain Beefheart's Magic Band (on Knocking on Your Brain). A reunion with original Siren members Dave Clague and Nick Cudworth happened for a John Peel's Dandelion Records DVD, alongside solo performances by Coyne. Siren performed all material for the film without any prior rehearsals.

In a 2004 interview with Frank Bangay, Coyne named his favourite blues musicians as Robert Johnson, Leroy Carr, Peetie Wheatstraw and Tommy McClennan

Diagnosed with lung fibrosis in 2002, Coyne died peacefully at his home. He is survived by his wife Helmi and his sons Eugene, Robert and Nico.

His wife Helmi intends to continue releasing recordings Kevin made in his last years on Kevin's own Turpentine Records label. The first was Underground (2006).
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Albums

2310-228, 2310 228 Kevin Coyne - Case History album art Kevin Coyne Case History (Album, Comp) Dandelion Records 2310-228, 2310 228 Belgium 1972 Sell This Version
87 742 XBT, 87 740 XT / 87 741 XT Kevin Coyne - Marjory Razor Blade album art Kevin Coyne Marjory Razor Blade (Album) Virgin 87 742 XBT, 87 740 XT / 87 741 XT Germany 1973 Sell This Version
L 35171, V.2012 Kevin Coyne - Blame It On The Night album art Kevin Coyne Blame It On The Night (Album) Virgin, Virgin L 35171, V.2012 Australia 1974 Sell This Version
CN 2018/S Kevin Coyne - Stereo Pop Special-65 album art Kevin Coyne / Robin Trower Kevin Coyne / Robin Trower - Stereo Pop Special-65(LP, Transcription) BBC Transcription Services CN 2018/S UK 1974 Sell This Version
VR 13-117 Kevin Coyne - Matching Head And Feet album art Kevin Coyne Matching Head And Feet (Album) Virgin VR 13-117 US 1975 Sell This Version
VD 2505 Kevin Coyne - In Living Black And White album art Kevin Coyne In Living Black And White (Album) Virgin VD 2505 UK 1976 Sell This Version
V 2047, V2047 Kevin Coyne - Heartburn album art Kevin Coyne Heartburn (Album) Virgin V 2047, V2047 UK 1976 Sell This Version
2473 754 Kevin Coyne - Millionaires And Teddy Bears album art Kevin Coyne Millionaires And Teddy Bears (Album) Virgin 2473 754 France 1978 Sell This Version
V2096, V 2096 Kevin Coyne - Dynamite Daze album art Kevin Coyne Dynamite Daze (Album) Virgin, Virgin V2096, V 2096 UK 1978 Sell This Version
L-37,056, V-2128 Kevin Coyne - Babble album art Kevin Coyne And Dagmar Krause Kevin Coyne And Dagmar Krause - Babble (Album) Virgin, Virgin L-37,056, V-2128 Australia 1979 Sell This Version
VGD 3504 Kevin Coyne - Sanity Stomp album art Kevin Coyne Sanity Stomp (Album) Virgin VGD 3504 UK 1980 Sell This Version
2473 799 Kevin Coyne - Bursting Bubbles album art Kevin Coyne Bursting Bubbles (Album) Virgin, Virgin, Virgin 2473 799 France 1980 Sell This Version
LR 019 Kevin Coyne - Pointing The Finger album art Kevin Coyne Pointing The Finger (Album) Cherry Red LR 019 Canada 1981 Sell This Version
BRED 30 Kevin Coyne - Pøliticz album art Kevin Coyne Pøliticz (Album) Cherry Red BRED 30 UK 1982 Sell This Version
RTD 22 Kevin Coyne - Legless In Manila album art Kevin Coyne Legless In Manila (Album) Collapse Records (2), Rough Trade RTD 22 Germany 1983 Sell This Version
SPV 12-1250, SPV 01-1253 Kevin Coyne - Rough album art Kevin Coyne Rough (Album) On Record, On Record SPV 12-1250, SPV 01-1253 Europe 1985 Sell This Version
SPV8492602 Kevin Coyne - Romance-Romance album art Kevin Coyne Romance-Romance(Cass, Promo) Not On Label SPV8492602 Germany 1990 Sell This Version
DEI8117-4 Kevin Coyne - Peel Sessions album art Kevin Coyne Peel Sessions (Album) Strange Fruit, Strange Fruit DEI8117-4 US 1990 Sell This Version
EM 1 Kevin Coyne - Burning Head album art Kevin Coyne Burning Head (Album) Edition Multiart EM 1 Germany 1992 Sell This Version
388.7009.242, CD 388.7009.242, GH 70092 Kevin Coyne - Tough And Sweet album art Kevin Coyne Tough And Sweet(CD, Album) Golden Hind, Golden Hind, Golden Hind 388.7009.242, CD 388.7009.242, GH 70092 Germany 1993 Sell This Version
DJC 001 Kevin Coyne - Rabbits album art Siren (13) & Kevin Coyne Siren (13) & Kevin Coyne - Rabbits (Album) DJC Records (2) DJC 001 UK 1994 Sell This Version
DJC 002 Kevin Coyne - Lets Do It album art Siren (13) & Kevin Coyne Siren (13) & Kevin Coyne - Lets Do It(CD) DJC Records (2) DJC 002 UK 1994 Sell This Version
GH 7017.2 Kevin Coyne - The Adventures Of Crazy Frank album art Kevin Coyne The Adventures Of Crazy Frank(CD, Album) Golden Hind GH 7017.2 Germany 1995 Sell This Version
GH 70192-1, GH 70192-2 Kevin Coyne - Knocking On Your Brain album art Kevin Coyne Knocking On Your Brain (Album) Golden Hind, Golden Hind GH 70192-1, GH 70192-2 Germany 1997 Sell This Version
51416-1447-2 Kevin Coyne - Sugar Candy Taxi album art Kevin Coyne Sugar Candy Taxi (Album) Ruf Records 51416-1447-2 US 1999 Sell This Version

Reviews

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Bradx

Bradx

June 28, 2021
The classic Virgin albums are some of my favourite records from the '70s. I was listening to Kevin back then, and I'm still listening today.

Composer of deep and dark observational blues songs exploring mental instability, hostile relationships and unique /strange occurences. No one inhabits their songs like Kevin Coyne.

My favourite song is Marigold off Millionaires and Teddy Bears but really everything from those '70s albums emanates true quality. I must admit, I didn't keep up with subsequent releases but that's more fool me.

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