Up in Folk

Joe Boyd, in hat, at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965.Photo: Courtesy of Shore Fire Media

Folk-rock legend Robyn Hitchcock doesn’t usually play book readings, even at Joe’s Pub. But the one on Tuesday is for Joe Boyd, whose new memoir, White Bicycles, traces a life in rock and roll, from managing a Muddy Waters tour (at 21) to booking Pink Floyd to producing the Fairport Convention. He talked to Robert Levine.

Photo: Anne-Marie Briscombe/Courtesy of Shore Fire Media

Reading the book, you get a sense of just how quickly sixties music morphed from folk to Floyd.
I’m sure there are 18-year-olds listening to Lily Allen and thinking, Wow, this has totally changed the rules. But I do think that in the sixties mind-blowing records would come out on a regular basis.

What do you think of the freak-folk scene, which is influenced by some of the artists you produced?
I like the idea of it. and I particularly like that they like the Incredible String Band. But I find Joanna Newsom’s voice annoying.

Nick Drake, who you produced, had a posthumous comeback.
Even before the Volkswagen commercial [featuring “Pink Moon”], interest in him was surging. His music doesn’t really smack of the sixties. Maybe if he had become hugely popular, it would have, because you’d hear his music in documentaries of people wearing flowers in their hair.

Drake didn’t come to a very good end.
In the counterculture there were a lot of deaths—I knew a guy who lived for two years on a macrobiotic diet and died of virtual starvation. What’s more remarkable is how careful and controlled life is today. The atmosphere isn’t conducive to the kind of freedom you hear expressed in a lot of those sixties records.

How do you remember so much from a time when so many people were so out of it?
I think I’ve kept a lot of the anecdotes in that book alive since the sixties by dining out on them. At a certain point, I remember telling it as much as the thing itself.

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Up in Folk