I woke this morning to the very sad news that Robin Elvin, artist and musician had lost his battle against cancer. I first met Robin in the early noughties when I first moved here and started playing in the Kings Lynn area, and in truth I never got to know him as well as I would have liked. But our paths crossed at many events and his massive enthusiasm for the guitar, and especially rock and blues always gave us something to have a good chat about over a pint.
First time we met, I was playing a small gig in the now defunct ‘Wenns’ pub in Kings Lynn. Robin was out there in the crowd having a few beers with some friends. At the end of the night, he came over and introduced himself. Not being a local I really had no idea who this big giant of a fella was, except that he was a total guitar enthusiast.
So we talked for a bit, shook hands and said goodnight and we turned to the task of breaking down the gear as the pub started to empty (as they used to in the days before late hours licensing). At which point, Robin returned and told us not to go home until he got back – ‘I’ve got to pop home for something’ he said, ‘It’s not far, I won’t be long’. After about 15 minutes, he re-appeared with two rolled up prints. ‘You’ve given us a great night, I just wanted to give you something’.
That print, the one of Stevie Ray Vaughan, was on my teaching studio wall for a decade, and now hangs in our dining room at home. He’d seen my beat up old strat, sans paint, and had heard the stolen licks, and he knew that I was an SRV fan.
I dipped out of the scene for several years and we crossed paths only rarely until I formed my own band again, and was out supporting the Notebook album. Robin came to gigs, and was very supportive of the whole project. When he came to organise his ‘Help for Heroes’ fund raiser at Bar Red, he asked us if we would play, which we were only too pleased to do. It was one of the most memorable nights we had with the band, a packed house and a great atmosphere. Robin donated artwork to be auctioned for the cause, (and jammed in on Skynyrd’s Simple Man if my memory serves me right, a song we jammed together on several occasions ). It was also memorable as the last time I saw the immensely talented Jazz Ball play whose band headlined the event. The fact that so many musicians turned out that day, and so many music fans, was testament to Robbie’s drive and enthusiasm for the charity, but also of a deeper connection to the local music scene.
At that time, the truth is we were a band that had hit a wall, and we were getting nowhere, largely due to a lack of funding to promote the album. We had already spent a great deal on a publicity. Robin knew this, and offered to fund the next round of promotion. This was not an inconsiderable sum of money, thousands not hundreds. But this was typical of the generosity of the man. I didn’t accept at the time, but Robin returned again to help me as business down turned further the following year.
I’d built up a guitar collection (when I had a proper job, and before I started building them myself). Most of them had been used on the Notebook album. I had turned to selling them to fund the continuation of both my guitar building business and the band. It was then that Robin came in and bought two of them. In truth, this was his way of helping which he knew that my pride would accept. He picked two of the guitars which were the ones less immediately desirable, (conspicuously leaving the two most easily convertible to cash to one side), and made me a very good offer for them. It was as much gift as transaction. As Loren Adams said “What is understood need not be discussed”.
Later, as the songs for the second album took shape Robin offered me access to his back catalogue of work and development drawings to use for the cover art. It was an offer in the end I was never able to take up, the second album remains part recorded.
That was Robin, he’d succeeded in life and genuinely wanted to help and encourage others do so too. It’s quite clear from the words of many in the last hours that my experience of Robin was far from unique.
He leaves behind him a fantastic legacy in his work. His attention to the most minute of details was incredible, his portraits capturing more than just image and texture. My favourites were of course his Blues portraits, and most especially ‘The Healer’, but also his boxing portraits. To say he was immensely talented, is understatement. At the same time, even immense talent is not enough to achieve what Robin achieved. That requires a level of dedication, passion and sheer bloody hard work that only the very few are capable of.
A great artist, music enthusiast, a larger than life character and a great storyteller. But more than that, a kind, modest and gentle man of great generosity who genuinely wanted to help and encourage people.
He shall be greatly missed.
Photography :Tristan Long