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Previous Blogs: June 2008

 

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FLOATING AROUND.

Floating around the UK in beautiful June weather – travelling by train, first to Leytonstone in North East London to play a show called ‘What’s Cookin’ upstairs in a remarkable pub called The Sheep Walk. For some reason I expected Leytonstone to be rough as hell, and had steeled myself for this visit, the way that you do when visiting certain parts of London I could mention. In reality, it’s more like a small country town, with a pretty and unusual church, but also with slightly disturbing high street businesses, like the ‘Animals Are Passing > From Our Lives Snack Bar And Sauna’.

I am a sauna devotee, but this sign gave me an uneasy picture of myself sitting sweating whilst eating a scotch egg and watching footage of a lonely Iberian lynx padding around on his own, occasionally stopping to sniff the wind in despair, with maybe Leonard Cohen singing ‘Ain’t No Cure For Love’ in the background.

A superb Irishman called Stephen runs ‘What’s Cookin’, and when I went upstairs in The Sheep Walk (a big elegant yellow Belfast-style pub) to find him and do a soundcheck, I was surprised to discover him building a shrine on the stage – a shrine of mixed messages – sort of Honolulu meets voodoo in a florists run by Amy Winehouse and Hannibal Lector. I stayed with Stephen that night and slept for about twelve hours, waking from time to time to visit his bathroom – another shrine, but this one of great intensity and dedicated to Elvis, but as if constructed by gay Mexicans in the grip of peyote.

Speaking of Leonard Cohen, did you hear about his wonderful remark whilst playing a show in Manchester a week or so ago? He said last time he had played there was when he was 60 (he’s now 73) – back then he said, “I was just a kid with a crazy dream”.


Speaking of shrines, I was remembering the other day how, when I was young, my mother had a shrine to ‘Black Sophia’ in our council house coal shed. This was a large painted wooden statue of a black woman with her hands in front of her, slightly crossed, as if she was in the early stages of the Tai Chi long form – that’s a series of movements which takes some time to master, if ever, and includes moments such as ‘Holding The Ball’ as per the Kate Bush song. We were neither catholic nor protestant as a family, and back in the Scotland of the Fifties and Sixties, this took a little explaining – “ye MUST be wan urr thi ither” was a much-heard menacing refrain at school. One day me and my pal Drew Johnston were running to escape from Gavin Drake and his pals. Gavin was addicted to throwing stones at people, dogs and buses, and was eventually knocked down and killed by a lorry on Kirkcaldy esplanade in the middle of a stone throwing incident. It was snowing – we ran into my back garden to escape from Gavin’s stones, and just managed to dive into the coal shed before he came round the corner and saw where he were. Panting in the shed, we finally decided Gavin would have gone, and were making to leave when Drew turned round and came face to face with Black Sophia.

“Fuckin’ hell! Whit’s THAT?”


I explained it was my mum’s shrine in a very matter of fact, over-casual way, worrying that this might be the start of a whole new chapter of suspicion once Drew started blabbing at school and in the street. Drew was deeply involved in his own religious rituals, being a member of an Orange pipe band, his house full of the intense regalia that accompanies such activity. What happened next gave me what I can only describe as an early sense of adult relief (I was only 13). When Drew had recovered his composure, he looked at me and said “ye dinnae want tae be telling anybody aboot this being here – it’ll give them the creepy-crawlies”. I agreed – at this time we were a team washing cars together at weekends for pocket money so we could buy Daredevil magazines, and we didn’t speak of it again, and I’m also fairly sure that Drew kept it to himself without me asking him to. (Although we did fall out permanently when I broke the handle on his new pale blue bucket by sitting on it to fart).


A couple of days later I was on a train to Aberystwyth on the west coast of Wales, after which a particularly charming woman called Claire was driving me to play a show in Tregaron in the Cambrian Mountains. That train journey from Shrewsbury is simply beautiful – broad valleys bordered by dramatically twisted hills – I could suddenly appreciate why the Welsh colonised Patagonia centuries before – now I’ve been here I can see that the landscapes are weirdly similar.

Later in the evening I sat in a wild hotel bar having dinner. The wildness reminded me of west coast of Scotland pubs in Summer – recklessly drunk young geezers in local butchers t-shirts showing cheerful smashed girls their bum cracks in a kind of bum crack competition.

Once all the bum cracks had been displayed, the girls had a short mock-conference and asked to see a particular bum crack again. This belonged to a desperado with corkscrew hair and a freshly blood stained shirt that said ‘Who’s The Daddy?’


“The winner!” chorused the girls, raising their cider bottles and cheering. Corkscrew was genuinely pleased, and knelt on the bar with his arse to the crowd so we could all appreciate why he’d won, until the young barmaid threatened to pour a pint of a delicious Scottish blonde beer called ‘Harviestoun’s Bitter And Twisted’ over his head. Stuff like this was happening all over the bar with dizzying speed and variation.

Two more girls entered the bar and joined the arse competition people. At this point, the landlord came over to speak to one of the new girls, a watchful self-assured blonde in a black t-shirt which was emblazoned with the words ‘not worth a shit’.
“Do you mind if I feel your buttocks?” asked the landlord of this lass.

“Yeah” she said without making eye contact.

“Ha!, yeah, but I bet you look at men’s bollocks don’t ya! DON’T say ya don’t ‘cos I’ll bet you do – all girls do in my experience”.
Everyone laughed, but in a way which let the girl know their hearts weren’t in it – a synthetic political laugh.
“So what?” said the girl, sticking with her minimal responses.

Then the landlord went into a very strange place indeed.

“I’ll tell you who you remind me of” he said, in a slow as-if deeply considering tone of voice – “you remind me of that girl that was kept in the cellar in Austria by her father, that Josef Fritzel.”

In anyone’s language, this was a heavy road to go down – all conversation stopped at our end of the bar as we waited to see how the blonde girl was going to handle this morbid challenge.

She looked at the landlord for a few still seconds – “Yeah? – well you remind me of the evil bastard who locked her in, except you’ve got NO fuckin chance of sex with me”.

The landlord abruptly changed direction – “Oh no wait, that’s not who I meant, I meant the tennis player Steffi Graf – yeah, THAT’s who you remind me of – maybe you’re too young to really remember Steffi Graf – FABULOUS young lady!”
Beyond belief.

“Oh, so now I remind you of Steffi Graf – a boring droning German shitbag who happened to be good at fuckin tennis – well that’s just fuckin crazy cos I’ve never played fuckin tennis, have I?” she said, turning to her girlfriend who was taken aback to be suddenly in this most surreal of exchanges.

Recovering, her mate said to the landlord “She’s never ever played fuckin tennis but she carries a blade”.

Later that week I was sitting in the Quiet coach of a very full Virgin train, travelling from Birmingham to Southampton. The Quiet coach is the one where you are not allowed to use your mobile phone: sometimes this works okay, sometimes it doesn’t. It tends to break down when the train is overcrowded, and people are in the Quiet coach, not because they want to be, but because the train is, as usual, scandalously small for the number of passengers – sometimes, when passengers get furious about the squash, the guard will make an announcement, apologizing for the conditions and explaining that “Unfortunately, today, the train is shortformed” – their jargon for far too bloody small – as if we don’t know that already, and as if the train company couldn’t possibly have predicted that all these people would get on at Coventry. When this Quiet coach overcrowding happens, there is often an unspoken convention that people are free to use their mobile phones as they haven’t bought into the Quiet coach ethos, have to sit somewhere, and also have legitimate reasons to be making calls which they anticipated making before being forced into this particular coach. This can cause tuts of disapproval from upper middle class oldies who paid £4 for their tickets by buying them two years earlier, but usually it will not go beyond that.

On this occasion, half the carriage were openly using their phones without incident. In the seat in front of me a middle-aged African lady of traditional build was snoozing happily. Suddenly her phone rang, she woke with a start, and turned it off without looking at it to see who had called, then started rummaging in her bag for a packet of biscuits. From the far end of the carriage there appeared another woman – a forty-ish Sloane woman with a simpering sneer, a headscarf, a floaty flowery summer dress, Greek style sandals and bangled wrists. I instinctively disliked her – she had a swaying walk that suggested abandoned childhood ballet lessons, and a look in her eyes that said she was up to no good. She stopped in her royal progress and gave the black woman a very long hostile look, which the black woman at first didn’t notice, then, when she did, she valiantly ignored – for as long as she could bear. After about eight minutes of this, the black woman looked up and said in an even, careful and polite tone “can I help you in some way?”

“Well, it’s a little late for that” said hippysloane in scary breathy tones.

“I am so sorry – I don’t know what you mean” retorted the black woman, now on red alert.

Hippysloane “You have woken me up with your constant and illegal use of your phone in the Quiet coach, and now you ask me if you can help me? You would have helped me by being a decent human being and not yapping for hours on your phone when you shouldn’t have been using it AT ALL!”

The black woman turned out to be a person of great spirit and resolve.

“How dare you! How dare you speak to me in this way! You are a liar – why are picking on me in this way? Many people are using their phones – why are you picking on me? – you liar – I have been asleep – yes, my phone did ring, but I did not even speak, I just turned it off – go away and leave me alone you liar!”

All passengers within earshot were electrified and frozen – was hippysloane taken aback by this response? We were about to find out.

Hippysloane said with great calm and menace “I am going to REPORT you!”

“Report me for what? – I have done nothing – you are a liar with a problem – now go away and start your report!”


Hippysloane – “I shall need to be able to IDENTIFY you in my report!” Upon saying this, hippysloane took out a phone of her own and took a photo of the black woman, then started to walk away with a greasy smile of triumph.

The black woman was beyond furious – “How DARE you take my photo – how dare you! Destroy that photo NOW and let me see you do so – you cannot take a photo of me in this way!”

Hippysloane had now sat down and was laughing with her male companion about the incident.

“You will not destroy the photo?, then I shall call the inspector!” The black woman bustled off in the opposite direction, leaving everyone in the carriage to discreetly exchange views on the incident – all agreeing that one thing was for sure – the black woman had not used her phone, so hippysloane could hardly claim to have been awoken by her use of it.

The black woman returned with the conductor and pointed out hippysloane with great theatre –“THERE she is, sitting laughing – ALL these people saw her take my photo – I was NOT as she claims, using my phone – I want her to DESTROY the photo!” The conductor did a quick scan of all our faces to get a snapshot of feeling about the incident. He was a tough young bloke with a shaven head and single earring. ‘We don’t want to get involved if possible, but the black woman is correct’ was the silent message he was receiving.

He drew level with hippysloane who smiled at him assuredly, black woman trembling with indignation at his elbow.
“Did you take this lady’s photo without her permission?”

Hippysloane went into one about the black woman waking her up with her constant phone usage.

“Before we come to that, can you please answer my question – did you take this lady’s photo without her permission?”

Hippysloane, still smiling serenely then said – “Can you and I go through to the next carriage to discuss it where we won’t be gawped at by this, this – CREATURE” waving her hand with disdain at the black woman. The conductor nodded and they disappeared together into the next carriage, with the conductor firmly signalling to the black woman to return to her seat.


As the train approached Oxford, hippysloane re-appeared, white-faced, quickly conferred with her male companion and they left the train. It was clear that the conductor had decided to throw her off. As she walked down the platform in a stone cold trauma, the black woman banged loudly on the window; against her better judgement hippysloane glanced up and the black woman took a photo of her.

And now for something completely different: we have a wonderful new album coming out on August 18TH (LOVERS AT THE GUN CLUB) , so it’s that time of campaign when my dedicated publicity team start finding coverage for me and my record in newspapers and magazines. They successfully managed to get me a questionnaire style interview in the ‘Style’ supplement of The Sunday Times. However, because my album press release mentions the fact of me being a Romany, and possibly the researcher at the Sunday Times thinking I was a girl with a name like Jackie (well, not EVERYBODY’s heard of me have they?) I was sent a set of questions which seemed familiar. I then realised that they are the same questions that they asked Tilda Swinton last week (excellent UK actress for those of you in Patagonia) under the heading ‘Profile Of A Gypsy’. The questions are interesting in their own way, so I have decided to answer them as they are – if you missed this interview with Tilda Swinton, here it is – Tilda’s answer to each question is first – mine is second:

 

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PROFILE OF A GYPSY:

WHAT ARE YOU WEARING?
Tilda Swinton: One of my son’s aertex shirts, his father’s corduroy jacket, a daisy chain, a Vivienne Westwood kilt and no shoes.
Jackie Leven: A ‘See You Jimmy’ bonnet, an ancient white linen shirt, a Vivienne Westwood kilt and John Lobb brogues.


WHEN DID YOU FIRST REALISE YOU MIGHT BE A GLAMOROUS ECCENTRIC?
TS:
Putting a name to the condition: possibly only when you asked me to participate in this falderal, but I did have an inkling fairly recently at a Nine Inch Nails concert, when I was stood on in the mosh pit by a hobnail boot and realised that I had forgotten to change out of the towelling slippers from the hotel.
JL: When I was thirteen I was obliged to start wearing sunglasses to school to protect my eyes when the sky was too white and glary – I still can’t deal with severe ‘glare’. This immediately marked me out amongst other pupils as an eccentric, if not a loonie – I became glamorous overnight when I noticed that the singer Lulu, when on television, had fallen madly in love with me via the black and white screen. She recorded ‘I’m A Tiger’ just for me....

WERE YOUR PARENTS HORRIFIED?
TS: Given that my general father could chew the hind leg of Lesage (Francois, the legendary couture designer) about the best way to tissue-wrap gold frogging, I never reckoned they had a leg to stand on.
JL: They were certainly un-amused when my girlfriend persuaded me to let her dye my hair orange. “Why?” I asked. “Because it would be ‘cool’”. At the time I was fascinated by newspaper articles about beatniks, and so wanted to be ‘cool.’ “Now people will think yer a fuckin protestant” my father pointed out. I hadn’t thought of that...


ARE YOU PRONE TO MOOD SWINGS?
TS:
No, but don’t tell anyone...
JL: Sometimes I don’t know whether to laugh or cry...

HAVE YOU EVER BEEN MOCKED FOR ANY OF YOUR GLAMOROUS ECCENTRICITIES?
TS: Naturally. Being broken into mockery at a young age by three brothers, I learnt early to bear those wounds with great pride.
JL: Nothing pleases the eternal soul more than to feel misunderstood, alone in the world because people laugh at you in pubs for wearing tartan shorts in January.

WHAT IS THE MOST ECCENTRICALLY GLAM THING IN YOUR CLOSET?
TS: Possibly a Hubert de Givenchy wool Pierrot dress with a diamond print that is so lovely, even the fact that it reeks of mothballs – and could that be old-lady pee? – won’t stop me wearing it.
JL: Context is everything. In a previous life I used to go to sheep dog trials where all the gents wore woolly grey ties with the occasional racy lime green stripe. I often wore a beautiful Moschino tie – midnight blue with silver/beige stars – even the sheep dogs would look over in amazement: not a day goes by when I don’t go the bedroom to finger this item.

HAVE YOU EVER WISHED YOU COULD TRADE IN YOUR LIFE OF GLAMOROUS ECCENTRICITY FOR ONE OF DREARY CONFORMITY?
TS: No need to trade. I happily cultivate two entirely separate and distinct looks, and yet mix’n’ match perfectly integrated lives. I’m finding it hard to work out which could be best described as glam eccentric and which dreary conformity. The Highland hospice charity shops that dot every village in the north of Scotland are where I live out my Miss Marple comes to Warmington-On-Sea fantasies. Invariably more enticing in every way than the drudgery of the high-chrome road.
JL: I thoroughly enjoy dreary conformity and have ensured that I always have the sartorial wherewithal to look like an ordinary bloke who admittedly needs a haircut in the corner of a Portsmouth pub so I can listen to the conversations of other dreary conformists. One must be careful however, of not inadvertently soliciting bartender’s guffaws along the lines of “Lookout lads! ’ Ere comes Mad Jaaack all dressed up as a dreary conformist.”

WHEN DOES GLAMOROUS ECCENTRICITY BECOME IDIOCY?
TS: When it is perpetrated with the aid of a solemn looking glass.
JL: Whenever you think – “that’s a nice eccentric touch” you’re probably being an idiot.

WHO IS YOUR INSPIRATIONAL ICON OF GLAMOROUS ECCENTRICITY?
TS: My fearless and sensationally chic grandmother and my nine year old daughter.
JL: My inner Gordon Brown.

DO MEN THINK YOU ARE HOT?
TS: Of course they do – whether they admit it or not.
JL: Not all of them, especially at live shows if their girlfriend decides I’m the funniest, most talented, darlingest man that ever walked the earth.

WHAT IS THE THING THAT MOST OFFENDS YOUR GLAMOROUSLY ECCENTRIC SENSIBILITES?
TS: The death knell; witless good taste.
JL: Old geezers in grey flannel trousers when they could be wearing a Vivienne Westwood kilt.

WHERE DO YOU WISH TO BE BURIED AND IN WHAT?
TS: In a shallow grave of sand, done up to the nines in a huge flowery chiffon dress stretched out like a sail on a beach in the Hebrides, pecked to pieces by birds.
JL: Same as Tilda.

 

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