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
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
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!”
“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
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
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
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:
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?
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?
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.