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  Agony Aunt

Previous Posts: August 2008











   By the light of the spring moon, out on the wilds of Dartmoor in south west England, JACKIE LEVEN and MICHAEL COSGRAVE have recorded WAYSIDE SHRINES AND THE CODE OF THE TRAVELLING MAN in Michael’s home studio.

‘I  had felt for my last few albums, that the best work on them was the creative interplay between myself and Michael’ says Jackie. ‘Michael is a world class multi-instrumentalist and best pal, so we decided to make the entire album between the two of us, and this has resulted, in my opinion, in a much more powerfully focussed body of work’.

Over the years on tour in Germany, Jackie and Michael have noticed that in most German hotels, in reception and other public rooms, there are displays of flowers and art that you just don’t see anywhere else in the world. When they have enquired of the hotel staff what these displays are all about the staff always say the same thing (but in a German accent) – ‘Dunno mate, it was already here before I started’...

‘We have concluded’ says Jackie ‘that these displays are shrines, indeed pagan shrines, where pagan Germany peeps through the otherwise highly ordered way of life in this most unusual of western countries.’ These are the WAYSIDE SHRINES of the title, a modest example of which can be seen on the front cover of the album.

The songs, although not about shrines, were nearly all written in German hotel rooms on tour, and at first Jackie felt that the album was probably only of interest to Germans and should only be released in Germany.

That is, until he played it to COOKING VINYL supremo MARTIN GOLDSCHMIDT who told him to fekk off.

Martin says ‘I had to explain to Jackie that the album was not only of universal emotional interest, but that it was also one of the very best things he has ever brought to us. Sometimes he doesn’t see the little picture, never mind the big picture. WAYSIDE SHRINES is possibly the most ‘Levenesque’ of his offerings since his first album for us – THE MYSTERY OF LOVE IS GREATER THAN THE MYSTERY OF DEATH.’ 

Certainly this most confident of songwriters has never been in finer voice – from the hallucinatory tale of SWINE FLU FEVER BLUES to the heartbreaking ode to his recently deceased younger brother BEWARE SOUL BROTHER, the master shows the way, through musical settings that are to die for.

Says Jackie: ‘everybody needs a code to live and die by. Even a non-code is a code. My life is built round hotel rooms and the rigours of touring. A day off in Goethe 87, my favourite Berlin hotel, is an example of the sort of environment where I do my best thinking. When I’m lucky, it’s the thought of the heart that shines through in the songs that come forth – these songs are the code of the travelling man.’




Most of these songs were written in German hotel rooms – here are some of Jackie’s loose notes on some of the songs:


SWINE FLU FEVER BLUES (Motel California, Isernhagen, Hannover):

Last year I was in a fever with Swine Flu for two days. In my delirium the same nonsensical images kept running through my mind like a very poor student film – that I was a grieving woman in a long black veil in the hills of home in Scotland, that I was in Captain Beefheart’s band, although he couldn’t remember hiring me...even at the time of being ill, I was thinking ‘this is crazy’ but I couldn’t stop the torrent of images...

TO LIVE AND DIE IN LEVENLAND (Hotel Maingau, Frankfurt):

There is a beautiful Gothic cemetery, opposite the Holiday Inn in Frankfurt. On one of the graves, in English it says – ‘The Sun Is God – William Blake’. These were the very last words of the great English visionary William Blake. I don’t like cemeteries, but if I have to lie in one, please can it be this one...

DEEP PURPLE CLOAK (Hotel Pacific, Hamburg):

A song about how ‘childhood suspicions’ can be carried through into our attempts to find and maintain love as an adult – written in the foyer of the hotel The Beatles stayed at in Hamburg.

BEWARE SOUL BROTHER (Hotel Kolpinghaus, Munster)

I wrote the chorus of this song in this austere religious hotel (which I love) in Munster some years ago. The rooms are like cells in a monastery. I couldn’t find a song for the chorus until my little brother died earlier this year. ‘I must have been saving it for the right moment’ was my bittersweet thought as I finished the last verse.

TOWNES AT THE BORDERLINE (Hotel Mercure, Dresden):

A song about doing two shows with Townes Van Zandt at The Borderline in London. Townes said to me at the soundcheck – ‘I think I can hear church bells outside – I wanna hear them better but not on my own in case they get me – will you come with me?’ We walked over Charing Cross Road to where the bells of St Giles were ringing and Townes had a very private moment of meditation.  

BACKSTAGE, CHELSEA CLUB, VIENNA (Hotel Furstenhof, Vienna):

In this piece, Michael Cosgrave is reading out names of bands that are written on the walls of the dressing room, in a great club called Chelsea. Over the top of this we put some instrumental we had played in the soundcheck, plus typical street sounds of Vienna. Hotel Furstenhof, by the way, is a Must Stay for musicians and show biz folk – fabulously gloomy, its lift features in the film The Third Man. Next door is Cafe West End, a huge scruffy timeless Viennese bistro in which I could happily live.

A KISS ON THE CHEEK (no hotel):

Written and played by John Mayfield and sung by Gola Wolf Richards, this is a guest track to which Michael and I added brass and backing vocals. It sounds to me like the title track from a forgotten film...





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