Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Life is Fight : A Tribute To Jackie Leven


The Spiral Earth website invited me to write a tribute to the great singer songwriter Jackie Leven
Jackie was a highly talented and respected singer songwriter, whose commercial success sadly did not reflect his widespread critical acclaim... he will be much missed! Below are the thoughts that I wrote.... www.spiralearth.co.uk

Yesterday (Tuesday 15th Nov) at 2pm I was sitting by a wood-burning stove in the open plan kitchen of Gill Stevens, a dear friend and current musical collaborator. We’d spent the morning working on pieces for our new project and had just stopped for a well over-due lunch break. I was in the middle of a discussion with Gill’s partner Dylan Fowler about rock n roll and the state of punk music and the parts it did and didn’t play in politics, when out of nowhere there was an almighty crash from outside. We looked out to discover that a pigeon had fatally flown head-on into a window and broken its neck- not a pretty sight. Moments later (after a cowardly ‘bagsy not cleaning it up‘ comment ) I stepped inside to check my phone messages and casually switched to scan the news feed of my face-book pages in typical voyeuristic- social media addicted style.  The words hit me with a force somewhat similar to the crash sound the pigeon had just made seconds before, high impact and head on. Jackie Leven was dead.

I didn’t know Jackie Leven well. This morning as Spiral Earth editor Dave Kushar invited me to write this piece my first instincts were to say ‘but how can I, who am I to comment on the life of this person who my path crossed with so fleetingly?’ But I find myself typing regardless.

I was first introduced to Jackie’s music from the cosy hospitality of Barton and Humber’s MTM music promoters Mark and Jan. Being good friends with Jackie and genuine fans of his work they offered up many entertaining anecdotal stories of their recent encounters with him and urged me to check out his music. I did so and in doing so I was not disappointed. Personally I’ve been a long time fan of the music of Kevin Coyne, and found that Jackie’s songs filled with portraits of struggling, eccentric under-dog type characters resonated with me in a similar way to those of Kevin’s music. It came as no surprise when I finally met Jackie to discover that he was also a Kevin Coyne fan.

When an opportunity arrived of sharing a gig with him on the stale beer scented stage of what was then Barfly in Cardiff a few years back I seized it. Watching Jackie play his barfly set, I remember looking around the room that was two thirds full and thinking it a crime that a performer of his calibre was not filling much larger venues. At the same time however, the grotty, sweaty grime of the venue didn’t detract but served, as a fitting backdrop to the gritty content of his songs and stories.  Engaged from the word go, Jackie and his music took me on a journey and I left a different person to the one I’d arrived as. First things first, the obvious one, Jackie Leven was a big man, filling the stage with his larger than life stories. But it seemed to me that he was also a man engaged with the tiny details. He had the ability of inhabiting a moment completely, reinterpreting a full spectrum of emotion inside a sentence or two. He was authentic. Very much aware of his own failings he didn’t pretend and had no time for anyone who did, taking the what you see is what you get approach.  A skilled guitar player with his own trademark blues style and a wordsmith who knew his craft. An engaging storyteller who could reel you in and hold you captivated with a self-deprecating humour and sharp, sometimes sardonic tongue that could as likely rip you to shreds as build you up. A performer and artist engaged with the ongoing battle of ‘eeking out a living as a musician and keeping on keeping on regardless of the outcome. Stating the obvious again here I know, but I guess it comes down to the power and gift of music and song, the transforming connection that it makes with an individual. Jackie and his music stirred me. Entertained me. Moved me. Amused me. Uplifted me. Challenged me. Stayed with me and travelled beyond the initial first listening and took root (as all good art does,) in some part of me.
After the gig we chatted about our common love of Kevin Coyne, and Jackie recommended that I go check out the music of Judee Sill and Karen Dalton (I’m guessing he may have suggested this to most female singer songwriters he met on the road!) Which I dutifully did and was rewarded by what I discovered in both of them!

I was recently involved in a songwriting project with Roma (gypsy) teenagers.
And one of the phrases that we used was the Romany saying  “Zivot Je Boj” meaning, ‘Life is fight.’  Thinking of Jackie Leven as an artist and a man, I find myself reminded of this phrase (not least of all as Jackie’s own mother was Romany.) And though there are countless stories that I’ve heard about Jackie and his temper and his crazy punk rock ‘n’ ways, I mean this fight in the most positive way it can be interpreted. It seems to me with my very limited knowledge of Jackie as a person, that whatever the circumstances he just kept on fighting. From the outset, having to leave his Glasgow estate for fear of his life due to gang threats. Fighting literally for his own life after being mugged and left for dead in London. Fighting to overcome the heroin addiction that followed. Fighting on behalf of others to setting up the CORE TRUST a holistic treatment centre for alcoholics and drug addicts. Fighting on as a solo performer all these years.

But the impression that is foremost in the front of my mind as I type is that of a person engaged in the struggle, the fight that is this thing called life and for myself as an artist I’m deeply grateful for the impact that both he and his music have made on me.


Saturday, 29 October 2011

Folks You Meet Along The Way...

So this October has been a month full of crazy and big times. The trip to Australia was everything I thought it would be: fun, inspiring, exhausting, emotional, and in the words of Tim Buckley- 'Happysad!' Meeting my niece and having quality time with my brother and his wife was just brilliant, revisiting spaces and places and reconnecting with dear friends, fantastic- saying good bye, horrible!!

The gig at The Wesley Anne was very fun. Not only did I get a chance to perform onstage with my extremely talented brother Kim (who is on tour in Asia with his own new album next month and with me in the photo here!) But I was also joined by two other great friends, Willow Kellock and Dave Toll. Willow was one of my first friends that I sang harmonies with way back when I was 19, and it was amazing how instant that reconnection was singing. We both just felt completely comfortable- as Willow said 'a bit like wearing a well loved pair of DR Martens' (you can tell we were teens in the 90's!)
Also rocking out with great friend and ace muso Dave Toll was great fun and I've put a youtube video up of Here We Go on my channel- and pasted below...

It was also an interesting experience to sing songs from my albums in Melbourne- so many of them hold references to my times in Australia both as a child and adult- so to be actually singing about Mt Macedon and Sorrento (which are both located in Melbourne) felt quite different, nice to know that they are equally well received even with the demystifying context of being less than an hours drive from the sites themselves!

Aside from the big stuff and the catching up etc...  other highlights include visiting my friend Blythe's art exhibition and hanging out with her for the day at her workplace in the city, with an organisation that works among the homeless in Melbourne (but that all deserves its own blog sometime separately)

But I wanted to note some of the more random encounters that I had with folks just by travelling...

So first off James on the plane, my travelling companion for the first 13 hour stretch of the flight... an entrepreneur and business consultant who had just experienced two of life's more major events within the space of a week... He and his Australian fiancee had returned to the UK for their wedding only for his step mother to pass away 6 days later...

Secondly Dennis Aubrey, Sydney based songwriter/ busker/ Ukulele player, who boarded the tram my brother and I were on asking if anyone knew of a particular music shop... he was just passing through Melbourne for a few days and my brother did know of said shop so we went along with him and I got a
quick lesson on the basics of Ukulele playing! Youtube Video of Dennis

Thirdly Ira, a bloke that was sat with my brother and I on our coach journey back from the city to Sunbury. Ira was a young man probably in is mid- late 20's who had been taking a trip into the city in memory of his friend. He told us that he'd had the best time out with this mate- got up to all sorts of antics on that day (including being arrested I think!) and a few weeks later is mate had passed away. Each year Ira makes a ritual trip back to the places he and his friend hung out on that day... And in doing that he's met other random folks who make a similar pilgrimage in memory of their friend who passed away on the same day...

Fourthly, a lady who I will call 'The Perfume Lady' She was in her 50's and had a european accent. I'm guessing she was slightly psychotic. She sat next to me on a tram journey and kept talking about what I thought at first was the 'door' but eventually I realised that she was saying 'Dior' and was asking me if I could smell her perfume (which I could indeed as she was very heavily scented though there were other smells the perfume was masking also) She then decided I was  a friend and proceeded to talk me through her catalogue that she was holding telling me who had too much make-up in the pictures and constantly showing me images of Christian Dior perfume. At one point she wanted to stroke my leg but  I told her simply and firmly no not to do that- she was apologetic and offered me the catalogue to keep as a peace offering! It was just such a sad and in someways almost ridiculously comical juxtaposition to think of this struggling, kooky lady and her love of perfume and all that a brand like Christian Dior stand for...  http://www.dior.com/couture/en_gb (I've just stuck the link there for juxtaposition purposes!)

Lastly, Phillip who I met on the return leg of a flight. An older gentleman, a lawyer whose main client is the Police Dept of Victoria... He had some quite interesting stories to tell when I asked about the state of corruption among the police...  He talked about the challenges of being older in the work place and trying to keep up to date with all the new technological systems and structures that were constantly coming into place... as well as the fact that though things have changed the nature of his cases have remained pretty constant over the years as human nature doesn't change...and it also just so happened that he lives a few streets away from where Bill and I had once lived over 12 years ago in Melbourne...

Anyway... all those random encounters with those folks left their mark in different ways and have me pondering the stories that we brush past every day... at the risk of sounding corny I find myself reminded of a saying by Bob Dylan's grandmother from his book Chronicles pg. 20....

" ... Happiness isn't on the road to anything. Happiness is the road.  
... also instructed, Be kind, because everyone you'll ever meet is fighting a hard battle."

and so... Here We Go...
(Live at The Wesley Anne- featuring Dave Toll)




Friday, 16 September 2011

Australia, Counting The Waves...

I'm off to Australia on the 3rd of October! Very excited as will get to meet my new niece Amelie, who was born in May this year and spend time with my brother and sister in law... Also booked in a one off gig on the 12th October for any Melbournites who may be around and want to come along... Particularly looking forward to some special guests joining me on stage, first confirmed is old friend and wonderful singer Willow Kellock, who I used to sing a band with way back when I was 19!
I know as well as a brilliant time it's going to be heart wrenching to leave again...It's the age old problem of home having been in 2 countries so many miles apart... I remember a family friend once describing it as both a present privilege and a persistent problem to have experienced life on opposite sides of the globe and to miss the folks and the land that you have to leave... So much of my last album Dust and Gold has been shaped and informed by those Australian experiences- it will be interesting to see what it's like to actually sing the songs there in oz... however, mostly I'm just really looking forward to the trip!

I'm waiting to hear if I have the funding that I've applied for regarding the Counting The Waves collaborative project, I'll find out in October also so fingers are crossed for that...


News about up coming gigs is on my Hushland Label news blog http://hushlandnews.blogspot.com/

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Creating...

Its great to be creating again.
As I mentioned in a previous blog post so much of my time last year and early this year was caught up in health issues- so its good to be back on track and finding a muse again...
So currently dipping into more jazzy electric sounds and exploring my new loop and expression pedals. The looping is allowing me to pick up the soprano saxophone again after a very long time of not playing and realising that my muscles round my mouth just aren't up to speed at all at the moment... Hopefully within the next few weeks I'll find my tone there again...

I dive headlong into my "Counting The Waves" project with Gill Stevens, in November... so will write more about that soon...

Planning on debuting a track or two at the next gig at The Minstrel room... Really looking forward to having Dylan Fowler join us and the chance to take out lots of instruments again... It was great fun at St Donats Arts Centre to have my electric and the arch top plus the 2 acoustics, my banjo and sax- though it'll be keyboards this time rather than a real piano! Not sure as yet exactly what Dylan will be playing but I expect there will be additional guitars and percussion in the mix, with Rosy's cello and Angharad's vocals all woven in also...Here's flyer with info below....

It will be strange the next time I play solo again, I'm thoroughly enjoying the bigger sound...


Sunday, 28 August 2011

Concert under the stars...

Returned from brilliant few weeks away in France and Switzerland and now slowly getting back into the grind. There were many highlights to the trip...being surrounded by mountains... swimming in both lakes and the sea... food and wine... the sun... but wanted to write a quick note about a brilliant concert that we saw in Roquebrune-Cap-Martin while we were away....

Roquebrune-Cap-Martin is a small town in the South of France, in between Monaco and Menton, all the benefits of that beautiful stretch of coast without the resort element... and above it set into the cliffs stands the old medieval village (tiny winding cobbled streets and 407 steps up from the beach) The old Chateau looks out over the bay and it was here (after climbing the 407 steps) that we saw a breathtaking concert.
The stage was out doors with the back drop being the ocean by moonlight, we sat on amphitheatre style benches and listened to two Russian soloists David Galoustov on violin and Dimitri Maslennikov on cello...  Honestly it doesn't get any better- to see such brilliant musicianship close up in that stunning location... inspirational...

David Galoustov youtube video... Violin Player
www.myspace.com/dimitrimaslennikov  Cello Player

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

General news...new music projects...live video...

Looking at the last post - nearly a year ago... much has happened and is happening- so trying to be brief with headline updates... ( my sister inlaw Katriona Beales whose article on creativity was the last post has just got a distinction for her art course at Chelsea!!)

Firstly-health: most folks will be unaware that last year I spent most of the year in very bad health going between MRI scans, various medications and to consultants for what is now diagnosed as nerve damage in my trigeminal (facial) nerve...  This pretty much co-incided with the launch of Dust and Gold album and around that time there were fears that the condition may have been from a sinister cause (tumor or M.S.) so touring for the most part was postponed... it was a tricky time however I am pleased to say that there is nothing sinister lurking in the background and that although the condition is painful I am learning to manage it and am now in a place to be plotting and planning again in relation to all things musical...

So a number of projects in the pipeline...

Counting the Waves- is a somewhat off the wall collaborative project with composer and multi instrumentalist Gillian Stevens. We will be fusing Gill's ancient medieval instruments (crwyth, viol, viola da gamba and more)  with my songwriting via a whole load of effects pedals and loop stations... The result is as yet unknown but we are both very excited about the prospect of what we will be creating. The premier of the work is booked in for Feb 18th 2012 at The Gate Arts Centre and Spiral Earth website have written an initial news feature about the project see link...
http://www.spiralearth.co.uk/news/story.asp?nid=5526

I am also working on a new recording project of several songs with a more jazz/electric type theme... some are songs that have been hanging around for a while and some are new, but they seem to work together as a collection... so I will be releasing these at some point in the not too distant future...

We've begun a Hushland Studio Sessions video project also... these are live videos that can be fund on my youtube channel which I will be adding to over the months to come http://www.youtube.com/user/mrhushland

In non music news- I'm very excited to heading off for a long holiday with Bill to the South of France and Switzerland for the next few weeks ( the Hushland office and shop will be closed!) Haven't had a real extended holiday for years- and after the rubbish health and stresses of last year this is a very welcome break!

Lastly I'll leave you with a video from the concert at St Donats Arts Centre on the 24th July... an extended version of my song Brilliant Blue featuring Rosy Robinson on cello and Angharad Evans singing backing vocals and playing guest glockenspiel- the disappearing act towards the end of the video is when I decided to take my soprano sax for a wander through the audience...