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Posts Tagged ‘Jackie Leven’

Back to Banks.  Continuing my chronological journey through the Inspector Alan Banks novels of Peter Robinson (or at least as far as when I started reading him):
Title: Dry bones that dream
Number in sequence: 7, published 1995
Themes and settings: double lives, money laundering, hired muscle, homosexuality, dodgy Caribbean politics & UK realpolitik; there’s a lot of Leeds in this one.
Music: wide-ranging piano music – Dr John, Bach transcriptions, Bill Evans, Satie (to keep him calm); a Thelonius Monk piece “pushed his ears to the limits of endurance”.  Fair bit of obscure name dropping classical. Good looking viola player significant to plot – see also below.
Distinguishing characteristics: I said increasing psychological depth of Banks last time and I say it again.  He drunkenly loses it when confronted by a couple of mild muggers – the violence jointly driven by his guilt at lascivious thoughts of aforementioned viola player and what has happened to her (she’s been badly beaten) because of his carelessness. The plot driven more effectively by alternating chapters of what Banks is doing and what his team – Susan & non-PC bloke – is doing.
State of marriage/relationship: see above (those were serious thoughts).  Attempts to breathe life into his marriage through the claimed erotic power of Khatchaturian‘s ‘Piano Concerto’.  Only a matter of time before big developments here I’d say, but then I’ve read some of the later books anyway. (I’ll maybe report back on the Khatchaturian).
Quotes: “Banks often regretted that humans hadn’t been born with the capacity to close their ears as they did their eyes” – that’s Engelbert Humperdinck on the radio.  “In a period when a fully functioning heart was regarded as a severe disability” – Thatcherism.  And a silly one (not the only one, actually), displaying the perils to the writer of technological change, as Banks boasts, “I’ve got one of those plastic cards, the ones you use to get money at the hole in the wall.”
Any other thoughts: Banks revealed to be 41 and 5’9″ tall, which is taller than you’d have thought given the first couple of books made a running joke of his shortness.  And he’s an Arsenal fan. Still smoking heavily. The re-appearance of the dark side of policing in lager drinking Dirty Dick Burgess.   Books again used as signifiers; Banks himself is into T.S.Eliot, and reading Evelyn Waugh and a Trollope bio.

Tenuous link, but there’s a woman got “Honey bones” in one of songs on the new Jackie Leven album, ‘Gothic road’, and dreams feature in two or three of the songs.  There is much that is familiar here – and I cannot stress enough that this is no bad thing – but in a startling new development there is actually a happy song.  Not that he is ever less than life affirming, at gigs Jackie often tells the legendary Townes Van Zandt story (“Sing us a happy song” someone calls out from the audience … “Dammit, these are the happy songs”) .  And here we have: “I woke up / One fine day /From my poor dream” and we get a bit about the poor dream (walking 40 miles of bad road etc) and then the joyous “I arose / On a beautiful day / I awoke / In a shivering blaze”; it’s enough to make you sing along and smile.  And there’s an instrumental break before the last chorus that is just delightful.  That’s ‘In a shivering blaze’ and there’s other stuff here to raise a wry smile – he quotes, he borrows – or even laugh out loud (the self-deprecating ‘Hotel mini bar’) as well as the usual contemplation of old age, man’s inhumanity etcetera.  Poet, painter and movie maker, all revealed there on just a music CD,  the man is immense (and could, truth be known, probably do with losing a few pounds).  You hear landscapes and inhabit short stories and epics, partake of a sometimes wonder at the world, at ourselves.  He’s a great performer, tremendous writer and whole-hearted singer who’ll do things on the guitar you won’t believe.  If you get a chance to see him – the smaller the venue the better – do not waste it.  

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Inherent vice

A-and I’ve been reading ‘at Thomas Pynchon again.  The new novel, ‘Inherent vice‘ (Cape, 2009) is his shortest for a decade or two and I think I’ve seen the phrase Pynchon-lite used in at least one review but it gets dark enough on the way through, though this time it’s not a geographically global  canvas he’s working on.  Think Philip Marlowe meets the Furry Freak Brothers & Robert Crumb in a Chinatown with a surfing beach and a surfadelic soundtrack, set in a Manson trial era L.A., after the gold rush indeed.  Highly enjoyable, the usual mix in fact of him frequently going off on one – a kind of chasing the moment active meditative state – mixed with sharp dialogue, high farce and low humour rubbing shoulders with an enormous wit and wisdom.  Still one of the originals.

And so is Jackie Leven, who we saw in the smaller room at The Stables on Thursday.  I’ve been searching for a link here with Pynchon and have stumbled upon two.  To whit, the term ‘inherent vice’ comes, so Pynchon says, from the world of marine insurance, which is just the sort of poetic shift of context that Leven often uses in his songwriting.  And actually, with Leven’s biography he could have sprung fully fledged from the pages of a Pynchon novel, with walk on parts for Laurence Olivier, the Dalai Lama’s bodyguard, that Princess Diana,  Robert ‘Iron John’ Bly and fellow Fifers Ian Rankin and George Brown to name but a few.

I’ve probably seen Jackie in performance as much as I’ve seen anyone, even Ray Davies, and he never disappoints – a true troubadour.  For those who don’t know him – and his work really does deserve much wider appreciation – he’s big man with a gentle manner, a performer with a quality catalogue of songs of real poetry and emotional power, which he delivers with an open chested baritone sliding into and out of some fine melodic mumblings and bouts of throat singing.  Oh, and did I say he’s also a stunning guitarist and a raconteur of some class?   The workout he gave ‘Elegy for Johnny Cash‘ on Thursday transformed the song from a track, albeit the title track, I often skip on CD into a riveting journey.  But there were plenty of other highlights – ‘The urban ravens’, his moving and yet joyful elegy for Kevin Coyne, with its ‘brown bread’ story coda, a seemingly impromptu ‘Can’t help falling in love’ – in fact most of the show.

And how great it is for him to consistently stick with the ‘no encore’ policy.  He builds to no great climax – it’s an evening together, the songs are full of climax and anti-climax – he announces the last song he’s doing as his last song, explains his dislike of the artificial idea of the encore as is currently the industry norm – “What am I going to do? – just go over there and come back again?”  And out we go into the dark night, warmed, wary and charmed.

Oh, and I feel an urge to share this linguistic gem:  we’re having to have some work done on the house – gutters, facia, soffits, that sort of thing.  On the manifest, the description ‘rainwater goods’.

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A week with the toad work off my back allows for the completion of a lot of cultural consumption and the move of the bulk of my old website to here; not that I didn’t get out a bit too.  Unexpected musical highlights:

  • the Bradwell Silver Band‘s moving treatment of Robbie Williams’ ‘She’s the one’ at the Stony Stratford Town Fayre – there’s always the glorious feeling of great sadness and at the same time a shining emergence therefrom in the best works in this kind musical genre
  • a spontaneous drink fuelled joyous singalong to the Kinks’ ‘Sunny afternoon‘ animated the crowd on the Friday of the Cock &  Bull Society’s Real Beer Festival
  • one of the best/worst couplets of recent times on the new CD from Jackie Leven‘s alter ego, Sir Vincent Lone, called ‘Troubadour heart’.  The man is in good form here.  The couplet in question is from ‘Rove on wraith of Raith’ (the title almost worth the cost of admission alone):  “And in the distance I can hear Showaddywaddy / In the rainy streets of Kircaldy”.  In November the big man plays the small stage at The Stables while Pam Ayres is in the main auditorium; could be an interesting drinks interval.

Ian Rankin gets a namecheck in Leven’s song, but it’s Peter Robinson I’ve just been reading, a new collection of short stories, ‘The price of love‘ (Hodder, 2009).  It’s a good collection and the novella ‘Like a virgin‘ which closes the book, the back story of his main creation, detective Alan Banks and his move from London to the Yorkshire Moors, is as powerful a piece of writing as anything Robinson has done, committed and compassionate.  The non-Banks stories are interesting too – good to discover Robinson is no one trick pony –  not least those based in Canada.

Which, as it happens is where the road trip which gives structure to Miriam Toews‘  ‘The flying Troutmans‘ (Faber, 2009) starts out.  Helluva book, one of those Marmite books I suspect – love or hate – I was hooked from that first sentence: “Yeah, so things have fallen apart.” Brief synopsis: mid-20s aunt, summoned over from failed relationship in Paris, and 15 year old boy and quirky 11 year old girl, set off across America (it could only be America, the Holden Caulfield tradition and all) in dodgy people carrier in search of their sometime poet father when bi-polar mother seems near her final crisis.  It’s just a brilliant piece of writing, with some tremendous dialogue.  There are times when you fear for them all, but words lifted from the blurbs all fit: heartbreaking, heartwarming, fresh, funny, charming, funny, witty, alive, unsentimental, engaging, redemptive, engaging.

Spent some time with ‘Rex Conway’s GWR album‘ (History Press, 2009).  Interesting collection of photos of the locomotives from the first half of the twentieth century, the most handsome (art deco touches and all) but least protective of the train crews’ protection and welfare. There are a couple of photos of the really ugly ‘streamlining’ of a Castle and King which thankfully never got off the ground as a project.  Here’s a nice little caption which rather sums up the Great Western’s fawning of the establishment.  There was a class of locos known as the ‘Dukes’ which were rebuilt into ‘Earls’:

“… many of the human earls thought it was a bit of an insult to put their titles to such an old-fashioned locomotive and demanded their names should adorn the new ‘Castle’ class engines.  Egos were satisfied when this was done.” (p29)

You can see the book as a celebration of an old England worth remembering for good and ill.  Here, save for one sentence, is how the book ends:

“As the last picture in this book, I have chosen a personal favourite – Chipping Norton station.  On the edge of the Cotswolds, it has a lovely setting, peaceful and relaxing, where you could sit for hours enjoying a drink and a sandwich, and taking an occasional photograph of a train passing through the station.  I will stop now and have a cup of tea.”

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