What I want from a musician is a bit of chat between songs. A bit of meandering banter. Destination digression. And does anyone lead into a song better than Scottish singer songwriter Jackie Leven? He’s a beautiful genius. And charming with it, as I found out when I met him.
Here’s the conversation he has with himself and an imagined English friend in the lead in to one of his songs, Exit Wound, from his album Creatures of Light and Darkness. The song itself is at the bottom.
Being of the Scottish persuasion, I don’t really know that much English history. This always amazes English friends of mine. For some reason you’re supposed to just apparently know English history. So they’ll be talking about something that’s in English history and I’ll just say: Sorry, what are you talking about?
Well, you know, when Rolf the Red Beard killed Ethel the Old and all this stuff.
And I’ll go: Oh right, yeah.
And this friend of mine finally challenged me on this and said: How have you got through life not knowing English history?
I said – well it’s been a struggle, you know, heroin helped.
And he said: I suppose the only bits of English history you got taught in Scotland are the bits where we came up and duffed you?
So I said, yeah, yeah, that’s true, but at least we weren’t conquered by the Italians.
I said at least we weren’t duffed by the Italians. I mean they had to build a wall to keep us out when they duffed you lot so we wouldn’t come and get you.
Wot you talking about? The Italians have never invaded us. I know a joke about the Italians. Wot’s the difference between the Italians and toast – you can make soldiers out of toast.
So I said well what about the Romans?
The Romans? Were they Italian?
‘Fraid so boy. But I’ve become fascinated by your English Elizabeth 1st – a wonderful queen and very interesting person. When a guy called the Duke of Anjou got killed, she wrote – Elizabeth 1st wrote to his mother – if you could look inside my heart, you’d see a body without a soul. A very lovely line and it’s the first line of this remarkable song.
You see? That’s what I want to hear before a song. Not just 1-2-1234… Though that works sometimes too.
And I had to catch up on English history later in life. Our Irish history began before any characters even turned up – neither paleolithic nor mesolithic man made it to Ireland. The first guests only arrived in the new stone age, but after that the party was one gate crasher after another – with duffings received and dished out.
I’m told Jackie was wrong about the Italians invading England though. When I played the song to the our resident guitarist and expert on everything, he said those particular occupying Romans were mainly French – or from what we now call France.