Sunday, 4 April 2010

single father

It must have been October 1973.  The Locarno (The Mecca) in Stevenage realised that the Monday and Thursday disco nights were not bringing in the readies - that, or they realised rock bands were a potential source of income.  Man, that well known Welsh band - "Britain's answer to The Grateful Dead" - were touring.  According to Deke Leonard in Whinos, Rhinos and Lunatics: The Legend of Man A Rock'n'Roll Band, the line-up was Man, Iceberg, Vyvyan Morris and John St Field.  Remember that last one.

It was a great gig - everyone in the audience enjoyed it (well, we all did) and Man played C'mon, Spunk Rock and definitely, Bananas.  We knew something was going on, though.  Evidently, "John St Field" poured a glass of beer over the Locarno manager who was complaining about the smoking of some herbal refreshments (this is possibly apocryphal) and the whole tour was banned from future gigs on the Locarno (Mecca) circuit.  As I said, it could be apocryphal but I seem to remember reports in Melody Maker.  Evidently, they never played the Mecca circuit again.

Time shift - many years later.  The year 2000.  Uncut magazine has a habit of giving cds away with each edition to engage its readers with the music mentioned within its hallowed pages.  I found a song called Single Father by Jackie Leven, aka John St Field.  Once of punk band Doll By Doll.

And what a song.

I found it again tonight for some reason or other.  What a song.

If we should meet in Glasgow
by chance on a rainy day
let's sit and drink in a damn good bar
till evening comes out to play

And there are things I don't want to talk about
things I don't want to say
twisted spires and lonely byres
and fishing boats in winter spray

I was a single father
And those were real harsh times
I remember losing my baby
everytime I hear a church bell chime
I was a single father
but I just can't complain
got a heart full of headstones
as I step down from the train

We walked down a leafy ravine
into a cloud of dragonflies
you pointed your finger in wonder
at the colours in the sky

You sat in your chair on the beach
I waved to you from the sea
you saw the wave and smiled
you were already lost to me

I was a single father

Now my son's in the English army
he plays the guitar well
I almost never see him
I walk alone on the distant fell

Now half the world is working
half is watching tv
some take smack and fall right back
it's all the same to me

I was a single father

Jackie Leven is a poet as well as a songwriter.  He has a poet's sensibilities.  I don't listen to him that much these days - I find it difficult to keep up with prolific writers.  Perhaps I prefer the obscurity of those who produce a small body of work.  However, I believe that Ian Rankin is a fan.


However, this song is wonderful.  It starts in a child's nursery rhyme way.  It's basically a shuffle - guitar, bass, drums and some keyboards.  Leven tends to sing songs in a light way - he's telling a story.  I don't know how autobiographical they are.  The chorus ("I remember losing my baby") is backed up by David Thomas (of Pere Ubu - great duet of You've Lost That Loving Feeling on this album).  There's not a lot to this song, and to be truthful I don't know why I love it so much.  I guess it's because it sounds upbeat despite being about loss.

There's been a lot of loss in my life - and I'm sure we've all had a lot of loss.  I haven't lost children, thank whatever diety you prefer - in this current climate perhaps this song could be from the point of view of a single parent who's had a double loss.  The loss of the child as he becomes a single parent.  And then the loss of the child as the child grows up to become a soldier - it sounds to me like a return to the Old Town to come back to a funeral.  And the memories therein.

The album is called Defending Ancient Springs.  If you are aware of David Thomas, you'll like his influence. 

Everytime I go back home to Stevenage I have a "heart full of headstones".

There are things I don't want to talk about
Things I don't want to say.


Mike C. said...

Well, you've beaten Spotify there, though there are half or dozen or so Jackie Leven albums on it which I dipped into. Not my kind of thing, though. It also confirms my feelings about Ian Rankin and music -- I always cringe a bit when Rebus reaches for the CDs...

The last time I went back to Stevenage I more or less decided there was no reason ever to return. After 30+ years all the ghosts lying in wait have died of boredom (and whatever happened to The Longship?).


Dave Leeke said...

I can imagine plenty of ghosts were displaced when The Longship disappeared. Perhaps they buried it at a sort of Viking burial (I finally went to Sutton Hoo the other day after 22 years). Mind you, I seem to remember there were plenty of haunted-looking types in The Longship when it was a pub. They didn't call that look "heroin chic" in those days, they were just "junkies".

I must admit to having not read a single Rebus novel - Mrs D does that. However I have just read two novels in two days which is pretty good going for me!

I was in Stevenage a few weeks back. I keep to the couple of houses of friends and occasionally go to the Wetherspoons pub in the High Street opposite The White Lion. Oh, and the graveyard.

Mike C. said...

Unless you really don't want to talk about it, what graveyard are we talking about, and who is in it?

A friend's dad always used to crack, as he drove us past Pin Green cemetery, "That's the dead centre of Stevenage over there, you know".


Andy Wright said...

Mike, I think you might mean Almond Hill Cemetery. I used to live in Vardon Road and our house (which Dave knows well) overlooked the cemetery.Coincidentally my (late) father said the same about 'overlooking the dead centre of Stevenage' .........maybe it's just something Dad's say?

Dave, I too thought Catweazle was excellent and remember it fondly and yes you could(should)be him.....and why not?.

Ps May be if your boiler was powered by electrickery rather than gas you would not have had the problem you did have? Having sad that, you ARE right 'Nothing works'

Dave Leeke said...

It's interesting that I should bring up Catweazle at the same time there is talk of opening old rail lines - as in the second series Mr C lived in one. I believe.

I certainly did mean Almond Hill - both my parents lie there under rose bushes. There are, of course, other ghosts there too.

I also still use the joke every time we pass a graveyard - especially Ipswich.

Dave Leeke said...

Oh, and welcome back Andy!

Mike C. said...

Looking at Google Maps, yes, it's on Almonds Lane (though I don't think I ever thought of it as having a name). What a thought, that there might be a "Stevenage Dads' joke".

My parents ended up buried way out in Norfolk, having lived in a mobile home in my sister's back garden for the previous 20 years. If they'd stayed in town my links might feel stronger, I suppose.

But even in the last few home visits I made, back in the late 80s, no-one else ever seemed to be in town. I'd nurse a pint of Greene King in the Red Lion or the Marquis of Granby until I got bored enough to go home. Fun city!


Dave Leeke said...

I don't want to make a joke about your parents' passing but the first sentence of your second paragraph is a whole short story.

Sorry, just trying to lighten the mood, methinks!

Mike C. said...

Well, we always did aspire to be trailer trash!


Dave Leeke said...

It would have been published in a trashy book (ouch).