Leon Rosselson has been Chronicling The Times for more than sixty years now and I’d love to hear his thoughts on the current world situation. In the meantime he has put together a selection of his favourite recordings featuring such supporters as Martin Carthy, Roy Bailey, Oysterband, Miranda Sykes and Billy Bragg. Rosselson isn’t the greatest of singers but that didn’t matter because he could hold an audience – it was the words that were important. – and he often recruited other singers to his cause or even handed songs over to them as he did with the closing track, ‘Stand Up For Judas’.
Chronicling The Times opens with ‘Song Of The Old Communist’ and we are back in the sixties. It’s a bit dated now but, you know, the issues he addresses are not much different and only the names and faces have changed. ‘Stand Firm’ and ‘Across The Hills’ are both about “the bomb” as it was usually referred to, although the former is as much about fatuous government advice before the days of “Protect And Survive”.
‘She Was Crazy, He Was Mad’ is one of Rosselson’s best known songs, an attack on jobsworths everywhere – they haven’t gone away either – while ‘Topside Down Party’ has confounded analysis for years. ‘Rules Of The Game’ isn’t straightforward, despite his claim that they are. If they were simple we’d all be winners, right?
‘Postcards From Cuba’ is a series of observations based on a holiday but it strikes me as a lament for the destruction of the revolution set to a jolly tune and Latin rhythms. ‘Bringing The News From Nowhere’ is a tribute to William Morris and one of the finest examples of Rosselson’s skill as a wordsmith – Frankie Armstrong joins him on vocals. The next few songs bring us more up to date: ‘General Lockjaw Briefs The Troops’ addresses the Iraq war; ‘Where Are The Barricades?’ tackles the financial crisis of 2008 and the way the country was duped and satisfied by football and Strictly and ‘Talking Democracy Blues’ accurately predicted our current political situation (and Blair doesn’t come off scot free, either).
‘Wo Sind De Elefanten?’ baffles me a bit but I suppose that the elephants are a symbol of all the things we’ve lost. I could be wrong, of course. And now we come to one of Rosselson’s greatest hits, ‘The World Turned Upside Down’ played, unusually, on piano with supporting vocals by Ruth Rosselson. You could almost say it is downplayed in this version which conveys a sense of regret more than anger. ‘The Ghost Of George Brassens’ imagines a conversation between the two men, illustrating the similarities in their approach to music.
Finally, I must highlight (out of order) Rosselson’s greatest hit single, ‘Ballad Of A Spycatcher’. The government banned the book – if you have a copy it probably came from Australia, at least mine did – and made it illegal to quote it in this country. Rosselson set out to break the law with this song which reached number 7 in the charts and the other miscreants he dragged into his conspiracy were Bragg and The Oyster Band as they were then called. He failed and the police didn’t swoop and drag him away. I think he was a bit disappointed by that.
You’ll not find Leon Rosselson featured in the mainstream media and his records, particularly his early ones, can be hard to find. With Chronicling The Times he doesn’t go for the obvious favourites and best known songs and the album has quite refreshed my appetite for his music.
Artist’s website: https://leonrosselson.co.uk/
‘Talking Democracy Blues’ – live: