Interview of Twenty Questions with Rory McLeod
1/Is the cup half empty or half full?
Whether the glass is half empty
Or half full, for some, depends on
Whether you are drinking or pouring!
Winter solstice, midwinter, the 21st December is the shortest day of
But that night is also the longest night of the year.
So my glass is half full. It isn't half empty
Of Red Wine or a dark beer from a magic self-refilling bottle!
Of anything it's an attitude about how you accept or don't accept what
comes your way, how you are happy or how you are never happy, how you
always feel unlucky or how you feel lucky
It’s about optimism, whether you are stressed or you are easy going
and stress free. You might live longer if you believe your glass is half
3/Who was/is your greatest influences?
My family, kids and best friend and partners.
All soul singers. From Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Bob Marley, to
Hank Williams and Sam Cooke and my self educated Glaswegian dad.
4/Which movie always makes you cry?
I don't often see movies more than once.
Cinema Paradiso did make my eyes brim, there's that scene when the mothers
knitting unravels like a yarn as she drops it and the ball of wool rolls
and follows her as she runs down stairs in excitement to see her son
who has returned after so many years.
At the end End of 'Pleasantville' A fragile voice sings
John Lennon’s ‘Across
the Universe’ it made me sob as I watched it recently and suddenly
felt the loss after I had just found out a friend had taken her own life
before Christmas, I was vulnerable emotionally at that time and found
myself sobbing. It was the song that overwhelmed me perhaps it was also
a mixture of also….remembering the way our 'working class hero'
John Lennon was killed, how we lost him.
Years ago I saw a Mai Zetterling Documentary about the
human side of the Olympics, not about who won, medals or anthems and
measuring of broken
records. In one scnene we see two huge giant weight lifters, one has
flu and sneezes into this tiny hanky, he’s so big, he makes it
look like a tiny sweet wrapper, this one with the flu, can’t lift
the weights in the competition, he collapses under them and so loses.
The winner, the other huge man, puts his big arm around the sad loser
to console him as they walk off. He has his arm around the loser comforting
him. I cried, moved by a mixture of compassion humanity and happiness.
Seeing these huge men being so vulnerable and human.
I've realised Films that involve 'orphaned' 'adopted' kids and their
parents reuniting happily can make me cry.
5/What is your earliest memory?
Age 1 - 2 years, being woken up and shown to party guests, it was a smoky
room, lots of faces and a cartoon (?Disney) was being projected somewhere,
it was nightmarish as I was so young and I thought it was a dream for
years. But apparently my mum told me that they'd had a party and my
dad had woken me up to show me to his mates.
Another memory age 5-6 years Living in Camberwell, 100 wells way, next
door to a pub, Climbing over a wall to the dump next door and Catching
wasps in empty milk bottles by putting the mouths of the bottles on top
of the wasp and flower, then picking the flowers they landed in, turning
the bottles the right way up and putting them in a row on top of the
wall, and using the flower as a bottle top-lid trapping the wasp buzzing
helplessly and confused inside the bottle.
" As flies to wanton boys...etc"
6/What is your favourite painting?
That changes all the time and I’ve forgotten many I’ve seen
by unknown artists.
I always liked paintings of people ‘doing’ things. and enjoyed
paintings that moved me, i.e. to laughter, so I liked cartoons also.
I used to like Breughel paintings, (I don’t know the titles) because
they were so populated by people doing all kinds of things, like a school
playground, dancing, cooking, playing bagpipes, football etc. I also
liked Van Goghs darkly painted ‘Potato eaters’ sitting around
the table, which I know other people find very dour and sombre, but it
was the subject I liked, people eating.
I love Daumiers' cartoons and his painting of Don Quixote has a fluidity
I love, the experience of him capturing that moment with his brush, full
I Always loved Goyas' dark caprices, prints, cartoons and his painted
sketches for portraits were truthful, he didn't flatter anyone, and you
felt as if you knew and had met that person, you see those faces on the
streets these days too . I liked Diego Rivera and Orozco as they were
full of narratives, Mexican Indian history and politics, they remind
me of my time living and working in Mexico.
I used to like Kathe Kollwitz because she drew peoples hands, there was
a sense of touching and they were drawings-litho prints. The lack of
colour made you focus more on the subject. Her compositions were strong.
Frida Kahlo I like because her paintings are so personal (about her ongoing
injuries) and surreal, yet surreal in an unpretentious way, though I'm
sure she wouldn't considered herself a surrealist she was just being
herself and telling her own story. I like that. Magrittes' painting of
the old man and bird cage is like a poem without words. He also had a
sense of humour. Vermeer too I love the light in the paintings, the naturalism
of the colours, and Vermeers sense of detail, the pouring of creamy milk
from a jug, the cloth texture, brilliance. I also like Rembrandts self
portraits such an insight. I also enjoy laughing and giggling at Gary
Larson cartoons too, though I know he didn't use paint to create them.
It's his thought processes that make me laugh, the subversion of ideas.
7/And favourite book?
Don't seem to get time to read enough at all. I drive a lot and the kids
keep me busy. Books I remember enjoying or being moved by.
Grapes of Wrath, Ned Kelly, The Bone People, Hanta Yo, Bound For Glory
Woody, The shipping News- I enjoyed the language and read it while I
was in Newfoundland where it's set, Dostoyevskis Crime and Punishment.
The Crucible, actually reads well even though it is meant to be staged
as a play, it's wonderfully constructed.
8/Where was your strangest gig?
I don't know anymore what is normal. I've played in Prisons, (Holloway
Prison) Weddings, in a Mexican Cantina once with a Mexican clarinet
player amigo called Remi (Remi so-fa-la) where suddenly a fight broke
out and everyone chased others out of the Cantina till there was no
one left there to play for.!
In Mexico I played between strippers and myself and the strippers shared
the same changing room with the Mexican comedian MC.
I led a funeral procession on my Harmonica through Kensal Rise Cemetery
and then sang a few songs over Jills grave. That was a hard but poignant
moment. I sang London Kisses which mentioned the grave yard and the surrounding
are that Jill had lived and worked in West Kilburn.
I was asked to propose marriage for a woman to her boyfriend from the
stage at a festival once, he accepted, luckily, I sang them my old song
'Dance of Measureless Love’ and then balanced it with a song I
made about Marriage and divorce called 'The Immaculate Deception'. They
got Handfasted in Cornwall.
I’ve had a couple propose marriage at another gig I played at Glastonbury
and I ended up, by chance, being in the area of Norwich when they got
married and so sang at their wedding too.
Singing with others in Austin Texas in a bar the night John Lennon died
was weird, they stopped the gig, and I nearly got into a fight with some
drunk red neck in another bar that same night about how violent the USA
was and how Lennon had chosen to live in the USA and how we'll all be
blaming the USA for his death etc. The guy must have been feeling guilty
about Johns death or some thing like that.
I played a gig once, A PA went dead, a power cut,
So I just came off stage and played and sang to the crowd acoustically
for the rest of the set and it became more intimate and magical in
the end. It wasn't strange for me, but stranger for the PA crew.
I played and performed with a small Mexican circus.
When I was working with the Azteca family Circus in Mexico, called "Circo
Ideal" we played and worked in tobacco plantations, cattle country,
amongst rodeos, anyway this incident happened one evening in a small
pueblito, mountain village near the pacific coast.
Apart from the Lions, and myself, I was the exotic act from London England!
Desde Londres Inglaterra" "Rory, El fakir" and "Rory,
El Payaso Musicale"
We had a King Kong Act, which we advertised on loudspeaker, King Kong
would pull the villagers in, and it was Gonzalos, dressed up in a Gorilla
Suit with a Fierce looking mask-baring teeth. Gonzalos was a gentle mild
mannered, slightly built man, unlike his other two Brothers Victor and
Henrique who were gymnasts, and strong men. Henrique would pull King
Kong (Gonzalos) in on a chain, he would have to heave him in, the curtains
would shake, Someone would shake the curtains, the drums rolled, people
would be warned to be careful. "Caballeros, Cuidadado!" Henrique
his handler would suddenly, tug him, King Kong in. But then he would
break free and escape from Henriques control and roam around the ring
rampaging angrily. And 'Auntie' Marcella would plant herself in the audience
and pretend to be a tourist taking photographs with a fake camera. Pancho
the ringmaster would warn her not to take photos or go too close. "Please
be careful madam, cuidado!"
It was my job at that moment to stand at the door in front of the back
curtains, to re-assure people who would jump, in fear of King Kong, out
of their seats and proceed to run away, out of the tent, which people
often did, the magic of the circus in some of these remote campesinos
was still very strong. So I had to tell them everything would be OK and
that they were safe.
One night, though, there were some Barrachos (Drunks) two Broncos in
the Audience. Gonzalos, as usual, stamped 'dangerously' and 'boisterously'
around the ring in the Gorilla suit, suddenly without warning, from nowhere,
one of the cowboy broncos, jumped over the seats, and ran out into the
ring shouting out "I'll save you all" and grabbed King Kong
(Gonzalos) in a head lock around his neck, wrestled him to the ground
and then pulled Gonzalos's gorilla mask off. Folks laughed, including
me for a moment, but Gonzalos was very upset, angry being attacked in
this way, the illusion of his monster was broken. The Mexican Cowboy
Bronco was thrown out of the show. That night we, all the men, stayed
awake patrolling the site, guarding the tent and site incase of any repercussions.
The drunk might comeback with friends and want to cause more trouble.
We carried guns with the circus for hunting, and also because the circus
ticket office cash box had been held up and robbed in the
past. But that night, the night when King Kong was exposed those drunks
I got arrested at Leicester Square years ago for "willful obstruction" They
called it. I was "Busking"
I was visiting London for a week, living in Germany at the time.
I had a crowd while I was singing, and playing harmonica, the meat wagon
drove up arrested me before I could even bottle the crowd who booed the
cops, as I was put in the police van, folks tried to give me money, through
the closed windows etc.
Also in the van was a portrait painter who had been arrested for the
same offence. The cops reckoned we attracted pickpockets!
First I pleaded not Guilty, in court, then the judge said I had to come
back and appear again two weeks later, well I was living in Hamburg it
would cost me the ferry tickets on the Prinz Hamlet to come back again.
So I had told the police/court clerk officer I wanted to go back into
the court and change my plea to Guilty, annoying the judge for wasting
I was fined £10.
Another time busking with mates to a crowd who were enjoying
what we were doing, "We aim to please, you aim too, please." I'd
cry as I nodded to the open guitar case. We were stopped by the cops.
policemen tried to confiscate our earnings and takings. Before the cops
could do this, we got everyone in the crowd who had given money to come
and take their contributions back. So there we stood, with the crowd
on our side and the cops there who couldn't take away our wages! As the
people had taken back their contributions, they had been refunded!
9/What makes you angry?
Racism, bullying and cruelty. Since I was at school. I always got this
gut feeling and some adrenalin rush to my head when I witnessed Racism
or bullying which, looking back, I suppose was a ‘righteous’ anger.
I still get it. That Bullying that other school kids or older blokes
did always involved me in fights at school with the perpertraters.I'd
butt in to defend someone. I was called "Wog lover". My skin,
being olive or darker in complexion was commented on too. I was called
I see that bullying on an International scale now, with George Bush and
his 'Christian Fundamentalist- Oil corporation-backers and Friends, Enron
CIA terrorist Bullies who go into countries like Chile, Iraq, Afghanistan and
walk all over the people there, Culturally and economically. Taking their minerals
and oil, bringing their version of ’Democracy and Freedom’ which
is ‘fascism’ installing men like General Pinochet, the Taliban,
Noriega and Saddam, giving them all money and weapons, Coca Cola, Macdonalds,
pollution-(Union Carbide Company)
The Rights and freedoms of Speech appear to be eroding away in the USA for
poor, working class Americans, the phobia and paranoia of the US Ruling Class
is creating a mentality of Demonizing and medieval witch burning which is scary
and fires me up. The Xenophobia ('fear of Guests' in Greek) is getting worse.
I'd like to call my kind of anger an 'angry Love'.
10/What's your favourite Robert Burns poem/line?
haven't got a favourite but I like these:
To a Mouse
Wee, Sleekit, cowrin', tim'rous beastie
O what a panic's in thy breastie!
To a Mouse
The best laid schemes o' mice an' men
Gang ft a-gley,
An' lea'e us nought but grief an' pain
for Promis'd joy.
I wasn fou, but just had plenty.
The Jolly beggars
let them cant 'bout decorum
who have Characters to lose.
11/What would you call your autobiography?
'Things I should have remembered to forget'
Going not leaving.
Rakes Progress Censored.
I'd rather live my life more spending time outside with my kids than
hide away in a room and try to write about it.
12/Who makes you laugh?
Tommy Cooper, Eric Morcambe,
Billy Connolly, The Office,
Ali G sometimes i.e., asking Buzz Aldrin about his landing on ‘the
sun’, asking him ‘Couldn't you go at night? Sometimes he
isn’t funny at all. Maybe it depends on who his victim is?
Bill Bailey, Father Ted, Vicar of Dibley,
Monty Pythons, Life Of Brian, Bob Newhart, Shelley Berman, Ton Allen,
13/Who would you have paint your portrait?
14/Where's your favourite place?
I like the neck collar bone of my sweetheart. and her ears, but most
of all her lips.
Wherever the mountains meet the warm sea.
15/Is music dead?
No, not while there are people living, while folks cry or laugh or have
a story to tell or to whistle and dance to. I suppose the best music
and songs are timeless, the kind of musicthat takes me on a journey,
moves me, and stirrs my soul. Soul music for me isn't a label but is
any kind of music that is played with feeling, Stimmung, Duende, Dread,
passion, fierceness, tenderness, truth. In my view there is only two
kinds of music: that which I like and call 'good', and that which i
don't like and will call 'not good', and sometimes I could even find
redeeming qualities in the bad if life wasn't too short!
I heard someone say that songwriters don't die they just decompose!
16/How many instruments can you play exactly?
I can't play any instrument exactly but I can whittle away inaccurately
on, banjo, mandolin, Guitar, trombone, whistles, Chinese flutes, Bawu,
Harmonicas, bass harmonica, spoons, drum, percussion, I've used accordion
bass for recording purposes only, not live gigs. Bagpipe chanter, and
I include my tap shoes in there when I play. I'm a trombone owner, I
call mine a fretless bass Kazoo, in order not too take myself too seriously
on it. But I was looking for a tuba, wanting loud fat bass sound, (My
Bass Harmionica is too quiet) i found a trombone for £50 in a Leeds
pawn shop, and so I enjoy playing it at accoustic sessions, where there
is never any bass, all high toned fiddles and flutes mostly. I don't
have to plug it in, I play it very rhythmically, sometimes inventing
riffs to push or swing the tune, and long drones like a didgereedon't.
17/What's better than sex?
Do you mean just penetration?
I thought everything in life was inseparable from Sex.
I find too many things sexy...life itself is sexy. It won’t stop
doesn't that depend on who you aren't having sex with.
Laughing and seeing your loved ones laughing and friends,
laugh is up there.
Flying with your own wings, like a bird maybe.or-swimming off a boat
with friends in a warm place somewhere.
18/What's your favourite drink?
Depends on the climate and weather.
Pineapple lime with coconut juice and rum
Deep fruity smoky red wine.
My sweetheart’s lips.
19/What would you like for your last meal?
Why would it be my last meal?
Some good friends to sit around the round table and eat with me.
A table that laid itself. For starters I'd enjoy Sushi. Miso Soup, Raw
Oysters with lemon and sauces,
Then Bacon and fried egg, tomatoes, with avocado mayonnaise, a touch
of marmite all in a toasted sandwich.
Thai Noodles. Pad Thai, prawns Green Curry. Ginger. Coriander.
And a full Mariachi Band singing and playing.
Chocolates for Dessert. Figs.
20/OK Rory, The firing squad's getting itchy fingered. Any Last requests?
A long, long kiss.
A long walk, (I may be sometime")
To let me teach my kids how to sing and play music together.
To teach my ‘eventual’ grandkids how, to teach their kids
to sing and play guitar and ‘mouthy’ (Harmonica) together.That
would delay the shooting a little!
To teach my Kids karate and how to unarm a firing squad and then how
to hypnotize the firing squad into feeling a huge electric shock any
time they touch a weapon.
a bullet proof vest,
To see my family.
To see the first fruit crop of the seeds I just planted.
To eat a meal with ingredients that would be very hard to find and take
very long to prepare.
To hear a song sung, one of the long ballads, one of the very long ballads.
Maybe I'd have to make the long ballad up. To sing it until the firing
squad fell asleep then run like a gazelle from the mouth of the lion.
Perhaps the chance to drink with and get to know the firing squad, let
them share my last meal, with my mates, meet my family, ask them if they
would water my seedlings after I've escaped. And we could all live happily
ever after and make a cheesy Hollywood film about that.
I’m getting carried away here, but that’s what I want!