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Leon Rosselson

+ {The Three City Four}

Born 22 June 1934, Harrow, Middlesex in England, LEON ROSSELSON has been at the cynical centre of the satirical folk-revival movement for over half a century, albeit without becoming a household name. An activist by nature and song, his pro-Diggers/pre-Marxist song turned 80s anti-Thatcherite/yuppie ditty, `World Turned Upside Down’, is undoubtedly his most revered to date, having duly been recorded by BILLY BRAGG and DICK GAUGHAN.
A session guitarist/accordionist/pianist in the late 50s for Topic Records (artists: Zimra Ornatt, DOMINIC BEHAN, EWAN MacCOLL & PEGGY SEEGER), Leon also combined forces with STAN KELLY on the collaborative EP, `Songs For Swinging Landlords To’, in 1961; as an integral member of the GALLIARDS (alongside ROBIN HALL, JIMMIE MacGREGOR and Shirley Bland) in the early 60s, he featured on their embryonic debut recordings. Leon (a songsmith on television’s That Was The Week That Was) continued to work with HALL & MacGREGOR and release the odd solo or dual EP. One solo record that slipped under the radar of many journals and music rags was ROSSELSON’s short-stay LP at Nat Joseph’s Transatlantic Records, VOTE FOR US (1964) {*5}; tracks such as `Tories All Out’, `Battle Hymn Of The Liberal Revival’ and `Ever Been Ad!’, might give one a clue to the nature of his work.
The THREE CITY FOUR were yet another folk group Leon played for. Together with other lead and solo vocalists Marion MacKenzie, Ralph Trainer and MARTIN CARTHY (who combined with songwriter Leon on guitars), the quartet borrowed the work of contemporary and trad folk peers from both sides of the Atlantic: from America, DYLAN (`Oxford Town’) and PETE SEEGER (`Oh Had I A Golden Thread’), and from Britain, EWAN MacCOLL (`The Shoals Of Herring’), STAN KELLY (`Liverpool Lullaby’), CYRIL TAWNEY (`Sally Free And Easy’) and SYDNEY CARTER (`The Telephone Song’ and `Standing In The Rain’).
Another solo effort, SONGS FOR SCEPTICAL CIRCLES (1966) {*5}, this time for Elektra Records offshoot Bounty, slipped out without much fuss, a record that boasted 13 self-penned cues and an obscure one from Boris Vian: `Le Deserteur’.
With CARTHY bailing out after cutting his guitar duties (replacement was ROY BAILEY), The THREE CITY FOUR were back in 1967 with SMOKE & DUST WHERE THE HEART SHOULD HAVE BEEN {*6}; outside sources this time were ALASDAIR CLAYRE (`Eileen Jameson’s Experience’) and IAN CAMPBELL (`The Apprentice’s Song’), among others. The fact that ROSSELSON would again team up with ROY BAILEY (and his wife Val) on subsequent LPs was a testament to how he built up a good working ethos and friendships; both BAILEY and old mucker CARTHY were credited on Leon’s next solo venture of significance, THE WORD IS HUGGA MUGGA CHUGGA LUGGA HUMBUGGA BOOM CHIT (1971) {*4}. Swapping studio duties with BAILEY as easily as shelling peas, ROSSELSON and his buddy nourished the folk fraternity with some fine LPs including (selectively, see BAILEY for others) THAT’S NOT THE WAY IT’S GOT TO BE (1975) {*5}.
Founding his wee indie empire through Fuse Records, Leon continued into the next decade via solo albums FOR THE GOOD OF THE NATION (1981) {*5}, TEMPORARY LOSS OF VISION (1983) {*5} and BRINGING THE NEWS FROM NOWHERE (1986) {*5}. Aided by new folk on the block BILLY BRAGG and the OYSTER BAND, one of Leon’s most current and poignant tunes came through a one-off 45, `Ballad Of A Spycatcher’, a track that also graced the session-friendly set I DIDN’T MEAN IT (1988) {*5}, featuring said acts plus FRANKIE ARMSTRONG, BAILEY (of course!), CARTHY, JOHN KIRKPATRICK, Rory McLeod and Fiz Shapur.
Whether serious or light-hearted (he actually supplied scripts for the Interaction’s Doggs Troupe and stage shows for the kiddies), the 90s saw ROSSELSON deliver a mixture of albums by way of WO SIND DIE ELEFANTEN? (1992) {*4}, the cassette-only QUESTIONS: SONGS AND STORIES FOR CHILDREN (1994) {*5}, INTRUDERS (1995) {*6} and HARRY’S GONE FISHING (1999) {*7}. Never one to shy from courting controversy in his own inimitable low-key fashion, Leon’s next project took on the troubles of the Middle East via THE LAST CHANCE (2002) {*5}, a mini-CD re-issued in full in 2010 complete with four extra tracks.
TURNING SILENCE INTO SONG (2004) {*6} – a recollection with ROBB JOHNSON in tow among his usual session suspects – A PROPER STATE (2008) {*6} and the ROBB JOHNSON collaboration, THE LIBERTY TREE: A celebration of the life and writings of Thomas Paine (2010) {*6}, were three of ROSSELSON’s most recent sets; the man’s challenging missives were on the cusp of finally getting through – well, one day!
© MC Strong 2010/GFD // rev-up MCS Aug2015

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