You approach Leslie’s home through a bustling London shopping area. People hasten past to dart into the shops and emerge only to dash into the next and the next. Occasionally they chirp greetings to each other because although this is London there is very much a neighborhood atmosphere – people know and greet each other, pause to pass the time of day. The postman walks down the passage ahead of me; we emerge together into the tiny courtyard and up the steps to the apartment where Leslie lives. When the postman leaves there is barely room to pass each other on the steps.
Leslie stands framed by the doorway into the kitchen of the apartment, gleaming Formica and stainless steel throwing a halo of sunlight around him. The kitchen gives the impression of a ship's galley, long narrow and very efficient. The door a the then lead into a large sitting room filled with a cheerful clutter of people, papers, musical instruments, presents (Leslie’s recent birthday0 and souvenirs of tours. Records decorate the walls along with Japanese painting, sketches and greeting cards from all lands. I can see 14 different nations represented among the cards, ranging from the US and Britain to Thailand and Israel.
He throws himself into a chair and we begin to talk. His face is very mobile, frequently illuminated by a quick smile and his eyebrows punctuate his thoughts, furrowing as he makes certain he has grasped the essence of any remark made to him, lifting occasionally as if surprised by his own reaction or quirking as he crack as joke. He concentrates on our conversation some how managing to ignore the constant interchange of conversation among the other people in the room, or the ringing of the telephone always answered by someone else.
In a corner Scobie Ryder and a sessions musician discuss a different approach to on e of the tracks on the second Egotrip album, to be released shortly, working up an alteration for Leslie’s approval. Their discussion is conducted partly of the music itself. “You can’t do that, it ‘s too slow, it ought to go dah-de-dah-dah-roooooo.” Scobie shakes his head; pulls at his lower lip then looks over to Leslie, catches his eye. Leslie breaks off our conversation with a quick apology, thinks for a moment, then says, “ why don’t you try it dah-dum-dah-rooo-dah-dah?” This ignites a spirited drum solo from the session’s man, picked up by scobie on imaginary guitar. Leslie grins, nods briskly and returns his attention to our conversation.
“No,” he says, “ I was not a religious child, I didn’t worry about things like that at the time, it all came later. As a small lad I was always into trouble. Nothing serious, just the odd peccadillo.” A memory evokes a chuckle… “Games… at school I mean. I was always into trouble there, because I hated outdoor games. It was too cold. I didn’t mind the indoor ones so much, they were alright, but this business of talking most of your clothes off and running out in the freezing cold and the mud or the snow just so you could kid yourself you were having a good time always seemed silly to me. So I used to do anything to avoid games. That used to land me in lots of trouble/ Id I ever have kids of my own I will see to it that they aren’t forced to do games. They will be as physically fit as good diet, a happy home and plenty of healthy exercise can make them, but no games.”
“Are you physically fit yourself?”
“Oh yes,” he nods. “Very. You have to be to enjoy life and to be effective in the daily business of living. Fitness is very important, like with animals. Animals can do amazing things quite out of proportion to their size and its because they are always active and they use their capabilities to the fullest. That’s the important thing. Full use of whatever potential you have/”
Do you like animals/””Oh yes. I was never very interested in them as a child, but as I got older they interested me. I like having a pet around me now, but travelling so much prevents it because there are quarantine regulations in most countries and it’s not fair on the poor dog or cat to leave it in quarantine half of the time. So I make a fuss of other people’s pets/”
“What were you main interests as a child?”
“Art.” A smile flashes across his face. “Anything that I could use to create. Modeling clay, plaster of Paris, wire statues, things like that. It almost seemed to come alive in my hands, like me and it were working together to express something really important. I did well at it in school too. I was considered brilliant in Art and Handicrafts. Also at the time I was a very strong personality in the class. I always has a lot to say and do and a lot of people in the class followed me… I had a kind of gang-type thing, you know what I mean?”
“I thinks so, you mean you always, without really trying, came out as a sort of leader?”
“That exactly it. I didn’t try to make it happen, it just did. It was a funny thing.”
“What about the academic side of school, Leslie? Were you strong there too?”
He shakes his head with a wry grin. “No, I didn’t pay attention. It didn’t seem all that important at the time, you know. I had my own ideas about how things sort of went about. Sometimes my view of the work wasn’t always the same as theirs.”
“What view did your parents take of your school work? Did they always let you go your own way, did they always approve of your attitudes?”
“Well my father was always very strict about drink and girls and everything, but my mother was quite liberal and she was always telling me that I should stand up for what I believe in. that I should try for the things I knew I could do and the things that were within my power.”
“So you’re saying that your mother was a stronger influence on you then you father?”
“Oh no… they each had a strong influence but in different ways/ My father gave me a real sense of values. I used to rebel against them occasionally, all children do, but a lot of it sank in too. My mother gave me a sense of identity and independence and I think the best way to put it is to say that my father showed me how to use my independence and still be able to function in the real world. Because that important. Any fool can paint himself purple of go to work in the nude just to try and show he’s different… but you have to be different without upsetting other people, you have to live with them and work with them, so however different you are you have to make the necessary adjustments without losing your individuality.”
He falls silent for a moment then stands suddenly as if released by a spring in his chair. He looks round at the objects in the room, perhaps seeing them and evaluating their countries of origin and their meaning, perhaps not. Perhaps, he’s in “inner space”, that private world each person carries in his own heart. Perhaps he’s in Outer space, that grand galactic freedom that expresses itself in his music and lifestyle. He turns to meet my eyes and wherever he is, I know that it’s real and sincere.
“In a way I feel sorry for people, for mankind I man. In fact, the very word mankind is a kind of betrayal, because one person is important. To be one person is important, and the whole of life, from birth onwards, tried to make us part of a mass. When you’re a child you are influenced by your surroundings, the woman nest door, the teacher at school, the cartoons on the TV, by everything and everybody and they all tell you that the world where you can take control of yourself of your life and of what happened to you. I think that’s what a lot of people are afraid of doing. They are literally afraid to take control of their own lives. They’re been scared into needing the security of sinking in with the crowd. It’s nice enough, I suppose, being one of hundreds, or thousands, or millions, but it isn’t my way. I want to be outside it all and be – how can I out this… I want to serve the mass, rather then be a part of it. I wasn’t to react to it, not with it and I want it to react to me.”
“Would you say it was a fantasy? Do you think of it as a fantasy?”
He shook his head, “It’s no fantasy, it’s reality, because I make it reality, that’s the whole point.”
‘Do you fantasize much?”
“Yes,” he laughed. “I’ve always done it. I love it. There’s been one major fantasy in my life from when I can remember – music. I always had singing and entertaining foremost in my mind even when I was still at school, where you always hear people saying, ‘Oh I want to be a pop star when I grow up. I was always saying that always saying I was going to be famous, because that is what I wanted to be and that is how I came to believe in myself. I did make the right decisions and I did come on contact with the right people, it didn’t happen over night, I had to build it over years and years.”
What singers, what groups had helped to shape this driving musical need? Leslie merely shrugged when I asked him. “I like all music, I’ve never had one particular idol. I’ve had lots of people who have inspired my admiration, even my love, but my admiration has changed over the years. Years ago I might be overwhelmed by a performance on TV, but now I can admire and respect people for other qualities like business sense. I appreciate enthusiasm and I can react intensely to drive and energy in other people. I don’t get on very well with people who don’t know what they what or are not sure about what they what to do. Vagueness irritates me. So does dependence on other people. If you want it you’ve got to go out about get it and if you can’t have what you want you still have yourself left, so it doesn’t matter.”
“You’ve always felt that you were you own launching pad?”
“Exactly. I am the nucleus, the cell that has to multiply to spread the word about Egotip. Life is an Egotrip and Egotripping is living. This world could be one great big happy family if people would let themselves start Egotripping just a little bit. They’d be too busy laughing and having fun to fight each other.”
“Was that what your family life was like, noisy, laughing, loving?”
He reflected a moment. “You’d have to had to experience life in a real family to know what it was like, it is not something that can be described, it has to be lived. I have three brothers; no sisters and we’re all very, very close to each other and to mum and dad. My father’s deaf and dumb and in a way I think it helped to bring us closer together because we had to talk to him with our hands and we had to help each other to communicate to this very important person in our lives.”
“That must have given you a great sense of sympathy with other people and a lot of tenderness. Do you think of yourself as a tender person?”
His face crumpled in a laugh. “Me… tender? No. I’m romantic. I’m in love with being in love. I love the kissing and the cuddling and the flowers and the presents, but also in relationships there are pressures. You also find out a lot of things you really didn’t know about yourself, because of the pressures. You become aware of emotional blackmail and what it can do to both of you, in any relationship.”
“Are you easily influences by atmosphere around you?”
“I’m easily influenced by any atmosphere, or perhaps influenced is the wrong word. I become aware of atmospheres very quickly and either accept them or reject them depending on whether I find them pleasant or not. Everything is relative to the problems at the time. There are fashions for behavior just as there are fashions for clothes or fashions for particular types of programs on TV.” He looked at me thoughtfully for a long moment; the n leaned forward in the chair. “You know, this is a great time to be young in. It isn’t merely a question of the world changing rapidly; the Universe is changing too, because WE are in it. We are actually out there in space. Our physical limitations are changing, in that we are no longer pinned to this tiny planet and our minds are expanding to meet the challenge. I hope I live to be a hundred and fifty, because I want to see what happens. I love to travel Herr on earth and if someone offered me a tour on Venus I‘d do just to see what it’s like. And I’d probably enjoy the food!”
“What foods do you like?”
“Almost everything. I love experimenting and I like being surprised. Sometimes a mob of us get together and have a mass cooking session and that's fun, you never know what you’re going to get. One night we had three different soups and no main course, but it was all good. I’ve a terrible desire for sweet things too. I’m always munching something, all day long. It’s lucky that I don't; gain weight, probably because I’m so active. There isn’t much time to sit around piling on the pounds, there’s’ always so much to do.”
“So you don’t have much time for hobbies?”
He lifted a cautionary finger to me. “I make time for hobbies. It’s part of trying to keep a balance in life. It can’t be all tours and photographers and recording sessions, there had to be time just for me too, what I want to do, see or just experience. I’ve started taking photographs again. Photography has always been an interest of mine, but I stopped taking photographs for a long time, nearly fifteen months, then I brought a camera while I was in the States last year and I’m really back into the swing of it again. Modeling planes something that fascinates me too, that ‘s next on my list of things I want to do.”
“How closely do you plan your future, is it almost minute by minute schedule, or do you let situation develop and see where they take you?”
He took a long, thoughtful pull on a cigarette before replying his eyes were distant when he looked back to me. “It’s a bit of both, actually. I can miss a plane connection and think ‘Oh well, nevermind, I’ll go to the pictures instead.’ And be quite casual about it on a moment to moment basics, but there are other things that are planned down to the last minute detail. My career, for example. I’m heading for success, big success and it isn’t going to be an accident when it happens. Right now I am her e in England because this is my base, in a business sense, and I’m building for the future. I’m getting the right kind of people around me to do the things that have to be done. I’m constructing a company that doesn’t demand that I have a producer or someone to design album covers, because I want to do those things for myself, they are apart of the business of expressing me. You know if you look at an album cover there is a great long list of things done by other people. Production, design, engineered by, arranged by, composed by. If you don’t like the album, you can’t put the blame on the artist, because he’s played only a minor role, in a sense, in the product you’ve brought. And it is a product because so many different people have combined their efforts on it. Any album I put out is going to be me, right there between the covers, because I will have been responsible for ninety percent of what’s there. If a song is bad I’ll take the blame because it will be my song, and If the cover is wrong there won’t be some poor chap cowering in the corner waiting to get fired, it will be my cover. The reverse is also true- if the record does well it will be proof that my judgment is correct because when people buy it they are buying a part of me, a part of my thinking, my creativity. If it sells it means they like what I’m doing and are not just applauding a fifteen-man production team. “ He rose from his chair and went to a cupboard, returning with several piles of photographs, they were action shots taken during his tour of Japan.
“These show plenty of room for improvement too he said, indicating various shots. “It’s no good just standing on the stage and singing, you have to give people more then that, they need the excitement and stimulation of movement color effect. Lasers are fun, but they need baking up with more effects. Part of my time will be spent improving the visuals, constantly working things up and up…”
“To blast off?”
Our serious discussion degenerates immediately into a series of wise cracking jokes of various kinds as we invent titles for ‘blast off” songs. When sanity returns humor becomes a topic for discussion.
“It’s very important to me, in life in general and personal relationships in particular. I like humor in women; I could never go out with a girl who didn’t have a very fast sense of humor. I like people who don’t take themselves too seriously. The ideal girl? Well, intelligence comes first. No, not before humor, the two go together somehow, you have to be intelligent in order to have a genuine sense of humor because humor basically consists of turning situations inside out. I’d like her to be pretty, athletic and sexy.” The combination evokes a fresh burst of laughter and departure from any resemblance to an interview.
“My home life would probably be very unpredictable if I ever got married. I’d like a lot of land, horses and a tracker bike and some fun cars. A big pad with plenty of space in it, with a studio ‘there’ – you know the sort of thing. But at the same time I could live in a hovel if I had too. The sun would be important, which rules out England, because I love to be in the sun. I also like living in London because there is so much t do here. I’m living out of a suitcase at the moment, there’s no permanence anywhere right now, but a base would be nice in the future. It’s nice to have somewhere to come back to after you have been traveling for a long period of time. Even in London you could find a great pad, some of the houses in Chelsea are fantastic. I enjoy space, having lots of it around me. I like to go off by myself for long periods, to work, or to choose whether I want to work with someone else. I like the freedom to choose whether to be alone or not. I don’t know how I’d decorate it, because I like so many different things. I like hand made things, sculptures and so on, and I love Japanese art. But I also like very modern things. I think the microchip is the greatest invention in the world. I know it’s bringing problems faster then we can solve them, but it’s also bringing freedom and progress too. When I see a display of the electronic stuff that has been developed in the last year or two it makes me feel like a little boy in a candy store, I want to buy everything I see. Everything looks so pretty too, graceful lines and gleaming surfaces, functional beauty.”
“Do you express your liking for functional beauty in your choice of clothing for the stage?”
“Yes” he nods. “Off stage dress too. I wear a lot of cat suits and jeans. Jeans because they are hard wearing and comfortable in a sloppy, relaxed kind of way and cat suits because they don’t seem to interfere with freedom of movement. They keep you warm and fairly smart looking, but they don’t restrict you in any way. I like bright colors, but I also like very dark colors. The only colors I don’t like are pale, washed out colors.”
Light and dark, quiet and noisy, serious and humorous, relaxed and electric, traditional and ultra-modern, a private thinker and a public Egotripper, sensitive and calculating, career builder and image breaker. A vital creature of many contrasts, but somehow you come away with the impression that Leslie McKeown has got it all together and knows precisely where he is going.
To be continued...
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Leslie McKeown fan Club 1980