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Tokyo Musician     Tim Leffman

Interview obtained by Mike Lloret

Tim Leffman is a tall, gangly singer songwriter from London. Usually peering out from under a very shabby, wide brimmed black hat, the lined face and crooked teeth are surrounded by indeterminate brown hair and finished off by two rather crinkly blue/grey eyes. He is around 6 foot 5 and has improbably big hands with which he thumps and strangles the living hell out of an equally battered Takemine E.10. six string guitar.

    So what! Well, there are many singer songwriters around. Not many of them can shake an album of their original songs at you like "Shaking Hands", studio time, design and promo tour paid for by fans and customers at a small pub in downtown Tokyo. Even fewer can then wave a second CD, "Warmaker", at you recorded at one of Japan's top residential studios, again of all original material. "They gave me free studio time and artistic control on the strength of the first album". Friends and supporters held a fundraising night in another pub to raise money to pay the musicians. What is it about this guy that engenders such enthusiasm? "I dunno. Maybe they are sorry for me. I never have more money than I need to pay the rent but I keep on trying to live as a musician and only a musician. It's all I have ever dreamed of doing and, thanks to my friends here, my dreams have come true. My ambition is to record all my songs how I want to hear them before I die".

He acknowledges that he has been very lucky. Professional for the last 12 years or so, Tim has worked his way up from the streets of Europe where he was a busker to stints in a French ski resort -"fantastic job...up at 12, ski all afternoon, home for dinner and then playing in a tiny smoky bar from 9 to 1, 13 nights a fortnight followed by a couple of drinks at one of the two clubs in town and the next day start all over again"- then five years playing in London at pubs and clubs during which time he made his very first recording, "The Elephant of Surprise" which was also paid for by a fan. "I haven't paid to make an album yet so I suppose my songs are valid in some way. It is extremely gratifying to have people respond in such a concrete way. It gets you through the downs and doubts. My problem so far has been getting my music to a wider audience". He is currently residing in Tokyo, the latest stop on a protracted musical meander that has taken in France, Holland, Germany, America, Australia and of course London, his home town.

So what is Tim Leffman's music? "I have been blessed with a facility for remembering songs that I love by other artists and my influences are the classic bands from the sixties to the present day. Give me melody, a harmony and well weighted words and I am happy. I learned guitar from the Beatles complete and my first albums were all Beatles. I was into Deep Purple, Quo, Pink Floyd and Slade as I hit adolescence, moved on to the Stones, Dylan and Led Zep, my sister's Elton John records, long stoned sessions with mates listening to Steve Miller, Heart, Alex Harvey, Steve Harley, Hendrix, Wishbone Ash, Roy Harper and Ian Hunter, David Bowie, Jethro Tull and Nick Drake. I was always keen on Bob Marley and I am a big Kate Bush fan. So too Joni Mitchell, Cat Stevens and Paul Simon. I had a big Elvis and Chuck Berry phase and also went to discos in the 70's for rejection lessons. Smokey Robinson, Frankie Valli, Aretha, Barry White and of course Abba. I went to see Rod Stewart with my mates up until "Atlantic Crossing" The list is endless but over and above them all is a certain Mr Neil Young. I discovered him in 1980 and realized that I could come out of the bedroom with my guitar and moderate vocal style. Don't look for Beefheart, Genesis, Yes or ELP on my record shelf. I'm not that sophisticated. Zappa I admire a lot but half an hour is enough for me. I'm not a Velvets freak and I find Lou Reed and Iggy ok sometimes but that's all. Not fussed about Tom Waits or Sting although I really rated the Police. I guess I just like a good song" This list though is woefully inadequate for a man who can cover over 1000 songs. "I can't begin to remember all the influences and I haven't begun to mention more up to date bands. I'm only talking about my formative years here. I am aware of church music being a constant as a school-goer, my mother plays classical piano and plays show-tunes, classical music and opera in the kitchen".

His own songs run the gamut from full on rock to funk through shuffles and on to soft acoustic numbers interlaced with his harmonica. Tim only plays acoustic guitar himself.

I am crap at electric guitar although I finally broke my duck with the solo on "News for the Deaf" (Warmaker, track 7). The acoustic guitar is enough though as anyone who has seen "Banyan Tree" performed live and solo will testify. "I have developed a style which derived from the need to interpret a whole song as loudly as possible, all the parts like the rhythm and bass, in order for people to drop money in my guitar case on a busy street. I usually work solo so I have to play my version of the whole production. Bands are difficult to organize and expensive. You are always dealing with musicians. Organisation is not always their main talent-take me for example! I have various bands I want to form in my head. One is a Transylvanian Jewish gypsy group, another more Russian or Georgian with a bass balalaika, a Tom Petty "Full Moon Fever" era style rock band with Keith Richards in it and a cello-accordion-acoustic guitar trio. I also would like to have Crazy Horse and Jethro Tull for a couple of songs. For this I need a recording contract and a manager to organise people. My brother introduced me to the trance or rave scene and I would like to work with someone who understands the technology to make something really worthwhile to dance to. For me a lot of music at those long E parties lacks heart- you're off your head, open to a whole universe of possibilities and the music goes fast fast fast, slower slow slow back to fast back to slow and I feel like screaming SAY SOMETHING, TALK TO ME YOU COMPUTER GEEK. You end up being tenderized rather than communicating. It's a terrible shame because the potential of the music is enormous. When I listen to rap I feel alienated, hated by the singer and very berated- sorry, couldn't resist it. I am not the target audience; end of story. It is designed to scratch my blackboard, no complaints".

He muses that he will never have the time to fully develop all the ideas in his head, so what is the important thing for Tim Leffman? "Well, the lyrics are the timeless bit for me. When I am writing whatever is coming out, those moments are the rare moments of truth that will be left behind when I am gone. They are the justification for choosing this particular life. I have stuff on my web-site and under my bed that I want to publish just as writing; I can't render them into songs. They only really mean anything to me and maybe my kids one day in a nostalgic way but when I am gone they will remain somewhere in cyberspace and on a few dusty CDs. The fact that they are moments of truth, however obscure to me, has meant that they have resonated with people the same way you can tell when someone is false, a gut feeling. We hate most politicians because they are obliged to conceal their dark sides so they are false. I love Neil Young because it's like he shares his diary with you. I don't know what a lot of my lyrics or words refer to. I don't question them when they come out; Like one of the songs on "Warmaker", the meaning only hit me on the final listen to the finished album. It made me cry when I realized what I was on about! Sounds crazy but I've got bundles of stuff I have just let out, rather than "written" and I think it goes deeper into people's psyches in an oblique way. That's why I have had a reaction to my songs, blah blah blah and I am looking forward to having a town or university named after me.
I am not really satisfied with many of the recordings I have achieved so far. I would really love to work with a sensitive producer over a certain period of dedicated time when I don't have to think about that night's gig and the rent at the end of the month. I have to record all my songs how I want to hear them and I would also dream of doing a nice solo recording of all the songs I know and bang them up on the web site for posterity. It would be an interesting catalogue. Might take a while though... Dreams can come true though, these two albums are living proof so I wouldn't write it off

Tim Leffman is two albums into that project at the time of writing.

Word Pro

"Warmaker", the latest release from Tim Leffman, on the "Air From Mt Fuji" label and due for release in June 2002.

© Algorithmica Japonica Copyright Notice: Copyright of material rests with the individual author. Articles may be reprinted by other user groups if the author and original publication are credited. Any other reproduction or use of material herein is prohibited without prior written permission from TPC. The mention of names of products without indication of Trademark or Registered Trademark status in no way implies that these products are not so protected by law.

Algorithmica Japonica

July , 2002

The Newsletter of the Tokyo PC Users Group

Submissions : Editor

Tokyo PC Users Group, Post Office Box 103, Shibuya-Ku, Tokyo 150-8691, JAPAN