At Jimmy Leverett’s insistence we swapped the Grosvenor for a smaller, more anonymous hotel around the corner at the last minute. But word soon got around on social media that rock star Jimmy Leverett was in town on the eve of his comeback tour and the streets outside were filled with shouts of fans and paparazzi. Leverett was never the kind of star to flaunt the limelight and in fact delighted in shying away from it for most of his career.
‘Sorry I forgot to put my shoes on. You don’t mind do you?’
‘Not at all Jimmy.’ I re-adjust myself in my seat in the small hotel room. Leverett perches on the bed with bare feet wearing a pair of faded jeans and a loose fitting chambray shirt, and insisted I take the room’s only chair.
Now aged seventy-two, completely unrecognisable from the slim, handsome man he used to be, Leverett constantly flicks grey hair with both nervous hands. In many ways Jimmy Leverett is an anomaly in this day and age of glitzy showbiz as he was in his. However, he is still a formidable presence, his speaking voice at times is almost soundless and scratchy, a far cry from the moving baritone we’re used to hearing on record.
‘So Jimmy, if we may begin. It’s a pleasure to meet you, thank you for taking time to talk to us on the eve of your comeback tour.’
He bites his lips, nods his head and shrugs his shoulders. Leverett was always a man of few words, often quoted as saying he preferred to let his “singing do the talking”. And it seems that age hasn’t changed that.
‘A newspaper recently described you as one of the greatest rock stars of your generation.’
‘Me?’ Leverett finds a chuckle and goes with it.
‘You don’t see yourself that way?’
‘Not at all. Not at all.’ Leverett shakes his head.
‘Then how would you describe yourself Jimmy?’
‘I have no idea.’ Leverett shrugs and chuckles, ‘I just do what I do you know? People make of me what they want. But I’m far from a star!’
‘Well I think your record sales disagree Jimmy.’
‘And the public have a track record of making bad decisions!’
‘But how does it feel to be back in the limelight after all this time?’
‘Like I never went away!’ he opens his arms and beams a smile. I detect Leverett’s devilish humour at play here. Often seen as a beguiling self-mythologiser, I understand his comment to mean that he has missed the attention, but something about this body language tells me that he now dreads its return.
‘Let me go back to those early days for a second. You were a pretty big breakthrough star back then.’
‘Who wasn’t? Back then?’
‘Well many weren’t. But you initially became famous at ten, that couldn’t have been easy.’
A pack of photographers on the street are shouting Leverett’s name. He says nothing but gets up from the bed and pulls the curtains back in time to a synchronised barrage of flashes and clicks.
‘That’s one thing that ain’t changed. They’d sooner stone you as snap you, ‘sall the same to them.’
‘I understand you’ve never enjoyed interviews, which makes it more of an honour you’ve agreed to talk to us today, but why the aversion to them Jimmy?’
Leverett laughs again and sits down on the edge of the bed and takes a sip of coffee. ‘Well it’s about the money ain’t it?’
‘How do you mean?’
‘You know? One story sells better papers or get more viewers than another it has nothing to do with the person behind the interview has it?’
‘Well, I assure you, we have no other intention today apart from talking to you Jimmy.’
Leverett, despite his external demeanour, which often appears arrogant to those who don’t know him, seems to be a tinged with a sense of vulnerability.
‘So tell me, how does it feel to be back? You’ve just sold out forty-nights in four days, that must be a great feeling.’
‘I’ll tell you how it feels on night forty-one!’
‘But it must feel great to be on the road again after all this time, I’ve seen some of your TV performances. And I have to say you sound incredible.’
‘Thank you.’ he bites his lip again, Leverett has always felt uncomfortable with his own talents, even after so many years. ‘It’s been strangely enjoyable.’
‘I hear they’ll be some new songs on the tour, that you’ve worked on with Sting I believe?’
‘Possibly.’ Leverett smiles behind his coffee cup.
‘So how did that come about? Did you approach him or did he approach you?’
‘Well, the guy gave me a call out of the blue. Said he’d written some songs for me. I heard them. They weren’t great, but I said “why not?” He came over and we talked.’
‘I look forward to hearing them. So what else can we expect from the Jimmy Leverett of 2016? Is there a lot of new material or will you be delighting the fans with the classics?’
‘Well you know. Some people will be glad, some will be disappointed. Ain’t that the way with most things? Can’t please everybody all of the time. So no point in trying!’
‘And what about a new album? I hear there are rumours of a collaboration album with different artists including Beyoncé and Rihanna.’
‘I’d check your rumours if I was you.’ He laughs and crosses his arms. Leverett at this point walks to the window again.
‘Your appeal seems to have transcended generations Jimmy, what do you put that down to?’
‘Beats me! But you know after a while’ he scratches his head and returns to the bed, ‘after all this time, you don’t really care. Know what I mean? If it gets you out of bed then that’s alright I guess.’
‘It was a certain car advert that made your 1962 song, Relieved, a hit again, the advert pretty much went viral around the world on the day it was released. What did you make of the advert?’
‘Haven’t seen it.’
‘You haven’t seen it?’
‘Nope.’ he shakes his head releasing strands of grey hair. His heavy exasperation indicates that the interview will probably end soon.
‘I don’t watch TV. Those things don’t interest me much.’ he continues, ‘They asked me if they could use it. I said “Sure. As long as you pay me!” I don’t remember what it’s for. Honda or something?’
‘Before we go, can you tell me what you think of this generation’s young stars. There’re X-Factor auditions in the city today, what advice would you give to anyone breaking out in their career now?’
‘What you mean those kids on the Sex-Factor or Big Bother or whatever they’re called?’ Leverett laughs. ‘Half of them don’t even know what they’re in it for apart from to be “famous” you know what I mean? Me? I didn’t even know what famous was! If famous was an occupation, I would have quit a long time ago! My advice? Don’t do it.’
I thank Leverett for his time. He shakes my hand but remains seated on the edge of his bed. After all his time in retirement it seems Jimmy Leverett hasn’t lost any of his awkward charm. He’s not an easy person to talk to, often too guarded, and refused to answer any questions about his marriage, but he still possesses that sad, magnetic personality that originally drew audience around the world to him.
His tour starts tomorrow at Earl’s Court with guests including Sting.