There's nothing more comforting than the sorrowful mysteries of carp or chub

Fisherman's Blues on TalkSport: Keeping it reel.

Fisherman’s Blues
TalkSport
 
“It’s hot. It’s humid,” says Keith Arthur on Fisherman’s Blues (Saturdays and Sundays, 6am). “I’m thinking about the creatures being sacrificed on the altar of insanity that is global warming. Text me. Here’s Alan in Luton.” There’s nothing more comforting at 6am on a Sunday than Arthur recalling the sorrowful mysteries of carp or chub, taking phone calls and letting other voices interweave in a lilting and nicely depressing hum. 
 
Alan in Luton is worried about the lack of available flies made from peacock feathers. “I’ve been struggling for years now,” he says. “My tackle’s inadequate for what I’m doing.” As usual, Arthur is not just sympathetic about inadequate tackle but actively helpful, making suggestions for alternatives (“How about a pheasant’s tail?”). But he knows his callers don’t really want solutions. They just want to say, “I’ve been trying to google it,” and know someone is nodding kindly on the other end of the line, aware that soon this conversation will be over and so will the show and everything will drop back into its usual order. 
 
Then Richard calls. He is panting slightly, possibly a little delirious, burned by our apocalyptic July. “I’m just back from the Crane,” he says, “and it’s alive with fry!” It is important to communicate the extent to which this message has the quality of a broadcast being made from the top floor of a high-rise ten days after the zombie hoards have seized control. “I want the people of Twickenham to know it’s back. It’s alive!” Arthur sits forward, casting off 20 years of melancholy. “The Crane?” It’s a river that was ruined two years ago when Thames Water diverted raw sewage into it to prevent a back-up at Heathrow, killing 10,000 fish. So ruined was it that only in March an environmental charity noticed a “green tinge” in the water and made the sign of the cross.
 
“Take your kids down to the Crane!” yells Rich. “Break a branch off a tree and stick a maggot on a small hook and you will catch fish. Hundreds and thousands of fry! Perch! Barbel! Not pike, because I’ve never actually seen a baby pike, but anyway everything else is everywhere!” Then Richard utters a sentence never before spoken on Fisherman’s Blues – a sentence so romantic it seemed to contain the full scale of adult life, a sentence so inspirational it was the aural equivalent of silvery Perseus swooping down to the aid of all humankind: “Don’t bother with tackle!” 
Don't bother with the tackle. Photograph: Getty Images.

Antonia Quirke is an author and journalist. She is a presenter on The Film Programme and Pick of the Week (Radio 4) and Film 2015 and The One Show (BBC 1). She writes a column on radio for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 29 July 2013 issue of the New Statesman, Summer Double Issue

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Conjuring the ghost: the "shape-shifting, queer, violent, hippie genuis" of David Litvinoff

A new biography tracks down the elusive Kray confidant who became a friend of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards.

David Litvinoff is a mythic character to anyone with an interest in London during the Sixties. An intimate of the Krays, he was a tough and violent Jew from the East End. He was also a musical genius with an unrivalled knowledge of jazz, the blues and rock that made him a valued friend of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. It was his ability to move from the East End to Chelsea, from the dives of Soho to Notting Hill, that was the critical factor in the extraordinary vision of London that Donald Cammell and Nicolas Roeg conjured into the film Performance, for which Litvinoff is credited as dialogue coach. And yet, even though all this is known and recorded, he remains a ghost, a figure who wrote nothing and who systematically destroyed all the records of his life he could lay his hands on. Even his exact role in Performance is shrouded in mystery. He is said to have dictated much of the script to Cammell. This biography claims that Jagger’s mesmerising song on the soundtrack, “Memo from Turner”, was in fact a memo from Litvinoff.

Multiple reports describe him as the most brilliant talker London had known since Coleridge, but although there are rumours of tapes they have always been just rumours. I’d have thought he was a figure who would defeat any biographer – a shape-shifting, queer, violent, hippie genius lost in a mist of hallucinogens – but Keiron Pim’s account of this extraordinary character is a magisterial work of scholarship. He tracks down all the living witnesses; he has also unearthed letters, and even some of those long-lost tapes.

The story that emerges is even harder to believe than the legend. Litvinoff came out of the Jewish East End but he was from one of its most talented families. His name was not even Litvinoff: his mother’s first husband went by that name but David was the son of her second, Solomon Levy. Long before he met the Krays or the Stones, he was a gossip columnist on the Daily Express, practically inventing the Chelsea set that shocked the prim Fifties. By that time he had met Lucian Freud, who painted him in an astonishing study, the working title of which was Portrait of a Jew. Litvinoff was furious when Freud exhibited it with the new description of The Procurer, and the bad blood between these two men, both of whom inhabited the drinking clubs of Soho and the Krays’ gambling joints, remained for the rest of their lives. In fact, it is Freud who comes over as the villain of the book, fingered by Pim as the man behind the most violent assault on Litvinoff: he was knocked unconscious at the door to his own flat, on the top floor, and awoke to find himself naked and tied to a chair suspended from the balcony, nose broken and head shaved bald.

I learned much from this book: a period working for Peter Rachman before he became involved with the Krays; sojourns in Wales and Australia when he was fleeing threats of violence. The big discovery for me, however, was Litvinoff’s encyclopaedic knowledge of the jazz and blues traditions that gave birth to rock’n’roll. He taught the Stones a lot but he taught Eric Clapton even more – they were both living at the Pheasantry building on the King’s Road, and Litvinoff seems to have had unlimited access to the most recherché back catalogues and the most recent unreleased recordings. The book traces, but does not comment on, a transformation from an amphetamine-fuelled hard man in the Fifties and early Sixties to the oddest of hallucinogen hippies by the Summer of Love in 1967.

But, for all Litvinoff’s knowledge, wit and gift for friendship, his tale is a tragedy. A man who could talk but couldn’t write; an out gay man long before it was acceptable, who seems never to have been at ease with his sexuality; a proud Jew without any tradition of Judaism to which he could affiliate. Above all, this was a man who lived to the full the extraordinary moment when London dreamed, in Harold Wilson’s Sixties, that class was a thing of the past. Back from Australia in the early Seventies, Litvinoff awoke again to find that it had indeed been a dream. His suicide in 1975 was cold and deliberate. He had outlived his time. 

Colin MacCabe edits Critical Quarterly

Jumpin’ Jack Flash: David Litvinoff and the Rock’n’Roll Underworld by Keiron Pim is publisyhed by Jonathan Cape (416pp, £16.99)

This article first appeared in the 25 August 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Cameron: the legacy of a loser