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Leon Rosselson


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Leon Rosselson has been at the forefront of songwriting in Britain for fifty years. His songs range from the lyrical to the satirical, from the personal to the political, from the humorous to the poignant. His early songs were topical-satirical (some of them were featured in the TV satire show That Was the Week that Was) but he broadened out from there, absorbing different influences, from Music Hall to French Realist Song, and experimenting with different song forms.

He has performed in every conceivable venue in the UK and has toured North America, Holland, Belgium, Switzerland, and Australia. He has written songs for a stage performance of They Shoot Horses, Don't They? and scripted shows about the Spanish Civil War, sexual politics (Love, Loneliness & Laundry) and the nuclear issue (No Cause for Alarm). His song "The World Turned Upside Down" has been recorded & popularised by, amongst others, Dick Gaughan and Billy Bragg, and has been sung on numerous demonstrations in Britain and the United States.

He has released twelve CDs of his songs and published two songbooks, Bringing the News from Nowhere and Turning Silence into Song. He has also had seventeen children's books published; the first one, Rosa's Singing Grandfather, published by Puffin, was shortlisted for the Carnegie Medal in 1991. Visit his website at www.leonrosselson.co.uk, you can also see Leon Rosselson on YouTube.

Check out Leon's new song—Sixty Quid a Week

Purchasing Links

That Precious Strand of Jewishness That Challenges Authority

Author: Leon Rosselson
Publisher: PM Press
ISBN: 978-1-62963-378-7
Published: 05/2017
Format: Pamphlet
Size: 8.5x5.5
Page count: 32 pages
Subjects: Religion and Theology/Music-Folk
$5.95

“For my parents and grandparents, Jewish identity, in religion, culture and language, was a given. Not so for me. I'm not religious, not a Zionist, so in what consists my Jewishness? Is a love of chopped liver and a belief that chicken soup cures all ills enough? And does it matter? This is the story of my search for answers. It is an argument with myself, with song lyrics to embellish the argument.”

Like so many of those others in Britain of Jewish lineage, songwriter and award-winning folk singer Leon Rosselson is descended from antecedents who fled pogroms in eastern Europe. Pertinently, he questions what being a Jew means—is it adherence to Judaism as a religion, an ethnicity, a citizen of Israel, or someone who eats “chicken soup with knedlach”? He describes clearly and with historical insight how any concept of “Jewishness” can involve all of those things and more. In his own life, he has decided to pick and choose from this tradition and history and build on what he deems to be the progressive, humane, and universalist values of that Jewish background.

Rosselson is a strong supporter of Palestinian rights, seeing in the victimization of Palestinians by the state of Israel parallels with historical Jewish persecution. He concludes this short essay by stating: “I share with the growing number of Jews in the diaspora who place solidarity with the oppressed above demands of tribalism and with those in Israel who dare to stand against the powers that be.”

Praise:

“His songs are fierce, funny, cynical, outraged, blasphemous, challenging and anarchic. And the tunes are good, too.”
—Guardian (UK)

“With dazzling lyrical technique, deftly woven inter-rhymes, a powerful understanding of image, irony and narrative verse, he paints vivid portraits of sadly displaced lives, fools in high places, the absurdities and the occasional graces of modern life.”
—Boston Globe

“Britain’s finest songwriter since Richard Thompson.”
Venue

Buy the pamphlet | Buy the e-Pamphlet | Read Reviews  | Back to top

Where Are the Barricades?
Artist: Leon Rosselson
Publisher: PM Press
ISBN: 9781629632193
UPC: 877746007521
Published: 01/2016
Format: CD with booklet
Size: 5.5x5.5
Length: 53 minutes
Subjects: Music-Folk
$14.95

Track listing:
1. Full Marks for Charlie (2:46)
2. Where are the Barricades? (3:42)
3. Looters (4:06)
4. Benefits (4:17)
5. Sixty Quid a Week (4:33)
6. I’m Going Where the Suits Will Shine My Shoes (6:36)
7. Let’s Give Thanks (2:41)
8. Marital Diaries (3:00)
9. Rejoice (2:46)
10. Fair’s Fair (2:56)
11. Active Ageing (2:47)
12. Paris in the Rain (2:48)
13. The Ballad of Rivka & Mohammed (3:05)
14. Four Degrees Celsius (2:44)
15. At Dawn (3:48)

Praise:

“Some of the most literate and well-made songs now being written.”
New York Times

“His songs are fierce, funny, cynical, outraged, blasphemous, challenging and anarchic. And the tunes are good, too.”
Guardian (UK)

“With dazzling lyrical technique, deftly woven inter-rhymes, a powerful understanding of image, irony and narrative verse, he paints vivid portraits of sadly displaced lives, fools in high places, the absurdities and the occasional graces of modern life.”
Boston Globe

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No Gods No Masters: Live in Concert
Artists: Leon Rosselson and Robb Johnson
Publisher: PM Press
ISBN: 978-1-60486-441-0
Published: 01/2014
Format: 2 x DVDs (NTSC)
Size: 7.5 x 5.5
Length: 250 minutes
Subjects: Music-Folk
$19.95

In this glorious 2 DVD set, Britain’s finest living songwriters are captured live (on tour in Berkeley, CA), presenting two nights of their original songs, words, and inimitable performance.

Turning Silence into Song (Disc One) showcases a pair of career-spanning “greatest hits,“ with a suitable sprinkling of new and previously unreleased material. All introduced and contextualized with a large helping of trademark wit and dry irony.

The Liberty Tree (Disc Two) tells the story of Tom Paine’s extraordinary life, interweaving Paine’s own words, from his letters and the pamphlets which made him one of the most influential and dangerous writers of his age, with extracts from newspaper reports, diaries, letters, and other documents of the times. The songs of Robb Johnson and Leon Rosselson add another dimension to the story, reflecting Paine’s radical ideas and evaluating them in the context of the 21st century. This unique blend of words and music challenges received opinion in the same way Paine’s writings did.

Together, herein you’ll find over four hours of the finest contemporary songs, stories, humor, and observation from the greatest practitioners of the craft.

Praise:

“. . . some of the most literate and well-made topical songs now being written“
The New York Times [on Leon Rosselson]

“Britain’s finest songwriter since Richard Thompson.“
Venue [on Robb Johnson]

“A highly subversive pairing of two of the left’s most eloquent songwriters.“
Daily Telegraph

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The Liberty Tree: A Celebration of the Life and Writings of Thomas Paine
Authors/Musicians: Leon Rosselson and Robb Johnson
ISBN: 978-1-60486-339-0
Published: May 2010
Format: Double Audio CD with Booklet
Size: 5 by 5
Page count: 16
Subjects: Music-Folk, History

$20.00

"When the rich plunder the poor of his rights, it becomes an example to the poor to plunder the rich of his property.” —Thomas Paine

The Liberty Tree tells the story of Tom Paine's extraordinary life, interweaving Paine's own words, from his letters and the pamphlets which made him one of the most influential and dangerous writers of his age, with extracts from newspaper reports, diaries, letters and other documents of the times. The songs of Robb Johnson and Leon Rosselson add another dimension to the story, reflecting Paine's radical ideas and evaluating them in the context of the 21st century. This unique blend of words and music challenges received opinion in the same way Paine's writings did.

Praise:

"A highly subversive pairing of two of the left's most eloquent songwriters."
The Daily Telegraph

"Rosselson's songs are teeming with colorful characters, wonderfully descriptive passages and witty observations."
Washington Post

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The World Turned Upside Down: Rosselsongs 1960-2010

Artist: Leon Rosselson
Publisher: PM Press/Trade Root Music
ISBN: 978-1-60486-498-4
UPC: 760137521624
Published: June 2011
Format: Audio CD and booklet
Size: 5.5 by 5.5
CD Length and Page count: 240 Minutes and 80 Pages
Subjects: Music-Folk
$44.95

The life and times of England's greatest living songwriter are captured in a deluxe box set. Over seventy-two songs on four CDs with an eighty-page book.

The songs on these CDs span 5 decades, from the sparky sixties to the curdled present, and encompass a wide variety of song subjects and song forms. They have been written out of hope, anger, love, scorn, laughter and despair. The tracks I have selected are, I believe, sturdily built and quite capable of standing up for themselves. And, because they have something to say about the times in which they were written, there are copious notes on the political and personal environments that formed them along with some pointed observations on the craft of songwriting.”  —Leon Rosselson

Frankie Armstrong, Roy Bailey, Mark Bassey, Steve Berry, Billy Bragg, Martin Carthy, Howard Evans, Clare Lintott, Chris Foster, Sue Harris, Paul Jayasinha, Sianed Jones, John Kirkpatrick, Elizabeth Mansfield, Ruth Rosselson, Fiz Shapur, Dave Swarbrick, Miranda Sykes, Roger Williams, The 3 City 4, The Oyster Band, and The Sheffield Socialist Choir all contribute variously to the songs too, in one form or another.

Praise:

“His songs are fierce, funny, cynical, outraged, blasphemous, challenging and anarchic. And the tunes are good, too.” —Guardian

“Leon Rosselson is one of the select few whose position on the British folk scene is evidence of higher intelligence. Since the 1950s, his music has illuminated the folk and political song sky like forked lightning.” —Sing Out

“Some of the most literate and well-made songs now being written.”  —New York Times

Buy CD now | Track List | Read Reviews

DISK 1                                            

1. Conversation on a Mobile
2. H-A-N-G-O
3. Across the Hills
4. Battle Hymn of the New Socialist Party
5. Tim McGuire
6. Stand Firm
7. I Dreamed I was Walking Alone
8. Do You Remember?
9. Coming Home to You
10. Dead Men Never Die
11. Flower Power = Bread
12. Palaces of Gold
13. Invisible Married Breakfast Blues
14. She was crazy, He was mad
15. The Ugly Ones
16. Why Does it Have to Be Me?
17. Kangaroos Like to Hop
18. Jumbo the Elephant
19. Brass Band Music
20. Topside Down Party

DISK 2

21. The Ant & The Grasshopper
22. One Two Three
23. The Word Market
24. Song of the Mother Xmas Union
25. They're Going to Build a Motorway
26. Plan
27. The Man who Puffs the Big Cigar
28. Don't Get Married, Girls
29. In the Park
30. It Goes On
31. We Sell Everything
32. Let Your Hair Hang Down
33. The World's Police
34. On Her Silver Jubilee
35. Perspectives
36. Stand Up for Judas
37. Whoever Invented the Fishfinger
38. Abiezer Coppe
39. The World Turned Upside Down Parts 1 & 2

DISK 3

40. Not Quite ButNearly
41. StoryLine
42. Jackboot Democrats
43.Who Reaps the Profits? Who Pays the Price?
44. Flying High Flee Free
45. It wasn't me I didn't do it
46. Bringing the News from Nowhere
47. Ballad of a Spycatcher
48. Skin
49. Susie
50. I Heard it on the Radio
51. Wo Sind Die Elefanten?
52. Song of the Old Communist
53. Whatever Happened to Nannerl?
54. General Lockjaw Briefs the British Media
55. Out of the Fire & Smoke of History
56. The Voice that Lives Inside you

DISK 4

57. Sing a Song to Please Us
58. The Song of Martin Fontasch
59. A Very Busy Man
60. Harry's Gone Fishing
61. It's Just the Song
62. Money Matters
63. The Ghost of George Brassens
64. The Wall that Stands Between
65. Like Love
66. General Lockjaw Briefs the Troops (as recorded by a sceptical soldier)
67. Postcards from Cuba
68. Song of the Olive Tree
69. My Father's Jewish World
70. Where are the Barricades?
71. Talking Democracy Blues
72. The Power of Song


The Liberty Tree Lyrics

Disk 1  |  Disk 2

DISK 1                                            

1. The Morning Star of the Revolution
2. The Roots of the Liberty Tree
3. The Idle Talker & Driniker at the White Hart Social Club, Lewes
4. The Editor of the Pennsylvania Magazine
5. Rosa's Lovely Daughters
6. Reflections on Unhappy Marriages
7. Don't Get Married Girls
8. Independency
9. Common Sense
10. The Wall That Stands Between
11. The Times That Try Men’s Souls
12. 3 Minute's Silence
13. The Right of Man Part I
14. Remembrance Day
15. The Old Construction
16. We All Said Stop the War

DISK 2

1. The Rights of Man Part 2
2. Monarchy
3. On Her Silver Jubilee
4. ‘Riots & Tumults’
5. Picking Up the Pieces
6. Wages & Rights
7. Oliver Twist
8. Countries That are Called Civilised
9. Palaces of Gold
10. High Treason
11. The Defect Lies in the System
12. Changing the Guard
13. Execution & War
14. The Terror
15. Citizen Pain
16. The Age of Reason
17. Stand Up For Judas
18. Applause & Abuse
19. The Life of a Libeller
20. Red & Green / The World Turned Upside Down

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Reviews



Where are the Barricades? : Reviewed
By Ian Sinclair
Peace News
April-May 2016

"...On the title track, 'Karl Marx is scratching his head/they ought to be shooting the bankers/But they’re giving them money instead'. 'Looters' finds Rosselson comparing the rioters of August 2011 with the industrial-scale, officially-sanctioned looting carried out by 'the Brutish Empire', while 'Sixty Quid A Week' takes aim at Iain Duncan Smith’s claim that he could live on the current level of unemployment benefit..."

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Where are the Barricades? : Reviewed
By Raymond Deane
Irish Left Review
March 10th, 2016

Five years after his 4-CD compendium The World Turned Upside Down – Rosselsongs 1960-2010  the radical English singer/songwriter Leon Rosselson has released a new album, Where are the Barricades? Rosselson turned 80 in 2014, so his announcement that “after some sixty years of songwriting… this is my final recording” is hardly shocking, but will nonetheless distress those for whom his consistent advocacy of social change and support for the underdog has long been an inspiration...

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Where are the Barricades? : Reviewed
By Mahir Ali
The Australian
February 6th, 2016

"It is entirely appropriate that Leon Rosselson’s final album should include several examples of what he does best. The title song, aptly prefaced with a blast from the past called Full Marks for Charlie (as in Marx, rather than Chaplin), is a response to the global financial crisis that was composed before the Occupy movement reared its head. “Robespierre is wagging his finger,” it begins, “Karl Marx is scratching his head / They ought to be shooting the bankers / But they’re giving them money instead...

In his more than 50 years as a singer-songwriter who has impressed critics more than the record-buying public, provocation has been Rosselson’s forte, albeit not exclusively in the sphere of politics. One of his greatest accomplishments lies in giving voice to the hopes and dreams of the voiceless, often eccentrics and outcasts who prosper or wither at a tangent from society.”

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The World Turned Upside Down : Reviewed
by Raymond Deane
The Irish Left Review
March 29th, 2013

It might seem that over four CDs and 72 songs (about a quarter of Rosselson’s total output), most of them sung by Rosselson himself, such a deficiency might prove fatal. Strangely enough, however, for me at any rate the effect is the opposite. One becomes used to the voice and knows what to expect and not to expect from it. When Roy Bailey or Liz Mansfield or Dick Gaughan sings a Rosselson song, the result can be a show-stopper. When Rosselson sings, the vocal idiosyncrasies are inseparable from his intractable and endearing integrity.

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The World Turned Upside Down : Reviewed
by Colin Irwin
fRoots Magazine
April 2012

Surely it can't be anything to do with those jagged lyrics and the fearlessly contentious subject matter with the capacity to offend almost every strand of society with the twist of an acidic couplet . . . the Christians with "Stand Up For Judas," Zionists with "Song Of The Olive Tree," royalists with "On Her Silver Jubilee," and capitalists with . . . well, with mostly everything he pens.

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5 Star Review of 'The World Turned Upside Down' on Songlines
By Julian May
Songlines
January/February 2012

Here are seventy-three songs lasting almost five hours, written over half a century. This is a life's work. It's the life's work of one of Britain's finest contemporary writers — not just songwriters, but writers in any form. Each CD is devoted to a decade, except for the fouth, which extends from the 90s to 2010. The collection begins with a recent song, however: the terrific 'Conversations on a Mobile', placed here because stylistically (though not technologically), it is a song he might have written at the outset of his career: a satirical social commentary, meticulously constructed, about the compulsion to talk but the inability to say anything.

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5 Star Review of 'The World Turned Upside Down'
By Ken Hunt
R2 Magazine

The World Turned Upside Down is a one-stop concentration of material from one of the pioneers and finest exponents of English-language chanson-strength song creation.

Leon Rosselson applied the jump leads that got the stalled engine of socially engaged, literate song racing. And then got it purring and spitting.

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The World Turned Upside Down : Reviewed
Making a Noise/ Gwneud swn
By Iain Campbell
Taplas.co.uk

Leon's excellent four CD, 72 song, boxed set The World Turned Upside Down (PM Press) with his extensive notes selecting highlights from his output over five decades as, arguably, Britain's best singer songwriter. His influence has been broad and wide. Many of his songs have been covered but probably, none more famously than Billy Bragg's version of The World Turned Upside Down. The words to this song were also painted on a wall in People's Park in Berkeley, California during a protest to keep the park open to the public.

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The World Turned Upside Down : Reviewed
By David Hintz
Folkword Online

Even if I do have it all wrong, this is a compelling set of songs. If you are not politically hard to the left, some of the lyrics will push you more than you like. Of course, any perspective over four discs will get a little tiring. But each song is strong in its own right and most are thought provoking. The sound quality is uniformly excellent and the booklet with lengthy explanations of the songs is interesting even by itself. Hopefully this release will help elevate Rosselson's status around the world, as he does not seem quite as well known as some of the other famous UK guitarist singer/songwriters.

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The Liberty Tree : Reviewed
By Adam Sheets
No Depression
December 19, 2010

Thankfully Leon Rosselson and Robb Johnson, two folk singers from Paine's home country of Great Britain are here to set the record straight with The Liberty Tree, an affecting mixture of music and the spoken word spread out over two discs, that serves as both a history lesson on Paine's life and work and a biting commentary on our present shortcomings. Much of the album consists of readings from Paine's best works tied together with a brisk repeated melody detailing his life from England to America to France where he took part in the French Revolution and, finally, back to America. In addition there are also thirteen songs, adorned simply with acoustic guitars, dealing with our modern society. Whether these are supposed to be seen as the twenty-first century voice of Thomas Paine or simply a contrast to Paine's ideals is never clear, but, regardless, these are some of the best topical songs I've heard in years.

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The Liberty Tree on Against the Grain
Against the Grain
October 19, 2010

Historian Alan Taylor talks about Paine's life, his political convictions, and Common Sense, which Taylor calls the most powerful and pivotal pamphlet in US history. Also, Leon Rosselson and Robb Johnson have created an audio celebration of Paine's life and words.

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FAME Reviews The Liberty Tree: A Celebration of the Life & Writings of Thomas Paine
by Mark S. Tucker
http://www.acousticmusic.com
written for Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange

The bourgeois/royalist slant in the read sentiments regarding Paine are amusing as hell, perfectly reflecting the standard outraged indignation of the Right wing that occurs whenever place and privilege are questioned, regardless of age and epoch. Our two agitators deliver short speeches and song in grassroots style while mocking by inflection and praising through admiration. I guarantee you'll hear historic materials you've never run across otherwise unless you're an academic, and you'll also receive an authentic period flavor in all the bardic sonorities. Leon Rosselson has been lauded by the N.Y. Times for his literate topicality and Robb Johnson has been called one for the finest songwriters since Richard Thompson. This is not light praise.

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