That's enough hits, Jon. Now get a real job

Jonathan Sale wishes his rock-star nephew would find a more suitable career - as a stand-up comic, say
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Indy Lifestyle Online
There's something wrong with the charts. Again. My nephew is in them. Again. "Hope Street", the Levellers' latest single, went straight in at No 12, as usual, hovered there for a while and fell down, as usual, to No 29. Then their album, Zeitgeist, out last week, went straight to No 2, as usual, and is expected to stay there for a while, as usual.

On the face of it, that's success, as is the fact that this week the Levellers were among the groups recording a track for Help!, the Bosnian benefit album. In this band of radical folk-rockers, he is what Atilla the Stockbroker has described as "the best fiddle player this side of Bobby Valentino". Valentino? He's the Clark Gable lookalike who used to play with Hank Wangford. Wangford? Just trust me. Or trust Sounds: "He proves it's not really necessary to own a Stradivarius to play brilliantly."

That's all very well as far as it goes, which is, I concede, a long way. But is it a sound profession with good job prospects and a bonus-enhanced pension plan? No, the career I always planned for him was more solid and regular. Suited, even. I had him down for an honest toiler in the humour industry. A reliable stand-up comic, perhaps, or a nine-to-five sitcom writer. Maybe the token funnyman in a serious Sunday paper.

Working for what was supposed to be a humorous magazine, I fondly imagined that I could be his mentor. I first met him, a five-year-old who shared my Christian name, before I had children of my own, and I began to make avuncular career plans for him.

He was always the joker in the family pack. He and a friend, also named Jonathan, had a party trick that involved bombarding the audience with dried cowpats. To avoid, or possibly to increase, confusion, he came up with new names for we three Jonathans, and also for his mother, who is not called Jonathan.

"He lives in a different world," she complained.

"Absolutely," I said happily.

The ability to create your own alternative universe, dafter than the real one, is a crucial part of a humorist's CV. What you need is virtual reality, and the less real the better. He was even of a humorous shape: six-and-a-half feet of beanpole; he wouldn't have to leave the stage at the close of a sketch, merely turn sideways.

For bedtime stories, I used to read him a copy of my magazine. (It worked: he always dropped off.) I planned to introduce him to some of the old pros I had interviewed over the years: the man who was No 1 in the Broadcasting House "Comedy Corridor"; two Goons; three Monty Pythons; four cartoonists.

We were working our way through this list when I began to suspect he was deviating from my career plan. He had lent me four albums, two comedy and two heavy metal; he soon asked for the rock LPs back but, more than a decade later, I still have the funny records. Then he changed his name from middle-class Jonathan to a no-nonsense, street-cred Jon.

He was beginning to dance to the beat of a different drum. It turned out to belong to young lad named Charlie, who now, as a slightly older lad named Charlie, can be heard walloping the skins on every Levellers album.

The two of them were getting together with a young man who did a bit of gardening for Jonathan's grandmother, and who once confessed to her shyly that his music was the most important thing in his life. She dismissively sent the dreamy horticulturalist off to fertilise the fuschia, little knowing that he would one day be known to Top of the Pops viewers as Mark, singer and guitarist.

The Levellers come from Brighton. After a long, dole-funded haul, they began to be heard in, among other places, our part of south London. I dropped my daughter at a local venue called the Venue and saw the fans queuing round the corner to hear my nephew. The Levellers don't play there any more; it's too small. On my 50th birthday they played the Brixton Academy; Jon gave me a ticket in the balcony, where it's not quite so loud.

An extra on Inspector Morse wore a Levellers T-shirt; on EastEnders, the cafe radio played a Levellers' song. When they made their first record, WH Smith couldn't trace it for me. Now the Levellers have their own labelled slot in the racks of the big stores. No festival for the homeless is complete without a guest appearance from "Brighton's ragged-trousered, philanthropissed troubadours" (Atilla again).

So bully for the boys in the band. But I still think Jon ought to get a day job to be on the safe side, such as scripting a new series of Men Behaving Badly (with jokes, this time round). The trouble is that the higher the Levellers' sales figures, the lower my hopes for his humorous career.

One desperate measure is left to me. You will have heard of the scam of artificially pushing a record up the charts; is it possible to fiddle things so that a new release can be brought down?

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