(Julian) Keith Levene began working as a roadie for prog-rockers Yes in 1974 while he was supposed to be at school! April 1976 he briefly became a founder member of The Clash. However, conflicts with Mick Jones led to his departure in September of that year.
Keith passed through two rehearsal-only bands during autumn and winter of 1976/77, The Quickspurts and then the almost mythical Flowers Of Romance. Exactly when Keith joined The Flowers of Romance is unclear. However, he later claimed to be a founder member along with Sid Vicious and Viv Albertine. Around this time he also encouraged The Slits (including Ari Up) to form and helped them learn guitar.
Keith met John Lydon when The Clash supported the Sex Pistols in Sheffield, July 1976. Two years later, John drafted Keith in to co-found Public Image Ltd. (PIL) in spring 1978. Keith would be an extremely important partner in PIL, paving out the musical and social direction for the band along with John Lydon and Jah Wobble. He eventually left PIL in 1983 amid much animosity.
In 1984 Keith Levene moved to the West Coast of America, largely giving up music for a brief period. He soon returned to music and finally got to dabble with soundtracks and film, contributing to the 1986 score of 'Hollywood Vice Squad'. Although he does not appear on the soundtrack album, various tracks from the film later appeared on his '2011 - Back To Black' EP.
Throughout the 80s and early 90s, Keith worked with On-U Sound's Adrian Sherwood, playing on projects by Creation Rebel, the Singers And Players, Gary Clail's On-U Sound System (meeting up with Jah Wobble once again in the process), the Barmy Army and Dub Syndicate. Keith recalls his time working with Adrian Sherwood in the early days with some fondness, explaining how his PIL involvement brought him to Sherwood's door:
"The work I did with Adrian Sherwood and Creation Rebel was pretty intense … it was dark at times, there's no question about it, but we had a lot of fun as well. Adrian Sherwood wasn't at the centre of the Gunther Grove PIL scene, but he was certainly a part of it. I was really keen to get involved with Creation Rebel, African Head Charge, Style Scott and the others. I tried to get John Lydon involved with Creation Rebel and the other musicians too, but he [almost completely] didn't. I don't know why.
Around that time, everyone wanted to be around John, and John was just so into roots music and dubwise. John liked Adrian too. As for me, I loved Adrian when he was broke, when he made those early On-U Sound albums from inspiration, purely for the love and joy of it."
Keith remembers in particular the early African Head Charge albums:
"I remember the excitement of tunes like 'Elastic Dance' from 'My Life In A Hole In The Ground' and Adrian saying to me, 'Keith, the talking drum! The talking drum! Just listen to the f***ing talking drum!' The truth is, I [really] liked the way Adrian worked on the desk. And his house musicians were brilliant.
It wasn't all good in those early On-U days though -- sometimes you could cut the atmosphere with a knife the mood was just so bad. You can hear the darkness, the coldness, the heaviness, mirrored in the sounds. Recording with Creation Rebel down at The Manor was nothing short of surreal sometimes. Pure madness. The credits on the sleeves were often wrong as well -- quite a few of the tunes I played on and worked on I wasn't credited for on the sleeve notes."
Keith released his first post-PIL solo album 'Violent Opposition' in 1989. After that, with the exception of a couple of low-key guest appearances, he remained relatively quiet until 2000, when he resurfaced in London with his 'Missing Channel' project and website.
In the last few years Keith has been offered various production and session work with other artists, the majority of which he has turned down in favour of concentrating on his own work. He recently recorded with Mark Stewart on an album released in 2007.
(Adapted and supplemented by the editor from a Keith Levene biography at www.fodderstompf.com/MEMBERS/levene.html and an interview conducted by Greg Whitfield transcribed in several parts, starting at www.punk77.co.uk/groups/clashkeithlevineinterview.htm)