Helpless Dancer

The Endless Note

New Music – Jackie Leven

Jackie Leven made his first forays into the music business in the late 1960s under the pseudonym “John St Field” and recorded one album, Control, in 1971. Leven admits this is probably his favourite album and he loves the bass playing, which is all his.

In the following years he travelled, but enthusiastic about punk, he formed the band Doll by Doll in 1978. Despite having a unique and powerful live act, this band never broke through to the mainstream. They released four albums between 1979 and 1982. Blending LSD visions, folk, blues, Celtic, psychedelic and punk influences the band, which featured Leven as main songwriter, often explored the darker side of human nature (“Butcher Boy”, “Sleeping Partners”, “The Palace of Love”), contrasted with the tough, almost macho tenderness of songs such as “Stripshow”, “Chances” and “Hey Sweetheart”.

After Doll by Doll disintegrated in 1983, Leven embarked on his solo career. However, a vicious and unprovoked assault in the street during the recording of his first solo album in 1984 left him unable to speak for nearly two years – the after-effects of near strangulation. During this time he slid into heroin addiction. Despite this he managed to collaborate with fellow ex-Doll by Dolls Joe Shaw and David Macintosh plus ex-Sex Pistol Glen Matlock to release the single “Big Tears” under the name “Concrete Bulletproof Invisible”.

The record was a Melody Maker single of the week in 1988. He eventually cured himself of his addiction though a mixture of acupuncture and psychic healing: this led him to form the CORE Trust, which favours a holistic approach to the treatment of heroin addiction.

In 1994 his solo career started in earnest with the release of the album The Mystery of Love is Greater than the Mystery of Death, which earned much critical praise. Since then he has been extremely prolific, releasing another 15 official albums, including a joint album with crime writer Ian Rankin Jackie Leven Said, featuring the keyboards of Michael Cosgrave. In addition to these official releases, he has released a number of limited edition, fanclub-only live albums through the Haunted Valley fanzine and website.

In 2006 Leven released the album Songs For Lonely Americans using the pseudonym “Sir Vincent Lone”. A second Sir Vincent Lone CD, When The Bridegroom Comes (Songs For Women), was recorded a year later: initially sold only at live shows, it proved so successful that it eventually saw commercial release by his record company, Cooking Vinyl.

 His latest release could well be his best to date “Gothic Road” is released this month.

The following review is from

Despite his clunky name-dropping of Arctic Monkeys early in his premiership, its hard to think of Gordon Brown as a rock and roll man. It was amusing then to learn at a gig last night that Brown is an exact contemporary of Jackie Leven, a great musical maverick who I often think of as Britain’s lost rock star.

Leven is probably the most talented singer-songwriter never to have become a household name, producing neglected masterpieces since 1971, while leading a dramatic and colourful life.

Both Leven and Brown are 59 years old and hail from Kircaldy in Fife, where they attended Kircaldy High School. One of the pair became the first schoolboy in Scotland to be busted for drugs, formed cult band Doll By Doll, was nearly murdered in a vicious mugging which left him unable to talk or sing for a year, became a heroin addict, lost his girlfriend to the Dalai Llama’s bodyguard, self-cured and established an addiction charity of which Princess Diana became patron and has released over thirty albums rich with poetry, melody and the metaphysics and mysteries of life. The other became Prime Minister.

At an intimate gig at the Slaughtered Lamb in London to launch his latest wonderful album, ‘Gothic Road’, Leven (one of the great raconteurs, though not always the most reliable of narrators) described a recent encounter with his old school mate (who, it must be stressed, Leven considers a “political hero”).

On his new album, Leven collaborates with that great English troubadour, Ralph McTell. In October, 2009, McTell was honoured by the UK Parliament’s All Party Folk Music Group at a special award ceremony in the House of Commons, to celebrate his lifetime’s contribution to folk music. Leven was invited as McTell’s guest. It was, according to Leven, an extraordinary event, in which grown MPs started to sniffle and blubber during McTell’s iconic Streets Of London, until a wave of weeping swept through the room and reached the stage, causing McTell himself to break down in tears.

Afterwards, Leven claims he was standing with McTell when the Prime Minister approached to be introduced to McTell. Obviously he needed no introduction to Leven, who was greeted (to judge by Leven’s comedic performance) with a slightly suspicious “Oh, hello Jackie.” “Hello Gordon.”

Brown had a question about McTell’s classic ballad. “I have heard that when you originally wrote Streets Of London it was actually Streets Of Paris. I suppose you changed it to London for sound economic reasons?”

“No Prime Minister,” responded McTell. “I was living in Paris at the time I wrote it, but half way through I realised that I was really writing about London.”

Brown was not to be dissuaded from his theory, however. “All the same, I am sure that sound economic reasons must have played a part in the change.”

Despite the status of his interrogator, McTell was getting politely annoyed with this suggestion. “No, Prime Minister,” he insisted. “I was a young man and I wasn’t thinking about things like money, I was just trying to write the best song I could, and express my feelings about London.”

Brown was, apparently, not entirely satisfied with this version of the song’s creation. “That’s as may be,” he said. “But, of course, I assume you are aware that many of the conditions you describe in that song have been alleviated under New Labour.”

Where some hear poetry, others hear only statistics …

‘Gothic Road’, which will be released by Cooking Vinyl on April 4th. It contains a beautiful duet with McTell on ‘Cornelius Whalen’, a tribute to the last of the Jarrow marchers.

If you haven’t yet heard Leven’s work, despite my many entreaties in the Telegraph, then I urge you to put that right. You could start with ‘Gypsy Blood’, his lost masterpiece with his band Doll By Doll, and then catch up with some of his remarkable solo work, perhaps ‘The Mystery of Love Is Greater Than Death’ (1994), Fairytales For Hardmen (1997), Defending Ancient Springs (2000) or ‘Troubadour Years’ (under his alter ego Sir Vincent Lone) (2009).

Here is my favourite track from the album.

“Hotel Mini Bar” – Jackie Leven

To buy the music of Jackie Leven click HERE

April 22, 2010 Posted by | New Music, New Releases, Video | | 3 Comments

The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan, ‘The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan’. sleeve was captured off Jones Street and West 4th Street in New York’s Greenwich Village, Dylan and his girlfriend Suze Rotolo pose a short distance from their apartment. Rotolo saw the sleeve as a “cultural marker” of “spontaneity and sensibility”, whatever the hell that means.

Anyway Suze Rotolo has done alright by it, her book as highlighted below is next up on my list of books I have lying around for reading.

The girl with the wistful eyes and hint of a smile whose head is resting on the suede-jacketed shoulder of a nice-looking young man as they trudge through the snow on the cover of 1963’s The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan met with his Bobness in 1961, when she was 17 and he was 20.

The story of their love affair is a microcosm of the early Sixties, when the gentle strains of folk music gave way to the electronic blare of rock and a few puffs of pot turned into a bad trip on LSD. For Rotolo, it was a trajectory that would take her from the sweetness of first love to the trauma of abortion.

Dylan maniacs will scour these pages for clues to his lyrics – and find plenty. But they’ll miss the point of this oddly organised (though not as random as it seems), delicately written, heart-tugging memoir of New York’s Greenwich Village when it nearly was a village, and seemed the most exciting place on earth in which to be young. Rotolo’s volume includes a map showing how closely packed into a few streets of the West Village the epicentre of the Sixties music scene was. One only needed to walk up Bleeker Street to get from Gerde’s Folk City – where in September 1961 Robert Shelton discovered Bob Dylan and wrote the career-launching review in the New York Times – to the White Horse, where Dylan Thomas drank himself to death less than seven years earlier, and we all hung out at its tables trying to catch the vibes (though it was a few months earlier, and in Chicago not New York, that the kid from the Midwest, his bid to perform rejected, slept on my floor for a few nights during a folk festival).

Rotolo, now an artist, captures this bohemian atmosphere with loving detail. Those who knew the scene will not be surprised to learn that it was she who taught small-town Bobby Allen Zimmerman about politics. She was the child of communists, whose affiliation had to be kept secret all through the Fifties and Sixties because of the overt persecution the family would have suffered during the McCarthy period.

Rotolo seems refreshingly free of the paranoia that afflicted many of our generation and virtually all her parents’ cohorts, which manifested itself in the habit of hiding copies of the Communist Manifesto and Little Lenin Library books from the eyes of neighbours in the Westchester suburbs. Dylan knew left-wing politics from the dust-bowl perspective of Woody Guthrie, whom he finally met as Guthrie lay dying in a New Jersey hospital in 1961. But it was from Rotolo that he learnt about the labour movement and the organised left, as well as about the civil rights and peace movements. In a way, Dylan’s Jewish background equipped him better for life in Greenwich Village than did Rotolo’s Italian heritage. Both her parents were Italian-born, but the culture (and personnel) of the left was strongly Jewish. There was a slightly frosty meeting of Rotolo and the Zimmerman parents for dinner after Dylan’s under-attended Town Hall concert in April 1963, and another in October for his Carnegie Hall appearance.

Following a temporary separation when Rotolo went to Perugia in 1962 to study, they were together until she decided to move out of the small flat they shared. Then, slowly, the romance fizzled out. Rotolo is generous about the break-up. Did Dylan leave her for Joan Baez? She says only that Dylan and Baez’s ‘professional appearances together were exciting and provoked gossip about an affair. At first it was just gossip – then, of course, it wasn’t.’ And she hasn’t quite kissed and told. As she says: ‘As Bob Dylan’s fame grew so far out of bounds, I felt I had secrets to keep.’ She still has a few.

Review byPaul Levy originally published in The Observer 21st September 2008, published here in edited form.

“A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” – Bob Dylan

Oh, where have you been, my blue-eyed son ?
And where have you been my darling young one ?
I’ve stumbled on the side of twelve misty mountains
I’ve walked and I’ve crawled on six crooked highways
I’ve stepped in the middle of seven sad forests
I’ve been out in front of a dozen dead oceans
I’ve been ten thousand miles in the mouth of a graveyard
And it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard, and it’s a hard
It’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall.

Oh, what did you see, my blue eyed son ?
And what did you see, my darling young one ?
I saw a newborn baby with wild wolves all around it
I saw a highway of diamonds with nobody on it
I saw a black branch with blood that kept drippin’
I saw a room full of men with their hammers a-bleedin’
I saw a white ladder all covered with water
I saw ten thousand takers whose tongues were all broken
I saw guns and sharp swords in the hands of young children
And it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard, and it’s a hard
It’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall.

And what did you hear, my blue-eyed son ?
And what did you hear, my darling young one ?
I heard the sound of a thunder, it roared out a warnin’
I heard the roar of a wave that could drown the whole world
I heard one hundred drummers whose hands were a-blazin’
I heard ten thousand whisperin’ and nobody listenin’
I heard one person starve, I heard many people laughin’
Heard the song of a poet who died in the gutter
Heard the sound of a clown who cried in the alley
And it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard
And it’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall.

Oh, who did you meet my blue-eyed son ?
Who did you meet, my darling young one ?
I met a young child beside a dead pony
I met a white man who walked a black dog
I met a young woman whose body was burning
I met a young girl, she gave me a rainbow
I met one man who was wounded in love
I met another man who was wounded in hatred
And it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard
And it’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall.

And what’ll you do now, my blue-eyed son ?
And what’ll you do now my darling young one ?
I’m a-goin’ back out ‘fore the rain starts a-fallin’
I’ll walk to the deepths of the deepest black forest
Where the people are a many and their hands are all empty
Where the pellets of poison are flooding their waters
Where the home in the valley meets the damp dirty prison
Where the executioner’s face is always well hidden
Where hunger is ugly, where souls are forgotten
Where black is the color, where none is the number
And I’ll tell and think it and speak it and breathe it
And reflect it from the mountain so all souls can see it
Then I’ll stand on the ocean until I start sinkin’
But I’ll know my songs well before I start singin’
And it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard, and it’s a hard
It’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall.

To buy the music of Bob Dylan click HERE

To buy the book by Suze Rotolo click HERE

April 22, 2010 Posted by | Books, Interesting Fact, Old Music, Video | , | Leave a comment


%d bloggers like this: