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 http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk

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

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April 22, 2010 - Posted by | New Music, New Releases, Video |

3 Comments »

  1. Thanks for the Jackie Leven content. He’s one of music’s best kept secrets. Regarding Doll by Doll gigs – I attended one in
    1979 and I’m still recovering.

    Comment by Phil | April 22, 2010 | Reply

  2. […] To review original post click HERE […]

    Pingback by 2010 Top 30 New and Old #30 « Helpless Dancer | December 1, 2010 | Reply

  3. Good article – loved doll by doll, loved Jackies solo work. Not so sure about Ralph Mctell – stole the music for streets of London from Al Stewarts Samuel, oh how you’ve changed.

    Comment by peter | August 24, 2012 | Reply


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