My introduction to Jackie Leven and his music was a complete accident. I was on holiday at my folks' in NE Scotland towards the end of August 1999. I tuned into a programme I had never listened to when I lived in Scotland, 'Celtic Connections', on the off-chance that there would be a feature on Wolfstone, a band that had recently reformed. In fact the trip to Scotland had been timed to catch Wolfstone playing one of their first shows since 1997 a couple od days earlier, Pitlochry Town Hall on August 21st.. The first track of the show was indeed by Wolfstone so I set the hi-fi to record the (hoped for) interview. Unfortunately there was no interview but I forgot to switch the recorder off and recorded the second track as well. That second track happened to be the first track of a session by a guy I'd never heard of before, Jackie Leven.
I liked what I heard, 'Stranger on the Square', so continued listening. The link between tracks was the fact that both Ivan Drever and Jackie were performing at the Fringe in Edinburgh that year, Jackie the night before the session. I'll detail the session on a separate page but continue the tale of my discovery of Leven here.
A few weeks later I happened to find out (having done a web search I think) that Jackie was playing in the same town that my girlfriend lived, Basingstoke, at the Arts Centre. We had never been to an Arts Centre gig before and, although Tracy wasn't initially convinced, we went along on the night and enjoyed a great evening of music and stories. In fact a good fifth (at least) of the on stage time must have been taken up by entertaining chat. Tracy was convinced of the man's talent by the finale and after the show I bought a couple of the CD singles he had on sale (I was left with just a tenner in my pocket after buying the tickets). Having heard that fan club CDs were available I was interested in purchasing a solo JL CD but the only one on sale was 'Man Bleeds in Glasgow' and that featured the Celtic soulmen in addition to Jackie.
Between that show and the 'Englishman, Irishman and Scotsman' tour I bought 'The Mystery of Love is Greater than the Mystery of Death', discovering it by accident in a sale in a London CD shop. It contained two of the tracks from the radio session plus another ten songs. I was, in a way, disappointed that the album contained more personnel than just Jackie. 'Clay Jug', the first track, contained a long monologue from Robert Bly and drums and bass and lacked the rawness of the radio and live performance. I felt this sapped some of the power of the songs in their stripped down live (and I guess originally written) form. Still, the songs were well written and enjoyable. An explanation of the difference between British live shows and the albums was given in the radio interview so I should have expected differences. It did mean that I waited before buying another CD - finally doing so at the E, I & S show when I bought 'Defending Ancient Spirits'.
Early the following year I joined the Leven Yahoo group (where I remained mainly a lurker until I created these pages) to find out more about the man. A couple of months into the year Cooking Vinyl released a limited edition (1500 - COOK CD 212) box set at the bargain price of £15 containing, fortunately for me, 'Fairy Tales For Hard Men', 'Forbidden songs of the Dying West', 'Control and The Wanderer'. Needless to say I snapped the set up and worked towards the full 14 CD collection. In May Jackie played the 12 Bar Club in central London and, on the day, I went in to get a ticket. Unfortunately the combination of a tiny bar and popular artist meant I was out of luck. In August, with a new CD to promote ('Creatures of Light and Darkness' - COOKCD 213),a full tour was organised, the first half of the month in England while the latter half of the month included an extended run of dates at the Edinburgh Fringe. I intended going in to London for the first night (at the Borderline) but, on the day decided not to as a few days later was a date in Southampton which coincided with my sisters visiting so all four of us made the journey for an entertaining show. I had purposefully not bought the CD in advance despite HMV having a special offer on it, as I thought it better to buy direct from the artist. Unfortunately the record company had failed to send copies out for the tour so I bought 'Man Bleeds in Glasgow' instead as it was the only CD available not already in my collection. With a batch of Edinburgh shows coinciding with another trip North my plan now is to catch one or two on the way North and return the following weekend for a couple more. With Jackie seemingly picking songs as he plays the sets should vary enough to make it worthwhile.
So far the Jackie Leven shows I've been lucky enough to get along to are:
2? Aug 1999 Radio
If you have never heard anything by Jackie the Unofficial site (jackieleven.com) has a variety of music files available. Click on the Music Samples link to find them.