The cover of Wondrous Stories that the article appeared in

Jackie Leven
Experiencing Jackie Leven
A slightly altered report on life on the road with Jackie in Germany - originally published in the Classic Rock Society magazine Wondrous Stories, Issue 120, Jan 2002

No encore, Jackie doesn't believe in them

The picture that appeared in the articleJackie who?
You are probably asking who is this Jackie Leven bloke? Surely a Scotsman with a thirty year musical heritage can't be of interest to us if he's not been featured before in the hallowed pages of Wondrous Stories. How wrong you would be. If you enjoy your music backed by thoughtful, poetic or, in some cases just plain odd, lyrics then read on.

Jackie's career began as one half of a duo, St Judas, with fellow Fifer Colin Soutar before supporting many 70's acts as a solo performer (under the pseudonym David St John). Later Jackie formed Doll By Doll (thrown off the Devo tour "for not being Devo enough") in the late 1970's. In the mid 80's Jackie was almost killed by strangulation while returning from a recording studio one evening. This resulted in loss of voice for a year or two and he turned to heroin for comfort. Eventually he broke his dependency and set up the CORE Trust in 1985 (which is supported by a number of rock stars) to help others out of similar addictions. With a recovered, if different, voice Jackie began recording again and since 1994 has been releasing almost an album a year on Cooking Vinyl. Oh, and he now has a whisky named after him.

A little look behind the scenes.
Last month I was lucky enough to be offered the chance of a two-week trip to Germany as merchandiser for Jackie as he promoted his latest album 'Creatures of Light and Darkness'. This was the first time I'd experienced a tour 'from the inside' and thought a few words on the experience would interest members of the Classic Rock Society. The experience certainly changed my view of the 'delights' of touring. You may have noticed that I keep using the word 'experience' and there is a reason for that. The tour was billed as Poster advertising the show outside the venue"The Jackie Leven Experience" (we wondered about that when we saw the first tour poster) and I feel it perfectly sums up a live Jackie Leven show. With a musical life that has experienced folk through punk and settled in a blues based acoustic 'Celtic soul' Jackie also manages to squeeze poignant, hilarious, sad and plain sick jokes or tales into the live set. An evening with Jackie is certainly an experience never to be forgotten.

I had little experience of proper merchandising other than at the odd Qango or Greenslade show and knew Jackie even less well. I landed the job by replying to a posting on an email newsgroup (despite what some may believe the internet is a wonderful creation) so the tour was a learning experience in more ways than one. The first person I got to know on the tour was Mike Cosgrave, the keyboard player that backed Jackie's acoustic guitar, as we both flew out on the same plane and had a three hour drive from Hamburg to the first show, Bremen. Jackie had spent the previous evening in Bremen so I managed to find out a little more about the touring experience from Mike in advance of reality. That reality hit a couple of days later after I realised that the 'couple of hours work a night' I'd expected was more like a minimum of seven on a show day. Like most of you I'd not really given much thought to the reality of bands touring small or medium sized clubs and halls. I'd always thought it must be a fairly easy life, playing music for a couple of hours a night, staying in hotels and being driven around between towns. My experience differed slightly from that and I feel it only fair to pass the details on so that the next time a band member gives you less than the time you expect you may remember that they've probably had a long day too.

This tour was a bit of a rarity, most of the venues were reasonably short drives (one to three hundred kilometres) in a sensibly routed anticlockwise direction round the country. Because of these reasonable drives we could leave the hotel fairly late, 11am being the norm. A two or three hour drive later we'd arrive at the next hotel, check in and have an hour or so to look around the town, catch 40 winks or phone a loved one. By 5pm we would head off to the venue for the soundcheck and, despite the rider explaining exactly the equipment required to be set up in advance, a wait for the gear to be unpacked. With this delay people became a little exasperated, especially in the out of town venues with just the odour of the neighbouring slaughterhouse to take the musicians minds off the inefficiency. I at least could unload the couple of dozen boxes of CDs, find a suitable table or two, and work on my display for the evening.

Knowing that merchandise sales are what tends to make a tour viable I was determined to maximise sales. To this end I put a bit of work in before the tour by preparing some laminated sheets with details of the available albums and a few quotes below culled from the music press and websites.

Deep in the Heart of Nowhere CD coverThe largest display was saved not for the latest studio CD but a limited edition one released on the Haunted Valley label. The Haunted Valley is a magazine edited by an old friend of Jackie's, Mike Nolan. In addition to four magazines every year one free CD is included in the subscription. Another CD is released for sale at gigs (and through the magazine), the current one being 'Deep in the Heart of Nowhere', recorded last year in Brighton. With most people having bought the studio CD before the show 'Deep in the Heart.' ensured healthy sales throughout the evening. With everything set there was usually time for a quick bite to eat (outwith the venue if we were lucky) before doors opening and the show. I had to be behind the stall for opening time so meals were usually a bit of a rush, or a burger if I was really unfortunate.

The live Experience.
I don't think my review can really do justice to the show but I will try to give you a flavour of what to expect.

Jackie singing his heart outMike and Jackie casually sauntered onstage just after nine and, after a short tuning check, would run straight into the loudest track of the set, 'Call Mother a Lonely Field', a striking opening number, the crashing chords alone enough to attract the last dregs from the bar. Jackie led the track while Mike added quiet colouration on the keyboards before taking a more active role on piano for 'Single Father', a track about the sadness of losing both a wife and son in different ways. (Mike appears only at some UK shows - none of the ones I'd been to before this tour. However, Jackie can easily hold the audience with just voice and acoustic guitar that he uses as a percussion instrument as well as the more normal stringed variant.).

After a couple of sombre tunes the mood was lightened with some entertaining banter and a song with an interesting premise, a horse that becomes a private detective! It sounds odd but the lyrics to 'Billy Ate My Pocket' make sense of probably the oddest introduction in the set. After the song Billy's services were offered to anyone that suspected they had a similar problem. With one advert over it was time for the big one, a plug for his "fantastic new album 'Creatures of Light and Darkness'". He was fair about it though, demanding that if anybody knew a better recent release to tell him as he wanted to know about it.

Mike Cosgrave, trumpet and keyboardsAdvert over it was time to play a new and unreleased tune before moving into what could almost be classed two songs in one. Over a long repeated string-picking introduction Jackie explained the background to the song - his early years working in the Haig whisky factory - a lament to an old friend 'Jim O'Windygates' before breaking into the song itself.

From there on the set varied each evening as the feeling took the two musicians. Probably the most impressive tale told was the longest, almost ten minutes some evenings, about a train journey Jackie took from Edinburgh to his home town of Kirkcaldy where he tried to remove a sleeping man in the next seat from his 'personal space'. Needless to say the method used caused more trouble than it should have and the listener is left wondering just how much of the tale is true.

A sensitive side was shown by the introduction to 'Exit Wound, a track that uses a beautiful line Queen Elizabeth I wrote the mother of the deceased Duke of Anjou. A cheekier side was shown on the occasions 'The Sexual Loneliness of Jesus Christ' was played. Jackie had initially wanted to title the album after the track but for some reason the record company preferred a different title.

After an almost two hour show Jackie mingled with his public as I sold CDs and then packed up. We left the venues at any time from midnight to two thirty and returned to the hotel for a good nights sleep. Unfortunately something would usually wake me between 7 and 8 am, a strimmer, builder or siren, and it would be welcome to another day of the Experience. A fortnight later I returned home exhausted, wiser and having seen ten magnificent shows all in return for a bit of merchandising. What a bargain.

To sum Jackie up, if you can imagine a cross between an East coast Billy Connolly and a much richer, bass baritone voiced Bob Dylan then you may be getting close to a night with Jackie Leven. The only way to really Experience the man is to see him on tour. You won't be disappointed. Oh, the whisky mention earlier in the article is not from Haig but is called 'Leven' s Lament'.

Further details from http://jackieleven.com
Or Mike Nolan : Mick@haunted-valley.freeserve.co.uk
The Haunted Valley,
P.O. Box 5097
DE56 4ZR
United Kingdom
Jackie is on tour during December 2001:
01 - Cork, Lobby Bar, 02 - Dublin, The Cobblestone Bar, 03 - The Phoenix Arts Centre, Exeter, 05 - Bournemouth, Mr Smiths, 06 - Milton Keynes, The Stables , 07 - Jackie and The Stornaway Girls, (Haunted Valley event), Leicester, The Musician Pub, 08 - Jackie and The Stornaway Girls, (Haunted Valley event), Milford Social Club, Milford, Derbyshire, 09 - Worcester, Marrs Bar, 11 - Huddersfield, Acoustic Club, Abrahams Cafe Bar, 12 - Sunderland, The Ropery, 13 - London, The Borderline, Orange Yard

As an interesting aside the man featured on the cover of the magazine pictures above is Ray Wilson who I saw at the Edinburgh Festival about an hour and a half after seein Jackie perform. The following evening we went to see Fish perform about 20 miles outside Edinburgh and Fish was involved in the CORE trust for a while. Small world, isn't it!
Doug Anderson (or Patterson as the mag claimed)

If you have any comments about this page then please contact me.

BACK to the previous Jackie LEVEN review
Rock Review Home page
FORWARD to the next Jackie LEVEN review
band web links
  This page is Copyright © Doug Anderson 2000 - 2003. Created: 6 Jan 2002. Last updated: {last update}.