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
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 "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
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.
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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,
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!
(or Patterson as the mag claimed)