If you read the opening page you will know that I stumbled across Mr Leven completely by accident. 1999 seemed to be the year for finding new (to me) talent in unexpected places, with Jump when they supported Pallas, and John Young at the Whitchurch Festival a couple of weeks before this radio show. As I'd never really listened to the programme before I had no idea of the format of the show and assumed sessions were recorded in advance and just played back from tape. Backing this up was the fact that the first track, STRANGER ON THE SQUARE, was merely introduced with no mention of the artist being present in the studio. The simplicity and depth of the song (a tale of a trip to an unnamed European city with Jackie being the titular 'stranger') plus the very listenable voice struck me straight away. Likewise the second song was simply introduced as "you've heard one song from him ... and now we're going to hear I SAW MY LOVE WALK INTO CLOUDS." The whistle and guitar drumming rhythm was more apparent in this track, a lament for lost love. The female DJ, whose name I'm afraid I don't remember, back introduced the song and casually added to Jackie "and how are you after your gig?". That surprised me as did his first comment, "I'm still a little hung over actually" before they chatted a little about the show the previous (? - Jackie kept saying "the other night") evening at the Grouse House and the good sound mix at it.
(Update 22 Aug 2001: two years on I came across the 1999 Fringe programme and managed to fix a date for the gig. The Famous Grouse House , 5 Chambers Street, Venue 34 was the venue on Saturday August 22, 1999. The comment in the programme was "singing and songs aptly described as 'Celtic Soul' - possibly the most formidable, beautiful performer in the UK today." There was just one performance that year and it was at the more normal time of 21:45-23:30, cost £7.50 - £5.50 for concessions. If the radio show was broadcast on a Sunday then the gig would have been the night before. Unfortunately I can only remember that CC was broadcast twice a week in 1999, possibly originally on a Sunday then repeated on a Tuesday. As of August 2001 it is only one once, a Tuesday evening.)
moved on to an explanation of the vast number of albums Jackie had
released up to that point, 14, and where his inspiration came from.
Jackie explained that releasing one a year drove his record company
completely mad. In an Australian accent "Jackie, you're making
too many records" He continued by explaining that "that's
what I'm about" and that "I went through a huge creative
burst over the last seven years (by) going to a Greek Island for two
months of the year and I've just written so many songs I want to get
them all on record before something terrible happens to me and it
all stops." Asked if he found it hard to write songs Jackie explained
"No. I used to worry about it. I think when you're younger you
think, should it be this word, should it be that chord, but now that
I've matured it's easier. It's like alcohol, it's easy!" The
conversation moved on to the subjects covered in the songs and the
query "is there a bit of yourself in all of your songs?"
With that, it was time for the songs to do the talking again with the more aggressively played CALL MOTHER A LONELY FIELD. The antipodean link continued with mention of the WOMAD shows Jackie is involved with. "I think I've become a sort of representative of Scotland in the WOMAD world which is very gratifying because it means you do get to go to places like Australia, New Zealand and then Bali and South Africa and it's a fantastic kind of travelling community . This year WOMAD went through all those places and it meant meeting people like the Burundi drummers and other kinds of great musicians over and over again and staying in the same hotels."
The next question
interested me in particular - especially after buying Jackie's Cooking
Vinyl CDs, "You're obviously playing solo now and when I've seen
you before you're playing solo but your albums have all got well,
maybe not your band, but session musicians on them. Why do you do
it that way, why don't you tour with a band?"
On influences, "As I've got older I've discovered that I tend to like particular songs by people rather than go overboard about a whole artist as it were. My favourite artist is Chet Baker who is thought of as a jazz trumpeter but I just absolutely adore his singing. And I like the singing of Nat King Cole as well. At my record company there is a woman called Ani DiFranco (who had been on the programme) and she's got some great, great songs that I totally admire. There's one called 'Untouchable Face' which you probably couldn't play but it's just a song of genius. She's driven, just like me."
Asked if he listened to traditional music Jackie explained "Yes I do, especially if I'm in Australia and New Zealand. It's chock-a-block full of good traditional playing ... so I hear a kind of good quality of traditional music out there and I love traditional songs. I'm not so much a folk fan but I am a fan of ancient and traditional songs. I played last year in Aberdeen with a guy called Martin Brown, he's a young guy who plays a four string guitar. He only sings songs which are from a fifteen mile radius of his home in Wiltshire. I really admire people doing that sort of thing." Another 'Mystery of Love...' track followed the extended chat, THE CRAZY SONG.
The session was wound up towards the end of the show with a brief thank you and one final track, the "real weepy" SINGLE FATHER. And that was the show and five tracks that hooked me on Jackie Leven. I just wished that I'd listened to show when I lived in Scotland as I may have picked up on more good music.