clipping from the 1999 Fringe programme



Jackie Leven
Radio Scotland session for Celtic Connections
23? Aug 1999
* The Mystery of Love is Greater Than The Mystery of Death COOK CD064
** Defending Ancient Springs - COOKCD 191
*** The Right To Remain Silent - The Mystery Supplement COOK CDS 064 (a bonus disk to *above).

IBBC Radio Scotlandf you read the opening page you will know that I stumbled across Mr Leven completely by accident. 1999 seemed to be the year for You've Lost That Loving Feeling CD single sleevefinding 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.)

Defending Ancient SpringsThings 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?"
"Yes, but there's a bit of lots of other people as well. I think I try and write on behalf of people, and I hope that when I do, when I'm writing at my best, is just touch on the things that people don't like to articulate too well because it can be a bit painful, but to just take a little bit of mystery away from all those subtle feelings we all have all the time."
A story about arriving in Australia that Jackie told the previous evening was recalled and he gave the 'cleaned up' version:
"I'd had a very, very, very long journey from Barra (Scotland) to Perth (not Scotland) and when I got to Perth in Australia the guy at customs had a look at all these CDs I had. Man Bleeds in Glasgow CD sleeveI had a CD called 'Man Bleeds in Glasgow' with me and he said "So you're saying that you're the bloke that made this CD?" I said "Well, yes, here's my name on my passport and there's the name on the record." So he says "Oh, well you'll know what's written on the CD then." So I said yes, of course I would, so he said "OK, tell me what's written inside." He then made me go through these lyrics the first line of which was "There's a road I have to walk to be free of this sorrow because I just can't take the taste of the salt on my chains". So he stopped me and says, "What did that mean" so I said "Which bit" and he says "The salt on my chains, what does that mean?" So I said "Well, you see the man in the song, and he said "Which is you" and I said Keeping an eye out for Australians in the audience"No, no, it's not me, it could be you as well, I'm writing on behalf of us all. The man in the song has cried so much that he has no more tears left to cry and that's the salt on his chains." So then he says, "But why would he be licking his chains?" and you never think about it when you're writing songs, you just write them so I said, "Right, er, well, he'll be licking his chains because sometimes we're wounded and chained in the same place, and where our central wound is, is that chained place. So what he's doing is, like an animal, he's in such pain he's trying to lick the wound but, of course, the chain is in the way so he's licking the chain." So the guy says "That's brilliant!". I said, "Yes, I know", so he says "Welcome to Australia." At that point I was so relieved it was all over I said "Well, listen, I'm playing tomorrow night at Fly By Night, you must come along." And he said, "Don't worry Jackie we've already got tickets, I just couldn't pass up an opportunity to see how your mind works!" As the presenter said, a brilliant story.

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?"
Jackie replied, "It's just a question of availability really but also what people want, like for instance the other night in Edinburgh - that audience really want to hear the stories I tell and hear me in that kind of a setting and they are prepared to say so to me. However, I play a lot in Germany where I sell quite a lot of records and they're mad keen on seeing me in a band setting so I take a band over there. So it's kind of confusing and I like doing both. I sort of like travelling alone as well. I find it very meditative I suppose.".
The Mystery of Love is Greater Than The Mystery of DeathOn the subject of solo albums Jackie said "Because the only people who make money out of my records are my record company, funnily enough, they allow me once a year to make a kind of solo live album which I've been doing for the last couple of years. I'm compiling one this year called 'The Wanderer' and that's nice too and it's certainly something I like doing and it's something a lot of the fans like too, just having that kind of solo voice kind of album."

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.

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