View Full Version : Leven's Lament - 'try it, you'll be sadder but wiser'

Jason P
27-04-2009, 22:52
OK, so following in the vein of the recent threads about musicians, I'm going to attempt to introduce an artiste that I think is criminally underrated and ignored by the mainstream. Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome onstage Mr Jackie Leven...

I came across Jackie purely by accident, buying 'on spec' an album of his simply because it featured Mike Scott, and being a bit of a Waterboys completist I had to have it. The album was the enigmatically titled 'The Mystery of Love is Greater than the Mystery of Death' and from the opening bars I knew I was smitten.

So some background. Jackie was a founder of the 80s act Doll by Doll, critically acclaimed but at odds with the cartoon violence of punk and it's antithesis, the new-wave synth pop emerging at the time. After their split, whilst recording a solo album, Jackie was attacked and nearly murdered by strangulation - leaving him unable to sing, and starting a slow descent in to eventual heroin addiction. A chance meeting with Princess Di (following his successful, self-instigated rehabilitation) kickstarted his career once more and his output ever since, starting with the aforesaid 'Mystery...', has been prolific. More of his bio can be found here. (http://www.jackieleven.co.uk/biography.php)

So what's his music like? No other songwriter for me paints such poignant, powerful imagery addressing the hardships of modern life, love and loss. Couple this with masterful guitar playing and a haunting command of melody it adds up to some of the most original albums I've heard, and each new release seems to get better. Live, he is a fabulous raconteur and weaves yarns so hilarious, unbelievable (and often rude) that you really can't tell if they're real or not, but the inter-song banter is as much a part of the gig -and the man - as the songs themselves. Only thing is he doesn't exactly fill the pop star image - seeing him and David Thomas (Pere Ubu frontman and sometime Leven collaborator) onstage together is quite a sight!

From the album Shining Brother, Shining Sister : My Philosophy (http://www.youtube.com/v/VAzFhpR9Y0w&hl=en&fs=1&rel=0)

For me he really speaks to something deep inside; often his albums are littered with poetic verse set to music, often with contributors voicing them - I'd cite 'Faces' on 'Shining Brother...', a haunting piece by Rainer Maria Rilke, spoken by David Thomas as a particular favourite.

Leven's songs are multi-faceted. Imagery of the nobility of the working man, the shattering of our industrial heritage and the fractured communities that result sit alongside more universal truths about love and loss, rage and dispair - but don't think they're depressing, for me there is great beauty to be found. His voice is fantastic - Stuart Maconie described him as one of the great soul voices of the modern age - and his album production, whilst not grand in scale, is impeccable.

'Exit Wound (http://www.youtube.com/v/1Unw7cLi2_U&hl=en&fs=1&rel=0)' from Creatures of Light and Darkness

and 'Poortoun (http://www.youtube.com/v/1Unw7cLi2_U&hl=en&fs=1&rel=0)' (live bootleg, so not brill quality)

So where to start for the JL virgin? I'd pick a title and jump in, if you get where he's coming from you'll be smitten like me. His latest, 'Lovers at the Gun Club', is a more country-tinged affair featuring Johnny Dowd and includes a haunting guest track by David Childers - something he does increasingly on his albums much to the chargrin of his record label.
'Elegy to Johnny Cash' (featuring Robert Fisher from Willard Grant Conspiracy) has a diverse mix of country, blues and the odd bit of hip-hop (really).

'Shining Brother Shining Sister' and 'Creatures of Light and Darkness' are perhaps my favourites, though this changes with the weather and my mood - they are, perhaps, more homogenous as albums. From the latter, 'My Spanish Dad' is a wonderful song of loss and memory, 'Billy Ate My Pocket' tells the tale of a horse inadvertantly revealing infidelity, and 'The Sexual Loneliness of Jesus Christ' takes a poignant look at what happes when you become disconnected from important parts of being human. It's title pretty much precluded single release though. From 'Shining Brother...' standout tracks for me are the aforesaid Faces, and the opener 'Classic Northern Diversions' - 'I took a train out of Leeds in the smear and stain, I watched the city pass by in the shuffling rain...'

Earlier work like 'Forbidden Songs of the Dying West' and Night Lillies, though, concede little to his later work. from 'Fordbidden Songs...' the beautiful, melancholy 'Men in Prison' featuing backing form a cornish male voice choir is a standout, along with Working Alone/A Blessing, lyrically superb with what for me is one of the most beautiful pieces of spoken verse put to music...

Just off the highway to Rochester, Minnesota
Twighlight bounds softly forth on the grass
And the eyes of those two Indian ponies
Darken with kindness
They have gladly come out of the willows
To welcome my friend and me
We step over the barbed wire into the pasture
Where they have been grazing all day, alone
They ripple tenslely, they can hardly contain their
happiness that we have come
They bow shyly as wet swans
They love each other.
There is no loneliness like theirs...

Looking across the back catalogue makes you realise this isn't an artist maturing, but rather one who is simply getting into their stride. His record company refuse to put out more than one album every 18 months so he has a pseudonym, Sir Vincent Lone, under which he's released another 2 albums.

Those of you with a penchant for crime thrillers will know Leven is one of Rebus' favourite artists, and JL collaborated with Ian Rankin on the spoken word/music crossover album 'Jackie Leven Said' - maybe a good intro if your an Ian Rankin fan too.

More info and some sample tracks on his myspace page (http://www.myspace.com/thejackieleven), and for some background reading with good anecdotes his website is www.jackieleven.co.uk (http://www.jackieleven.co.uk).

Amazon have the best selection of his work, and many samples - have a gander here (http://www.amazon.co.uk/s/ref=nb_ss_w_h_?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=jackie+leven&x=0&y=0) and see what you think.

So forgive this blatant puff-piece for one of my favourite artists, but if he gives you a fraction of the pleasure I've gotten from his music it'll be worth it!


BTW, the thread title comes from a quote by Salman Rushdie about Leven's Lament, a whisky he brews. Allegedly.

Sand Dancin Donkey Walker
28-04-2009, 05:05
Hi Jason

Looks like an interesting artiste, have added a couple of his CD's into my Amazon 'Wish List' for future reference so I don't forget him.

Always open to new stuff, the problem now is my 'New artiste to buy' list is getting longer and longer :)

Andy - SDDW

28-04-2009, 05:47
Thanks for sharing I check out his stuff latter but an excellent article I really enjoyed reading it

The Grand Wazoo
02-01-2012, 01:52
From The Grave

02-01-2012, 08:15
Hi Jason

Looks like an interesting artiste, have added a couple of his CD's into my Amazon 'Wish List' for future reference so I don't forget him.

Always open to new stuff, the problem now is my 'New artiste to buy' list is getting longer and longer :)

Andy - SDDW

...of course this thread originally pre-dates Spotify... Plenty of albums on there. :)