sun 14/07/2024

Jackie Leven: 1950-2011 | reviews, news & interviews

Jackie Leven: 1950-2011

Jackie Leven: 1950-2011

Remembering one of our most distinctive and original singer-songwriters

Jackie Leven: a truth seekerSimon Taylor

The passing of Jackie Leven, who died last night from cancer, comes with a sense of real sadness. One of our most distinctive and original singer-songwriters, the Fifer maintained a doggedly low commercial profile throughout almost four decades spent weaving his rich, rather brave musical tapestry.  

With the abrasive, unclassifiable pre-punk band Doll By Doll and later as a solo artist, Leven often specialised in difficult subjects. A song on one of his recent solo records was called “The War Crimes of Ariel Sharon”, and his music was typically peopled by Serbian prostitutes, Earls Court taxi drivers, conflicted prisoners and damaged Dundonian bar-stool philosophers, all of whom he seemed to identify with in various ways. Even at his most forsaken, however, he was always striving to find "beauty in his wounds". His songs sought out truth, however ugly, and were grounded in an empathetic awareness of our shared humanity. The best of them, such as “Poortoun” and “Universal Blue”, contained an almost transcendent quality and a rare emotional power.

A former heroin addict, brawler and an enthusiastic drinker, Leven led a far from blameless life but he had his reasons. His voice was creamy and soulful, but it could also bark and growl. He was a superb guitar player but saw no need to try too hard to prove it. Latterly he liked to throw woody folk textures up against cheesy synthetics and let them fight it out.

His many records were sometimes superb, though in recent times frequently patchy, and he was always worth catching in concert, where his between-song ramblings veered from scatalogical vignettes about defecating for a photographer in a Glasgow alleyway to getting pissed with Laurence Olivier. He will certainly be impossible to forget.

When I last saw him play, in Edinburgh in August, he was physically diminished and complained (with customary bluntless) of having a bladder problem, but his performance and his banter were as deep and characterful as ever; sufficiently so to suggest he was simply going through a spell of moderately rough weather rather than something more grave. Alas not.

Watch Jackie Leven perform "Poortoun"

His songs always sought out truth, however ugly, but there was also an almost transcendent beauty to the best of them

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God bless the big man , a truly gifted artist and genuinely nice guy...a terrible loss...

Jackie you are a special human being You may have disappeared from our vision but Your stories songs and music live on Jackie rest in peace you are one in 7 billion Scotland is proud of you Love to your family at this sad time H X

Oh no! The brevity............

Oor Jackie was a marvellous man with a huge intellect - his passing is hugely sad and leaves a massive scotsman sized hole through which a lot of sorrow will fall. Jackie told me that good things come from sadness - I would hope that this sadness will raise some long missing awareness of such a unique guy. There are so many of his lyrics that are appropriate to mark him but "Main travelled roads" final lines are possibly most appropriate "Eternal is the warrior who finds beauty in his wounds"

I've followed Jackie for 10 years and he has rarely disappointed. He has left us with some wonderful memories and music. Southsea Folk and Roots Festival will never be the same. The music world will be a poorer place.

How sad! His voice his songs and his guitar playing imbued with effortless beauty and the power to move. Thank you Jackie. You were a one off.

Just heard the sad news from Levens companion Mike Cosgrave via Facebook. I’m deeply shocked for I expected him to play in Vienna in September. Then the gig was cancelled and I learned from his illness. Leven has accompanied my life since 1994 – and some of his records were published at some turning points of my life. He really wrote the soundtrack of my life. God bless this man.

Genuinely sad to hear of Jackie's passing. Saw him many times from Otley to New Brighton and the Green Man Festival to Hebden Bridge, and drank with him on one memorable occasion. A unique guitarist, wonderful songwriter and a raconteur of the highest order. Jackie Leven will be missed by all who saw him and should be by a great many more. RIP.

sad news indeed his gothic road cd is a fine piece of storytelling. classic singer somgwriter in the true sense of the word. I'll raise a wee dram to you Jackie tonight

Deeply saddened by the news of Jackie's death, in a way that I never expected Have enjoyed his music greatly over the years Will miss his storytelling as much as his singing

Just heard about this. This genuine gent will be sorely missed. I asked him about one of his songs at his last gig in Glasgow and he took time to speak to me. A truly emotive songwriter with lyrics that connected in a direct and personal way. Sadly missed.

I first discovered Jackie when I bought "Doll by Doll" when it first came out. I have bought and listened to almost everything else he has released since. There are very, very few songwriters that can put emotion, spirit, truth, and beauty into a song the way that Jackie did. The world is a dimisnished place without him. "Figure it out on your own ..."

i have loved jackie's songs since the early '90s and am deeply saddened to hear of his passing. His songs will always be with me. From an Irish fan.

We've followed Jackie and seen him many times. A talent that will be sadly missed. Southsea Folk and Roots Festival wont be the same, but hes left behind a wonderful legacy of songs and memories. Our thoughts go to his family at this dad time

A fine man and a grand Scot! Jackie appears to have led a full and colourful life, when you think about it, that's exactly what he has left Fife, Scotland and the world with his wonderful music legacy. Not a time for sadness more fond reflection! Cheers Jackie!

A true original. I'll remember Jackie this way:

I had the pleasure of working with Jackie for a brief time in the 1990's: he'd seen "Kind of Blue" a film about melancholia and depression I had made for C4, which had won an RTS award and which seemed to offer a homeopathic (like-cures-like) remedy for peope suffering from the curse of the black dog. He invited my wife Susan (who had worked on the film) and myself to a centre for addicts he was running in Marylebone. The film was followed by a discussion. I was struck by his charisma, generosity of spirit and deep empathy with the suffering people he had chosen to help. He was a rare thing in the music world, a man not just creative, but who put into practice the love he preached.

I first saw Jackie in Stornoway in the 90's and was overawed by his talent and emotional depths. I now regret being too shy to talk to him properly all the times I went to see him play after that - I will miss him so much.

A talent now lost... RIP Jackie

So long kid, takea a bow. See you when I get there brother. mines a lager with a vodka top.xx

Jackie was a one off ,no one sang,wrote,or played like him,many a nights in my dark times i would take comfort from his music,he was my theme tune for the day,life moves on and we all do ,when its our time we step off,i had the pleasure to share a beer with him on a few occassions,to share words thoughts ideas and questions,the man is a legend, gone but never forgotton

Only saw Jackie once (a few years ago} and was really looking forward to seeing him again this autumn. Sady missed.

saw jackie about 6 times the first at the chimney boy in faversham kent he had amazing presence an character and good humour and his voice,guitarplaying and songwriting as every one has commented speaks for its self i spoke to him a few times an found him very down to earth .in a world full of contrived and bland music x factor for example jackies music was a light god bless ya jackie rip

Happy wanderings Jackie and thanks for all the great music.

Wor Jackie...heart like a lion.... Had the pleasure of playing on your albums kidda.....that day you introduced me to 'The rag and bone shop of the heart' certainly changed my world forever....thank you my man. x

I was drunk on a night somewhere in 2007 , and suddenly i said to GOD, GOD you got to do me a favor, i have 3 singers who mean a lot to my "music-life" Make it possible for me to ever shake the hand of eighter Arthur Lee , Jackie Leven or Martin Walkyer. By the end of 2008 i was very sick , and i read in the paper Jackie Leven was coming for a one time concert to my town Eeklo, i saw that 1 hour before the concert started! As a madman i jumped into bad , took an overdose of painkillers , en went to shake Jackie's hand .... this is a true story. Thank you Jackie for everything.... i discovered the music of Jackie In the early eighties, when i bought a doll by doll album on a junk market, GOD bless you

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