Monday, March 30, 2009



Born in 1950 into a Romany (Roma) family, Jackie Leven spent his childhood and teenage years clearly marked out as an outsider in the clannish, insular world that was Fife, Scotland at that time. Although Scottish himself, neither of his parents were from the area - his father was an Irish Cockney, his mother was from a large Northumberland (Geordie) family, and adapting to existing cultural norms was a hard, if not formidable task for such incomers. This seems to have formed the start of an independence of mind in the young Leven, hopelessly wayward at school (although outstanding at English and essay writing), with few friends, and those mostly considered 'oddball'. His attendance at school was woeful, but those truanting times spent alone in glens and hills and by rivers still form the basis of his songs' imagery to this day.
Dropped kicking and screaming into the box; Fairy Tales is the fourth album of Jackie's 1990's return to music after an unprovoked and near fatal attack which damaged his larynx and left him barely able to speak, let alone sing for two years.

Here's some of what Jackie says about this album in his sleevenotes:

"And so now, with Fairy Tales for Hardmen I hand over some of my stories about the lives of men and women. Hardmen, because so many boys come under ill-considered or even demonic pressure to be hard or to be men. Indeed, so many men are just boys trapped in men's lives, pretending to be men — exhibiting cruelty, cowardice, fear, shame (toxic and natural), despair — controlling, manipulating, raging — but also showing tenderness, blessing, joy of living, erotic savvy, and humour that doesn't rely on victims to be funny."

This is an album which I love for its bleakly affirmative intensity coupled with its soul and ambitious sonics, for me it's one of those records that needs to run its course, once it's on I need to let it play right through.  Jackie has continued to weave other voices, spoken word sections, sound effects and quotes from classic American soul music into his records.  This is perhaps his most Celtic sounding album with Steafan Hannigan's raucous Uillean Pipes featuring on several tracks.  More recent albums have developed something of a celtic americana soundscape.

For a bit more insight into the period of Jackie's life that led to this album here's an interview that appeared in The Independent in 1996.

Spill points for anyone who can name the painter of the picture used for the album's cover  ... claimed by saneshane who got in there with Peter Howson, the picture is from the period where he became heavily involved with the Scottish bodybuilding scene ... lots of 5' 6" tall blokes trying to inflate themselves to 5' 6" wide as well.  

And free pies for a year to the person who can name the three poets whose texts are sung and spoken as part of the proceedings.


mnemonic said...

Lucien Freud?

TatankaYotanka said...

Lucy n' Fred? Are they like Gilbert and George?

TatankaYotanka said...

Sorry Mnemonic, no, but I can see your thinking ...

I was in a fishmongers near St Johns Wood one Christmas Eve and asked for two dozen oysters; there were none left out front and the cry came from the back of the shop, ' 'ere give 'im Lucien Freud's oysters'.

I've often wondered if the Freud's had to make do with crab sticks that year.

tincanman said...

Great album pic TY. I love his voice but haven't spent any quality time with this album, so am looking forward to that when/if I get some time this week (why do kids have to have birthdays EVERY year?)

treefrogdemon said...

Is it a Ken Currie?

TatankaYotanka said...

treefrogdemon ... soooo close ... but no pie this time.

DarceysDad said...

Eveing all.

I'm into my first listen as far as The Walled Coves Of Ravenscraig. As has been my experience to date with other Jackie Leven albums, I'm hearing much to admire but little I can immediately love.

But that may be because I'm so tired I can't keep my eyes open, so I'll try again tomorrow.

But I wanted to add this: artists under consideration for my turn next week are -

Dakota Suite
Phil Campbell
Mark Hollis / Talk Talk
The Family Stand
Joolz (Denby)
Willard Grant Conspiracy

Any preferences, please shout up!

G'night everyone.

steenbeck said...

TatankaYotanka--haven't had time to listen yet, but you've served it up in a very intriguing and appealing fashion. I love what he wrote about it.

DsD--I don't know if people are too familiar with it,but I'd vote for Talk Talk, because I remember being moved by what you wrote about it before I even really knew who you were, and I still haven't heard the whole thing.

TatankaYotanka said...

@ DSD ... as you know, there's a Willard Grant/Jackie Leven Conspiracy, with Jackie playing and touring as an occasional member and Robert Fisher contributing to various Jackie recordings. That's stuff I already know, as with Mark Hollis ... preference would therefore be for something off the radar.

Anonymous said...



saneshane said...

i'm back... will give a listen soon.. but some Peter Howson spill points, i think.

TatankaYotanka said...

Kerchiiinnnggg .... the life affirming sound of Spill points to brighten saneshane's day ..... tip: don't squirrel them away in the Dunfermline BS or an Icelandic bank ... buy vinyl it's the only true haven.

steenbeck said...

I've been listening on and off all day, a few songs at a time. (It's very warm and sunny for the first time, so we've been outside a lot). It's been good to listen because he's almost completely new to me, and I like his story. I like the music a lot--the guitaring, (as Malcolm would say) the lyrics, the melodies. It puts you in quite a melancholy mood, doesn't it? It's interesting because it seems sort of timeless. My only reservation would be that sometimes it sounds overly-produced, I think. I think a rawer sound would suit the folkiness of it better. But I'm not sure that's what I mean. I'll listen some more and get back.

Isaac loved the first song, by the way. He started dancing and said I like this song!

DarceysDad said...

... and I'm about to do some work with a Leven-only soundtrack; back later.

BTW, Tatanka, I had no idea about Jackie's ties to WGC, so that's booked me an investigation slot some time hence. Thanks.

ToffeeBoy said...

As predicted, I'm still getting to grips with last week's AOTW but this sounds promising on first listen - though I found his voice a bit annoyingly American for a man fae Fife! I'll certainly stick with it...

ToffeeBoy said...

... not that there's anything wrong with having an American voice! Just, it didn't quite sound right coming from Mr Leven ...

DarceysDad said...

If you think THAT accent's weird, ToffeeBoy, what about the wandering ones on the Elegy For Johnny Cash album?

Although, hang on, that voice on The Law Of Tide sounds familiar ... ah! That'll be Willard Grant Conspiracy's Robert Fisher then!

And some judicious googling reveals that All The Rage is a shared vocal with an Ulsterman ...

... so all in all, I should never have started this ...

As you were.

TatankaYotanka said...

@ DSD one of Jackie's Deep Pool columns from 2007 tells some stories of playing with Robert Fisher ... and joining WGC as the 38th member ...

Shoegazer said...

Quite enjoyed Old West African Song, although it sounded more celtic to me, what with all the pipes and all - could have been a Davey Spillane track, until Jackie started talking over it. As for the rest it smacked a bit of musical identity crisis & concept album. Track 2 seems to be missing in action. Liked "The Wanderer" from his "Lost Songs" album that I think Tank must have 'Spilled for us before. For the most part, not my cup o' tea. Sorry.

tincanman said...

I've only had time to give it two listens, but I have to agree with Shoey that Ole West African Song is a keeper.

Overall I love Jackie's voice. I have quite a bit of his stuff in rotation on the iPod, and usually it evokes a sigh - not quite melancholy as Steen said, but I do know what you mean. He's a bit depressive, and yet it's sort of a sweet melancholy for me, if that makes sense - a bit of a sigh of general contentment, and I feel tensions and troubles drain from me like a good exhale.

One thing about Mr Leven I've often felt is that he should record less. I read an interview once where he said he was so prolific he could put out half a dozen albums a year (and sometimes had under other names). What I'd prefer is if he would focus his quite substantial gifts more.

TatankaYotanka said...

Congratulations to all who've managed to carve out some Jackie time so far this week ...

As a much younger man I remember reading a quote from Robert Fripp saying that the ambition he held for for his band (King Crimson), was to create music that spoke to 'head, heart & hips'. Quite some ambition; quite some spectrum.

I was so struck by Steenbeck's report of Isaac's response to 'Boy Trapped In A Man'. It's a song about reacting to tension, it sets up the whole album; it's a dance track that seeks oblivion but is rooted in pain. Steenbeck; Isaac has an old soul, good hips and from that he'll grow a wise head ... and having a mom with an open heart isn't going to hurt.

Somewhere, on another album, Jackie quotes Confucious; 'Never give a sword to a man who can't dance' ... for me a huge amount of his material is rooted in exploration of that balance of love and will.

DarceysDad said...

Having had time to listen to my other Jackie Leven albums (Control, Forbidden Songs Of The Diving West, Elegy For Johnny Cash, Shining Brother Shining Sister) and then go back to Fairytales... I'm warming to it. Sad Polish Song has been added to the DsD Walkman already, in spite of its structure reminding me - a lot - of Rod Stewart's Sailing !!

I think Shoey has a point about it being an album wandering round as if looking for a lost raison d'ĂȘtre.

[The Prosecution here introduces Fear Of Women as Exhibit A, and plays it to the jury.]

There are points where the style appears forced, and effects and diversions inserted as if to make a specific point. If there is one, it passes me by and just ends up sounding too-clever-by-half. I prefer the (if you like) simpler fare on offer in Elegy For Johnny Cash.

I think, overall, that I simply don't have the will/patience to give Mr. Leven the attention that the depth of his intention craves.

Been the second good Album Of The Week choice out of two, though. Puts the pressure on the poor sod who's got Week Three . . . ah! *Gulp!*

PS - Where IS Track 2?? WHAT IS Track 2??

TatankaYotanka said...

No idea what track 27 is/was, it was there when I dropped it in and I thought I'd better not tinker. Interesting and not unfamiliar reactions to one of the 'classic' JL albums. Huge ambition and a 'theatrical' approach to the production can overwhelm or disconcert.

Very useful point that DSD makes about attention in listening; Robert Fripp has also spoken often and at length about 'quality of attention' in the context of audiences and performers being ready to invite music in. With the amount of sensory information that confronts us these days and demands on time, it can be difficult to hang on to the practice of seeing beyond, hearing beneath, tasting the umami, feeling the intention. Which isn't to be po faced about a right way and a wrong way to listen, or to intellectualise emotional openness; I’m really with Toffeeboy on this one and tend to defensiveness of what I know is my own limited capacity to listen.

Jackie does put out a lot of stuff out and there are grumbles from time to time amongst the hardcore fans about consistency, but this is in the context of knowing the heights he is capable of; many a lesser piece from Jackie would find a place at someone else’s top table. He’s also never made the breakthrough to even a reasonable sized cult status really, so you get the feeling that he’s got to have something to sell on a regular basis. This also means that there are quite a lot of official ‘live bootlegs’ on the market; for those people that might prefer a more stripped down style then these are worth trying – in fact there’s a reissue programme this year called The Haunted Year. ‘Winter’ came out last month, pairing up Men In Prison & Munich Blues ...

… you also get the added dimension of Jackie’s storytelling on these; observational, scaberous, surreal and sometimes scatological. I got into his music through seeing him live and you can still find him regularly on the road and coming to a small venue near you … give him a shot.

saneshane said...

I'm glad you put this up as I know nothing about the man and tried not to read any thing before listening..

I was instantly put off by the Track titles and imagery of hard men, I was hoping to find the fairy tales in there, but it just meant nothing to me as a package... (I'm not putting it down here, just missing a hook for me to cling to)

So listening was a different matter entirely.. an openness and honesty in the words and (the less affected) vocals... and then, and then.. he goes and ruins it with jarring effects and blunt in your face lack of subtleties.. why?
I like the juxtaposition of other vocalists/ spoken word/ musical effects but he needs someone to say subtle not sledgehammer.

Trying too hard not to be obvious can cause a lack of focus and disinterest in a casual listener... 'Sexual Danger' is a grower along with those mentioned above.. and I've been warming to it.. but hear again as a friend maybe.. but no love yet!!

It does settle after more listens, but if it wasn't for this (the Spill) I wouldn't have listened a second time let alone giving it the time I have this week.

Once more, is it a question of giving him a spill overview to hook in the outsiders? because looking at your passion he has hit a nerve that obviously means a lot.

reading again on screen it sounds a slating, but it's so not a delete kind of album.. just hard to get past the grating bits.

cheers for putting this up.. I do love getting out of my comfort zone..

bring on yours DsD ( I would be interested in the Joolz by the way - but majority vote is cool)