Big Men On A Small Stage
1950 - 2011
17th & 18th May 1999
After the original Pere Ubu broke up, the group's central figure, David Thomas, embarked on a fascinating body of work with the Pedestrians that was both highly musical and experimental. Alongside veteran female jazz pianist Lindsay Cooper, Thomas stayed at Rough Trade Records for a 45rpm album, The Sound Of The Sand And Other Songs Of The Pedestrians. It continued Thomas's preferred furrow of avant garde rock, mingled with some of the strangest and most endearing vocal performances known to the rock/pop sphere (everything from animal impersonations to a full-blown operatic tilt). A subsequent lull was broken by Variations On A Theme in 1984. The release of More Places Forever and The Monster Walks On Winter Lake (with the Wooden Buds) allowed Thomas to interact with a huge body of diverse talent; he has collaborated with Chris Cutler, Mayo Thompson, Ralph Harney, Scott Kraus, Ian Green, Richard Thompson, Anton Fier (Golden Palominos), Philip Moxham (Young Marble Giants), Eddie Thornton and Allen Ravinstein, among many others. After the issue of Winter Comes Home on the experimental label Recommended, followed by Blame The Messenger on Rough Trade (Twin/Tone in the USA), the idiosyncratic Thomas later re-formed Pere Ubu.More on David Thomas and Pere Ubu can be found at the Pere Ubu website
"One of the best male voices of the time"
Born in 1950 in the Kingdom of Fife, Scotland, Jackie Leven spent his childhood and teenage years surrounded by dying coal fields and fading woollen mills, and his song imagery remains conditioned by this early witnessing of a culture in crisis, and the community stresses that attend and characterise the passing of such a way of life and work.
His mother loved jazz and black American blues as exemplified by the likes of Lightnin' Hopkins, and Jackie grew up in the constant presence of music of this kind. This, married to Protestant hymn singing at school, and the dank salty common songs of Fife remain detectable as the melodic root of his rich and sure songwriting.
Teenage years in the '60's saw a further layering of influences - an acquired and abiding love of Russian and American poetry, blending with the pull of American West Coast Rock and acid rock- this whole procession of influences surfacing brilliantly on 1971's acid-hazed album 'Control', (made under the pseudonym John St. Field).
Jackie is an artist who has always seen his art as a living key to experience, and through the early/mid '70's he played music principally in order to observe and witness life in various parts of the world, such as half-year stretches living in Madrid and Berlin, while the former was still under the fist of Franco, and the latter was still a well-divided city.
Jackie Leven, now in his Forties, has enjoyed a long and varied career. A formidable singer, guitarist, songwriter and storyteller, his work, like many of the musical greats, falls into a category of its own. With some justification his outpourings have been called "Celtic Soul" and Jackie lives in an ancestral line that includes the likes of Van Morrison, Lightnin' Hopkins and unnamed singers of work-songs from all corners of the earth who share a universal voice.
Jackie first made a serious impact upon the UK music scene in the late 70s with rock band Doll By Doll, a hard-hitting classic two guitars, bass and drums outfit that beguiled audiences when they weren't scaring the pants off them with a rare on- stage intensity. The band made five superb albums of warped melodic rock music: Remember; Gypsy Blood; Doll By Doll; Grand Passion and A Last Flick of the Golden Wrench. The group disbanded in 1982 tired of struggling against the punk / new wave preoccupations of those times.
Jackie began recording as a solo artist in 1983 but this phase of a promising career ended in savage circumstances when, in the same year, he was nearly murdered. Speaking bravely of the painful incident he remembers only 'a powerful arm coming around my neck'. His larynx, tool of his trade was almost destroyed, thus silencing him for years. Jackie's answer was to turn to heroin - the classic 'drug of despair', after which, adding insult to injury, his girlfriend ran off with the Dalai Lama's bodyguard!
Deciding after a year of addiction that he 'wanted his life back', he released himself from addiction via a method of his own making which utilised acupuncture, psychic healing and reflexology. Jackie has fortunately bounced back investing in several significant (and controversial) new ventures with his typical charisma and energy. In 1995, he founded and created The CORE Trust - still the UK's only fully holistic service for the healing of addictions and used significantly by music show biz casualties. A registered addictions charity in central London, CORE continues to this day to offer the same treatment to people with all forms of addiction. CORE's success rate is among the highest in Europe, and in her lifetime, Diana, Princess of Wales was a champion and supporter of the Trust, being guest of honour at fundraising events and officially opening the centre's premises.
Jackie later became friends and colleagues with Robert Bly, author of the USA best-seller 'Iron John' and the recognised originator of the Mytho-Poetic Men's Movement. This 'Men's Work' with its most visible themes of warriorship, grief and shame, has polarised opinion amongst UK/USA feminist thinkers, and has demanded of Jackie a new role as spokesman for the work, giving talks/appearances throughout the UK (e.g. Gloria Hunniford, Kilroy, Tate Gallery, Royal College of Art, BBC TV Scotland etc. No wonder that Jackie has earned himself a reputation as the thinking man's rock star.
Since signing to Cooking Vinyl, Jackie has released five albums - 'The Mystery of Love is Greater Than the Mystery of Death', 'Forbidden Songs of the Dying West', 'The Argyll Cycle Volume 1', 'Fairy Tales for Hard Men' and 'Night Lilies' each one consolidating his reputation as a Rock 'n' Roll legend.
Jackie has been awarded the Jahrespreis der Deutschen Schallplattenkritik - the most prestigious and serious critical German award for the best record of the year. Yet another award for this most deserving of artists, who will go down in history as a genius of his time.
Jackie Leven's formidable bulk matches a huge talent moulded by a life and career teeming with hard experience and inspiring regeneration.
An itinerant guitarist and singer who left the abandoned coalfields of his native East Fife in the wake of Sixties acid rock, he spent the Seventies playing in Franco's Spain, and a Berlin divided by the wall. As the front man of Doll By Doll, he presented an intense blend of transcendent hard rock and Celtic blues invocations in the post-punk era. Nearly strangled to death in a street attack, he could not exercise his rich soulful burr of a voice for an extended period, sunk into heroin addiction and devised his own cure by setting up the Princess Diana-supported Core Trust in the Eighties.
Since 1994, he has released a series of records that few in these islands – or anywhere else, for that matter – can match for their tender beauty and consistency. The current album, Defending Ancient Springs, may well be his best, with his astonishing (recovered) voice – wondrous, wounded bellow, heart-stopping elisions and melisma straight from black American gospel – used to explore songs alive with poetic resonance, earthy intimations and plaintive memory.
In the flesh he's something else again, like a trawlerman at rest. Clad in a baggy denim work shirt and, for those of us at eye level at least, a disconcertingly tight pair of shorts, he drinks a cocktail of gin, vodka and ginger wine. At one point, he has the drink fortified with a generous measure of lager from a front row punter. His conversation is deprecating, offhand and often off-colour, obsessed with bodily functions, Izal toilet rolls and wonderfully scurrilous reminiscences involving Patsy Kensit, Salman Rushdie and the country legend Will Oldham.
At first, the chat seems a mask for the deeply spiritual blues he mines in songs inspired by a lover's tryst on a Yorkshire hillside ("Chevin") and the meditation on loss and loneliness that is "Single Father". But through his often wordless, slurred and drunken improvisations, and his rancorous and percussive guitar, he is immersed in messy visceral emotions. He ends with "Madame George" (an old Van Morrison song from the days before he started writing new-age nonsense), and reclaims its jazzy spaces, dark rhythmic nectar and deathly intimations – an approach long since forsaken by Morrison. A cult artist with a cognoscenti following he may be, but on this showing, Leven deserves to be recognised as a living treasure.
These docs come from cookingvinyl.com, it's well worth a visit, they've got real audio extracts of the songs