Jackie Leven - The Haunted Year: Winter
You may have seen Jackie Leven at the South Bank Centre in London; not performing you understand but living rough amongst the concrete jungle of its underbelly. You are less likely to have seen him in Scotland however, as he was forced to leave his home in Fife after being the unfortunate subject of a local gang vendetta in the 60’s. When I tell you that these are amongst the high-points of his early years you’ll perhaps arrive at the conclusion that Mr Leven has led an unusually colourful life; packed with incident and circumstance the like of which has destroyed many a man. Indeed, in 1983 Jackie was almost murdered in an unprovoked street attack and, with strangulation affecting his ability to sing, he lost his record deal and subsequently fell into the clutches of heroin and social isolation.
Jackie has come out the other side though and is stronger for it, he’s even co-founded the CORE Trust which operates in London and favours a holistic approach to addiction. He’s now back in Scotland and, living out amongst the raw, untamed beauty of the highlands and islands it is certainly appealing to his creative muse. The double cd set focuses upon two diverse live performances, one in the confines of a Norwegian prison, and another in the more relaxed surroundings of a Munich Café, although rather typically he performed the prison set in a good frame of mind and the café set in a dark depression he dubbed the Munich Blues.
So why all the preamble? What’s the music like? I hear you mutter. Well, I’m just trying to subtly underline the fact that, this is a man who’s got something to say – he’s been there and whilst he may not have bought the t-shirt he certainly lived in the cardboard box. Right? Good because, well the music is, let’s say, unremarkable. It is decent, functional acoustic folk music which does the job of accompanying the words, and it is his words that you’ll be buying the album for. There’s no atmosphere at the prison gig, it is almost like he’s performing to an empty room – the prisoners give him nothing and yet that is somehow a part of the charm of the album – you can feel him trying to win them over by sharing his stories and, thank God, he’s sussed enough not to expect them to perform like clapping seals. This is a long way removed from Folsom Prison but it is worth hearing for its stark, brave beauty. How many artists can you think of that would release a double live album, part of which is in an unresponsive, silent prison and the rest performed in a deep, dark depression? Hats off to him for not playing the game.