KRIS NEEDS remembers the visionary and neglected JACKIE LEVEN.
JACKIE LEVEN (1950-2011)
While punk ruled in 1977, Jackie Leven appeared out of Maida Vale‘s squatting community with the psychedelic onslaught and astounding beauty of Doll By Doll, a band out of time (and often their minds) who released four monumentally intense albums before splitting in ’82. Born on the18th of June, 1950 in Kirkaldy, Fife, Jackie’s gypsy roots and highland upbringing continued to underpin the sweeping soul confessionals and emotive reflections he continued making until losing his battle with cancer in November.
After spending the years after ’67 busking through Europe, Jackie landed in the close-knit Maida Vale squatting community by the mid-70s, forming Doll By Doll in ’77 with guitarist Jo Shaw, bassist Robin Spreafico and drummer Dave McIntosh. The group were a shattering experience live, combining early Velvets apocalypse, West Coast guitar interplay and soul-wrenching ballads, often polarising audiences to the point of violence. My Zigzag magazine were first to report on them as they signed to Warner Brothers-backed Automatic, releasing Remember in March, ’79, followed by their hallucinogenic life-cycle master-piece Gypsy Blood. Doll By Doll’s self-titled third album, released in ’90, lightened the mood in a last bid for the greater acceptance which alluded them, its heart-breaking ‘Main Travelled Roads’ hailed as Leven’s most moving ballad.
After releasing his first solo single, 'I Believe That Love is Shining Down On Me' in ’83, Jackie suffered a vicious street attack, suffering appalling throat injuries and becoming addicted to heroin. After kicking his habit, he set up the CORE Trust anti-addiction charity, restarting his solo career in ’94 after signing to Cooking Vinyl, releasing Songs From The Argyll Cycle, the acclaimed The Mystery Of Love Is Greater Than The Mystery Of Death, followed by a string of others up to 2011’s Wayside Shrines And The Code Of The Travelling Man. To accommodate his savagely-prolific output, he also made albums available through his Haunted Valley website. While still exploring the dark side of the human psyche, the wry humour of Jackie’s stage announcements also helped make him a much-loved figure touring Europe’s pubs and clubs, a captivating last troubadour already being missed tremendously.