Jackie Leven – an obituary by Kevin Hewick
There is no air of distant nostalgia about Jackie Leven’s legacy, from his teenage duo Saint Judas in 1969 to Doll By Doll to his solo work of the 90s to the present there is a timeless edge, vivid insights into the human condition, funny and scary and beautiful all at once.
Blessed with a rich unique soulful voice and a dazzling percussive guitar technique between some downright filthy stories and the inevitable triple vodkas would come the songs, ballads full of power rather than power ballads, bruised epics of such incredible quality one can only feel utter bafflement at how comparative micro-talents like Sheeran, Blunt and Morrison (James not Jim) ever got away with it. Another Morrison, Van, has just showboated for years next to Leven, the real Celtic soulman.
But Jackie’s is no hard luck woulda coulda story, he lived the life to the full and he changed lives with his music, a lot of people all over the world will cry without shame over his loss, marking the passing of a true great.
In the post punk post Sid Vicious climate of early 1979 Doll By Doll released ‘Remember’ the classic album that many often forget or never heard in the first place. It is still quite a sonic slap in the face, the house band from hell killing their guitars at the end of the world. Headswirling psychedelic blues rock meets psychotic poetry down a very dark alley.
It connected with a displaced, disenchanted group of fans – soon a hardcore bunch of Derby and Leicester lads and girls (this was no boys club) followed The Dolls most anywhere on nights where it felt like they were the match of the mythical bands our generation were too young for – The Velvets, The Doors, The Stooges – the only things at the time to come close were to be Adrian Borland and The (equally bound for obscure glory) Sound and none other than Joy Division.
The chisel-like gouges in his Burns guitar were just that – Jackie told me he’d done it on acid making what seemed at the time to be beautiful carvings into the body. When Joe Shaw smashed his vintage Stratocaster he was no millionaire rocker doing a nice bit of auto-destructive theatre to please the crowd, he did it because that’s where the epileptic fit inducing strobe lit screaming feedback climax of ‘The Palace Of Love’ took him.
Amazingly Jackie, Joe, drummer Dave McIntosh and bassists Robin Spreafico and the late and also much missed Tony Waite kept this fearsome intensity up right into the eighties until Jackie tried a softer version DxD with a short lived new line up. I nursed the memories of the 50 plus shows I’d seen where they’d tried to reassemble their audiences brains and, in my case, succeeded. The night there was only eleven of the faithful in Barbarella’s Birmingham, when they got flung off the tour support for the Hawkwind, having U2 as their support act.. all priceless.
Most of all we treasure their insane generosity – loads of us kipping on the floor of their Warwick Avenue squat, they were our acid agony aunts and our true friends.
Jackie made one of the finest comebacks ever in the 90s, maybe not as noticed a comeback as he deserved but he embarked on a magical new career as a soloist pouring out a prolific number of superb studio and live albums. My old fellow Doll By Doll mega-fan Mick Nolan made Jackie’s pre-internet info service and ‘trashzine’ The Haunted Valley into a literal cottage industry.
At the annual Christmas party at the old social club in Mick’s native Milford Derbyshire people came from all over the UK and I and fellow Leicester players Dan Britton and Lee Allatson had our moment as stardust in The Stornoway Girls with Jackie.In 2002 I got an even greater shot of schoolboy glory with Jackie and Joe Shaw as a one off trio.
A lost dream came back for us all and Jackie matured as if he were a fine wine – or a kickass malt whiskey more like, going from his forties and fifties into his sixties with seemingly limitless inspiration, happy with his devoted partner Deborah, his dogs, his music and a good bar. It’s the saddest of all things for him to have left us so soon but even when I last saw him at the Musician in Leicester in June though clearly not well Jackie made us all laugh so much, cruder and ruder than ever, a shining brother indeed.