Sunday, March 15, 2015

Brush With Celebrity: Jackie Leven

Hmmmm, confess to have been taken back a bit by this weeks topic, sleb brushing never having been part of my M.O., even, and I did, had I wanted it so to be. No, I know nobody of note and, give or take the odd meet 'n' greet and autographed output at gigs, none would ever acknowledge me a 2nd time. (OK, Dave Pegg, of Fairport Convention came up to me in Selfridges, Birmingham, accusing me of having been to school with him, which, as he is at least a decade older than me, hit a sensitive......) My stance was more at one with John Peel, radio DJ par excellence, who felt that a personal knowledge of his enthusiasms would assuredly hinder his pleasure, as their feet would be of inevitable clay. And usually were. Or are.

But this guy somehow made me feel different, made me feel I knew him, made me feel responsible, made me care. Have I mentioned him before?

Late to the game, my first knowledge of him was in 1993 or 4, I forget which. It was my first Glastonbury, and I was feeling quietly smug, as a mid 30s middle class professional, returning to a festival, near 20 years on from my last experience. With my then wife we were experiencing a belated rebirth to the joy of music, on hold since the orthodoxy of our careers and parenthood, but, this time, with 4 and 6 year olds in tow. As we put up our tent, Radio Glastonbury played this, and I was smitten. Not because of the song, though I knew it a good one, more the voice, and, it's true, the accent. As a 2nd generation scot, in lifelong english exile, I felt, and still do, the genetic memory of a lore more northern to my own.

I never had picked up on his earlier post-punk existence, latterly glad I hadn't, the drama of his subsequent years adding to the mystique

Over the years I gathered bits and bobs of his output, with, upon my divorce, this song becoming my avatar, an indulgence of some probable conceit, still never getting to see the man live. Finally, about 15 years ago my moment came. Jackie Leven was playing the Midlands Arts Centre in Birmingham. Sure, I expected more than the 20 odd in the audience, but, as the hours passed, became even more in thrall of this bear of a man, not only a reservoir of great songs, but of better stories. Over the next few years I caught him several times, eventually daring to approach him, getting the odd scrawl on a CD, finding him to be as pleased as I to be engaged in conversation. I guess the point is that he was as reliant on his audience as they were upon him, with a mutual respect, or at least, an acceptance that each required the other. I have no idea whether he ever recognised me, it didn't matter, but this was a man whose act depended and relied upon the interplay with an audience who understood that fact.I was shocked when he suddenly died. I miss him. I never knew him, but I miss him. Here he is, in conversation, in an interview. 

And here he is, alone, with guitar, and his always miked up tapping foot:

I have deliberately strayed from an account of his history and output, hoping these mere snippets may encourage you to delve for yourselves. Please do, but start here. Buy good and buy plenty.

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