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Various Artists

Jackie Leven: The Wanderer

Cooking Vinyl

Released: 24th September 2021

2xCD£15.99Out of Stock

“To stand on stage with him was to experience the exhilarating expanse of the ever-migrating Now. I will not be surprised if my last thought in this life is of Jackie Leven. I fear it will be, ‘Yes, but you were no Jackie Leven.’”

-David Thomas, Pere Ubu

“He made things better. He made nights better. He made the world, one night at a time, better.“

-Jeb Loy Nichols.

“He was a peerless raconteur but also a deep thinker, combining hearty earthiness with poetic vision. He left us his music along with so many memories. I’m grateful I got to know him.”

-Ian Rankin

The Wanderer is a new compilation documenting the songs of Scottish singer/songwriter Jackie Leven as recorded by peers, folk luminaries and a constellation of musicians from across various disciplines. Compiled by associate Michael Weston King and featuring the talents of Eliza Carthy, Ralph McTell, Kathryn Williams, Ian Rankin, James Yorkston and more, The Wanderer was recorded across continents mostly during the Covid pandemic and, in celebrating one of the most ebullient, empathetic and outrageously talented musicians to have emerged from the British Isles, manages to feel like a joyous celebration of surviving and living.

Jackie Leven was born in Fife in the winter of 1950 and 2021 marks the 10th Anniversary of his passing. A monumental talent, his music career began in the folk world performing under his birth name Allan Moffatt, before taking in psychedelic, free-wheeling folk-rock under the stage name John St. Field and dark post-punk inflected with high drama in his group Doll By Doll, a riotous four piece who enthralled and terrorized audiences during the punk era. Following this band’s dissolution, Leven embarked on a endlessly creative, tumultuous and rich solo career. Comprising over 30 studio albums under various guises, self-released live albums and endless touring, Leven’s post Doll By Doll career is an embarassment of riches ripe to be discovered. Following the release of his first commercially available “Best Of” compilation on Glasgow label School Daze, The Wanderer reflects Leven’s far-reaching influence on artists who, though many enjoyed greater commercial success, remain in awe of his legacy and presence.

Jackie Leven’s songs are imbued with the wealth of a life well - and often hard - lived. While his own performances of them were direct, emotionally charged affairs bristling with an often-hard-to-contain, crackling energy, the interpretations on The Wanderer are masterful and earnest paintings of light and shade, bringing a subtlety to his compositions and insightful lyrics. Opening with Ralph McTell & Graham Preskett’s Sick Harbour Lament, redolent with poignant inflections, the narrative wanders to Eliza Carthy’s instantly recognizable voice duetting with a shimmering, tremolo-effected electric guitar for true torch song effect. Kathryn Williams delivers a devastating gentle The Crazy Song that is pure honey in the ears, a thoughtful juxtaposition of lyrics and delivery. Often indicating the nature of the recordings’ context – rendered by musicians at home in forced isolation – most of the songs are pared down, minimal versions that bring new nuances in Leven’s songs. Fellow Scot James Yorkston makes Empty In Soho Square his own with chiming acoustic guitar and close mic’d vocals while Rab Noakes’ takes on one of Leven’s most celebrated songs. His Poortoun nails the sweet spot between Neil Young’s thrashing acoustic guitar attack and Michael Hurley’s vocal style. Perhaps the most poignant moment on the album is Universal Blue, recorded by Deborah Greenwood, Leven’s collaborator and life partner. It’s a tale of love and pain, that in the voice of Greenwood takes on a heartbreaking, quiet drama.

There are moments of raucous aggression that Leven would no doubt have approved of however. Original punk Tom Robinson’s full band cover of Classic Northern Divisions is feverish with energy and the rich seam of humour that even Leven’s most harrowing songs could contain. It’s a baton picked up with aplomb by fellow punks The Membranes, who close the tribute album with a radical take on Doll By Doll’s 1979 cut More Than Human, found on the band’s debut Remember. Thundering out with city-flattening drums and cathedral-sized keyboard chords, Jon Robb channels the almost messianic fervour of a younger Leven, his own spittle-inflected performance of the words wringing every last drop of drama and conviction from the song.

Jackie Leven’s songs are flush with life. Often brimming with warmth, desolation, empathy and celebration within the same composition even. With an eagle eye’s view of his legacy, it’s easy to see how they celebrated the full, messy and gregarious nature of life lived without fear and with tenderness. The tributes paid to these songs by these musicians at the forefront of the folk and rock worlds are like points of light in the darkness left by Jackie Leven’s absence. They constitute a celebration not just of his work but of the spirit in which he lived his life.