DEFENDING ANCIENT SPRINGS by Jackie Leven
Released in 2000
Some biographical details from the Cooking Vinyl page
Jackie Leven was born in Scotland in 1950.
Jackie first made a serious impact upon the UK music scene in the late 70s with rock band Doll By Doll, a hard-hitting classic two guitars, bass and drums outfit that beguiled audiences when they weren't scaring the pants off them with a rare on- stage intensity. The band made five superb albums of warped melodic rock music.
Jackie began recording as a solo artist in 1983 but this phase of a promising career ended in savage circumstances when, in the same year, he was nearly murdered. Speaking bravely of the painful incident he remembers only 'a powerful arm coming around my neck'. His larynx, tool of his trade was almost destroyed. Jackie's answer was to turn to heroin - the classic 'drug of despair', after which, adding insult to injury, his girlfriend ran off with the Dalai Lama's bodyguard!
Deciding after a year of addiction that he 'wanted his life back', he released himself from addiction via a method of his own making which utilised acupuncture, psychic healing and reflexology. Jackie has fortunately bounced back investing in several significant (and controversial) new ventures with his typical charisma and energy. In 1995, he founded and created The CORE Trust - still the UK's only fully holistic service for the healing of addictions and used significantly by music show biz casualties.
Jackie later became friends and colleagues with Robert Bly, author of the USA best-seller 'Iron John' and the recognised originator of the Mytho-Poetic Men's Movement. This 'Men's Work' with its most visible themes of warriorship, grief and shame, has polarised opinion amongst UK/USA feminist thinkers, and has demanded of Jackie a new role as spokesman for the work, giving talks/appearances throughout the UK
I always used to listen to Kenny Everett on the pirate station Radio London and he used to play all the new singles as they came out. "Ticket To Ride", "Substitute", "Carrie Anne" and that was an excellent way to hear new music.
Later, Peter Langley helped me discover Melody Maker and Rolling Stone and I started reading reviews. For the next thirty years I took risks in my music buying by reading reviews and learning whose opinions I trusted. Richard Williams, Bud Scoppa, Allan Jones and Gavin Martin were always worth reading. Bud Scoppa's review of the first Jackson Browne album in Rolling Stone remains the best review of any album I have ever read. It went on about "Jamaica Say You Will" for five out of the six columns describing it's beauty and depth of feeling. It then stated that every other track on the album was equally as good! I bought it and he was right. The last I read about Bud Scoppa he was working as Matthew Sweet's PR man. He did a jolly good job with "In Reverse" which is unmitigated crap in my opinion.
Anyway, thirty years after I stopped taking risks in my music buying by listening to new music, Martin Oliver showed me "Uncut", a magazine I had never heard of, but which included a free CD every month. Although Q and MOJO occasionally produced a free CD, a new CD every month full of interesting new releases was a revelation and it has much to answer for. I can now take risks by listening and somehow it doesn't seem that much of a risk!
In the last year, based solely on what I have heard on these Uncut CDs I have bought albums by Peter Bruntell, Neal Casal, Shack, Wheat, Giant Sand, Lambchop, Josh Rouse, Warren Zevon and Jackie Leven.
So in the March 2000 issue, which I bought in February, there was a song called "Fell On Hard Times" by Neal Casal which is precisely the sort of singer/songwriter good time music that I find irresistible and a song called A Single Father by someone called Jackie Leven. I wasn't really sure what the song was about but those first lines "If we should meet in Glasgow by chance on a rainy day, let's sit and drink in a damn good bar till evening comes out to play" struck a chord with me. The melody was haunting and the voice was rich, deep and sad. The arrangement was brilliant. As a long time Van Morrison fan this seemed to me to be good stuff and music that I could appreciate.
I bought the album that this song came from: "Defending Ancient Springs".
I couldn't work out if I liked it or not! This sounds crazy - there's no logic to liking music - does it sound good or not? I think I loved the melodies, the voice and the arrangements although I found some of it rather overblown. And yet it was only last year that I re-purchased those pretentious Moody Blues albums I had sold in the early 1970s ("In Search Of A Lost Chord" and "On The Threshold Of A Dream") and I loved the pomposity of those albums.
I recorded the album on a C60 and put it in the car. There are 10 tracks on the album so there was an obvious Side One and Side Two. Side One became a familiar and welcome companion to me in the difficult month that followed. In fact the journey that I made when I drove up to see my Mother for the last time before she died was accompanied by side one of this album which I played repeatedly as I came across a road closure on the M23 North just after Gatwick and as I detoured around Gatwick and then drove cross-country towards East Grinstead - a 50 minute journey taking nearly two hours. I just kept pressing rewind after "The Working Man's Love Song" (track five) so that I could go back to track one - a bizarrely faithful recording of "You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling"
That clip from "The Working Man's Love Song is fascinating to me. Did he decide to sing it like that before the recording was made or did he just develop his art at the actual time of recording? It reminds me very much of Van Morrison on "Lonely Avenue" This is what I want to read about in interviews - the detail of the actual process of recording the works of art that I spend so much time listening to. What did Tim Buckley say - "The trick of writing is to make it sound like it's all happening for the first time. It took a long time to write that album (Happy/Sad), and then to teach the people in the band, so it really was a labour of love, the way it should be. I really loved doing that album." By the way Roo hates Jackie Leven's music so much so that she told me she prefers Tim Buckley!
Anyway, back to Defending Ancient Springs. Tracks three and four are remarkable. Little sound clips here will not do them justice. You should listen to the whole tracks and my ISP doesn't give unlimited space whereby I can upload an infinite amount of stuff to my website.
Track three is called "Paris Blues" and the words are "Think I'll move to Paris/Give my pain a parting shot/Maybe meet a French girl/Maybe not. I travelled through the snowstorm/On a one horse lonesome sleigh/The snow was like a razor/Cut my mind away. I hear a wasted violin/playing in a dark café/It says your journey's over/it's time to sail away." These are great lyrics to a song - defying true understanding but indicating a real depth of feeling. Most importantly the words sound good. The backing music is sparse and with hints of the industrial noises that Jackie Leven likes to populate his work with. And then, and then…..at the end of the track is some beautiful spoken poetry "And when the day arrives for the last leaving of all and the ship that never returns to port is ready to go you'll find me on board, light, with few belongings, almost naked, like the children of the sea" Well in the month that both my parents died this plucked a few heartstrings.
Track four is the title track "Defending Ancient Springs" and it starts with ninety seconds of men at work/industrial noise/whatever you want to call it. Then drums and bass before a loud guitar chord and more evocative lyrics "And I miss the boys/And I miss the dreams they said/And I miss the men/And I miss the hopes that bled." What is this song about? In the notes Jackie Leven thanks the "great English poet Kathleen Raine for her living idea 'Defending Ancient Springs' Kathleen says that she has spent her life defending ancient springs. I would add that no matter where our life takes us, there comes a moment after which we must return to the water from whence we first sprang, however this is imagined, there to be found - defending ancient springs." The lyrics continue "And who am I/I ran away to sing….Now I'm back/Defending ancient springs" Well of course in my current state of mind this is about homecoming and belonging and family and where you grew up but I'm sure it means other things to you. More spoken poetry at the end: " I am not I/I am this one walking beside me/Whom I do not see/Whom at times I manage to visit/And whom at other times I forget/Who remains calm and silent while I talk/And forgives gently when I hurt/Who walks where I am not/Who will remain standing when I die." When you're vulnerable every work of art which has been borne of strong feelings has a particular resonance.
One of the things I like about Jackie Leven's lyrics is the references he makes to clichés. "And who am I/I ran away to sing" - not "I ran away to sea." Or "I travelled through the snowstorm/On a one horse lonesome sleigh" - not "a one horse open sleigh"
Since writing this in May 2000, I have reunited with Pete Langley.
Jackie Leven died in November 2011 having released around 30 albums.