Jackie Leven – The Borderline, London

One of the oddest gigs I've seen in a long time. The weathered Leven sings mournful songs of loss and regret in a rich, soulful voice. He's a big poetry man, quoting Pablo Neruda on his new album Shining Brother Shining Sister. Yet, more often than he's being a melancholic, working-class minstrel, he's being a man of the people in an entirely different manner. For at least half his time onstage, he tells bawdy shaggy dog stories.

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One of the oddest gigs I’ve seen in a long time. The weathered Leven sings mournful songs of loss and regret in a rich, soulful voice. He’s a big poetry man, quoting Pablo Neruda on his new album Shining Brother Shining Sister. Yet, more often than he’s being a melancholic, working-class minstrel, he’s being a man of the people in an entirely different manner. For at least half his time onstage, he tells bawdy shaggy dog stories. If he wasn’t sitting on a stool, he’d be a great stand-up.

Most of his tales are filthy; one explores the similarity between cheap dog food and human faeces, at interminable length. He’s a natural, and his fiftysomething followers are in fits of laughter, but it means any mood evoked by the songs is chucked out with the bathwater. You come expecting Johnny Cash; you leave having witnessed Johnny Vegas.

You’d say he’s in the wrong line of work, except he’s a lifer. An authentic folk-hero, Leven was once in post-punk enigmas Doll By Doll, but has for decades toured as a broody balladeer. He’ll sing anytime, anywhere. He’s survived a troubled personal life of various addictions and crashes, but clearly relishes the role of wiser, wizened, antipretty spokesman for his fans?most of whom seem to share his Scottish/Irish connections and his age group. One imagines that to Leven-ites the word “strokes” conjures up medical histories rather than some hot young band.

Flanked by two colleagues, ironically named his “Sex Trio”, Leven lilts through his sorrowful songs. You think of L S Lowry?noble stooping northerners and all that. “Another Man In The Old Arcade” and “Classic Northern Diversions” are splendid examples of his new material. But mostly, you’re still thinking of Johnny Vegas’ jowls. The scatological anecdotes stretch on forever. He’s either shooting himself in the foot or, after a life fully lived, displaying cavalier career apathy.

We learn that on a train recently Leven engaged in a surreal conversation with a(nother) drunk. That in Cardiff, he stared at “an enormous human shite” on the pavement. And that his girlfriend, through a series of what must be called “comic misunderstandings”, thinks he’s got trouble with his bowels. It’s funny at the time?well, for some of the time. Leven’s supporting Richard Thompson in Europe, then touring the UK. One hopes his inner Roy Orbison turns up, not his inner Roy Chubby Brown.

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