Heartbroken that he’s gone,

Gutted that I never got to see him live

One last time.

‘Single Father’ live

We specialise in being the type of fans who coolly (we imagine) pretend not to notice our heroes when they’re not on the stage. Way too shy to sidle up to someone to say how much we love what they do. No doubt if we had done, we would have come up with something crass like the chap informing Jackie he was crap enough to be on Jools Holland. You know the story.

But I think Jackie was perceptive enough to realise what he meant to undemonstrative fans like ourselves. And I don’t think that failing to achieve mainstream success should ever have bothered him much. Those who do ‘make it’ often do so by compromising themselves or by dumbing down to some extent. They become lowest-common denominator replicants of their earlier selves. Look at Pulp. Their breakthrough hit ‘Common People’ was just a more pedestrian version of a vision that had been more poetically and movingly portrayed on His’n’Hers and in great melodramatic style in songs like ‘Razzmatazz’. Sure, they gained fame and the approval of the masses, but they lost those they’d captured at the beginning with subtler and more heartfelt narratives.  I couldn’t help but notice that the audience at Glastonbury this year failed to react when Jarvis Cocker signalled the introduction of songs from before ‘the hit’, just not getting the references to those classics of their earlier career.

Thank God Jackie didn’t turn into a household name – that may have helped ensure that his work continued to be a pure distillation of raw passion and true emotion rather than the watered-down remains of half-forgotten feelings common to the hackneyed repetitious ditties riding high in the charts.

I thank whatever gods may be that I enjoyed the majesty and grandeur, the lyricism, the soul that was Doll by Doll, albeit late in the day via my sister and her legendary music-loving friend Tone at Reading University. He taped the albums for us but we went out and bought them nonetheless, all ‘marked down’ or ‘special purchase’ at stores like Our Price. Not one cost over £2.99. Possibly the best musical bargains ever. You can only check out a tiny proportion of these amazing songs on YouTube but I recommend all the albums.

When I was at college, my taped Doll by Doll albums formed the perfect soundtrack to all that celebrated adolescent angst, falling in and out of love, making friendships I imagined would last forever, nights of desperate alienation and days when I knew I could never be so happy again. Those prelapsarian days when you never felt so joyously connected to people and yet still at times so curiously isolated. Thank you, Jo Shaw, for ‘I will be there beside you with my undiplomatic pain, A shaking hand to guide you to your own el alamein’ from ‘Endgame’, just one of the many standout tracks on Gypsy Blood, along with the title track, ‘The Human Face’  (‘She lives in a steel comb world, Where sad men in leather will fight over girls’), ‘Teenage Lightning’, ‘Highland Rain’ and so on.

I rejoice that I was able to see them in reformation at the Borderline probably some time in the 90s. That was after we’d started going to Jackie solo gigs at various venues around town but quite frequently at the 12 Bar Club, getting tickets from Andy’s Guitar Shop beforehand to save a quid or so. I think we’d often confound other audience members, and Jackie as well I suspect, by dancing. Jackie live was always such a complete experience and he’d often play on into the night, which was brilliant except that we felt cheated when we had to miss the end of gigs in order to catch the last train back to Sidcup.

Now I wish we’d stayed on and taken the blasted bus but in those days it did take about three hours, winding its way through southeast London, and you were taking your life in your hands, not to mention your bladder. Now they no longer even run a night bus to Sidcup.

We did our best to spread the gospel of Jackie. Sometimes the proselytising took and we welcomed converts, sometimes it didn’t. I was amused that one friend, who we’d told about Jackie dozens of times previously, suddenly decided that we might be right after reading a positive review in The Guardian and deigned to accompany us to a gig.

I don’t think many Jackie fans set much store by what’s in the charts or which albums are highly rated by pretentious zeitgeist magazines. They’re all intelligent and individual enough not to be guided by whatever the latest arbiter of pop culture happens to dictate is in.

Tons of fans have expressed everything so much better already that I’ll resist the temptation to wax lyrical about the immense talent that was Jackie Leven. They’ve all more than covered the hilarious anecdotes, the exploration of the percussive potential of the guitar, the amazing songs, the indescribably versatile, beautiful voice.

Am I alone in feeling aggrieved rather than gratified by the obituaries? Funny (but in a desperately sad way) how someone’s untimely death instantly validates their art. It remains to be seen whether the flurry of Jackie appreciation precipitated by his demise will consolidate itself into anything more permanent, translate into sales, or whether it will quickly subside as the pseuds switch to the next flavour of the month.

‘Marble City Bar’ live

Doll by Doll’s ‘Stripshow’ from Gypsy Blood

See also http://sshh-sshh.blogspot.com/ for more on Jackie. Irreplaceable. Still can’t believe he’s gone.

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