There are lots of things, if we are being honest, to dislike about London. The sheer rudeness of people on the tube, the unreliability of the tube, the fact that we have to get on the bloody tube at all. Or what about the high risk of crime, the grotty unkempt neighbourhoods, the overpriced pubs, the lack of decent local club cricket grounds, the recent election of Boris Johnson, who makes my skin crawl and - most of all - the fact that because of this people seem so miserable all the time ? But, while we accept all this in order not to live two hours away from our workplaces, there are the odd times when I’m actually glad I came to London.

Tonight was one of them. Jackie Leven is approaching sixty, and sitting down with his acoustic hair, and his sleeve jackets rolled up, he does not look like a rock star. But, by any measure, he has lived. The full story would exhaust this article, but it includes heroin addiction (admittedly, I doubt anyone could see this as a positive life experience), mental health problems, homelessness, being the victim of a violent and potentially life threatening physical assault and four albums with the punk band Doll By Doll.

Doll By Doll were one of those unlucky bands that John Peel didn’t like. Whilst his support often helped many deserving bands to well earned recognition, his overarching control of public taste meant some worthy artists never passed go. I wouldn’t blame Doll By Doll’s failure to reach a mass audience on Peel (their record label boss, the man who later funded New Labour and now goes by the name Lord Levy was much more to blame) it is a shame that his disinterest kept the band away from lots of people that would surely have liked them.

Nevermind. Jackie Leven has now made a string of albums for Cooking Vinyl and his charismatic live performance has ensured a small but significantly devoted following. Meanwhile, his work as founder and patron of a mental health charity saw him hobnobbing with Princess Diana during the Major Government.

Tonight’s show is intimate even by his standards, but it is in the lovely Green Note venue. I perch right at the back, behind tables where strictly vegetarian food and coffee is served, but I am at most ten metres from the stage. Leven takes a seat to watch the support artist, before moving to the stage. He begins with what might have become my favourite of his songs, ‘Another Man’s Rain’, from his most recent album.

He has consistently stressed that he aims to be seen as a good storyteller, and detailed lyrics are at the heart of even his most melodic songs. And yet, his music has the passionate qualities of Van Morrison, a man whose lyrics were never more than vague. Fans of one are likely to be fans of the other, explained one of Leven’s most noted fans, the former Mojo editor Paul Du Noyer. I’m inclined to agree.

Perhaps the most enjoyable aspect of this show was the stories told in between songs (particularly an account of Leven’s doomed attempts to use his existing ticket after missing a train home from London the day before by insisting that he had been hounded from the train by some rowdy Portsmouth supporters). But bizarrely, I most enjoyed leaving. As people walked past a tiny café near Camden tube station, they can’t possible have realised that inside one of Britain’s most gifted songwriters was giving an outstanding performance to less than thirty people. But I got to see it, so I win.








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