STUART (new CV label manager, his first meeting with JL) – “Er, can I start by asking Jackie what the album title, GOTHIC ROAD actually means, if anything?”
JACKIE – “Well, we all walk two roads – the Royal Road, and the Road of Poverty and Death, however we imagine these roads to be. When these two roads meet, then we are walking on the GOTHIC ROAD.”
STUART (doubtfully) – “Does it make any difference which direction you walk on the GOTHIC ROAD?”
JACKIE – “None at all”.
STUART (still doubtfully) – “Is this all true?”
MARTIN GOLDSCHMIDT (CV supremo, without looking up from doodling) – “It is now …”
GOTHIC ROAD opens with the choral sound of GHOST VOICES OF THE KURSK – three young Russian men from the northern seaboard city of Murmansk, all of whose brothers died in that Russian submarine tragedy. This is closely followed by the sound of a German sat nav lady guiding JACKIE’s tour bus out of the city of Hamburg last year. And so the stage is set for twelve strong tales from the GOTHIC ROAD – powerful stories from one who has walked the road for nearly sixty years.
Many of the songs are at once mystical but also locked in the daily grind of emotional survival. In keeping with his longstanding creative association with mavericks and outlaws, (David Thomas, Johnny Dowd etc) JACKIE collaborates here with fabled English renegade RALPH McTELL. RALPH supplies the yearning second lead vocal, plus Gibson acoustic guitars on CORNELIUS WHALEN, a song about the man who was the last of the Jarrow marchers left alive when JACKIE wrote the song – the Jarrow March** being a superb example of the reality of the GOTHIC ROAD.
Elsewhere on the album, JACKIE fantasises about the creative dynamo that is actress TILDA SWINTON, hides in his hotel mini bar from the tyranny of endless touring, sings a song written by the original punk poet PATRIK FITZGERALD, (SHADOW OF A MAN) and welcomes on board a guest recording by his co-producer, the great Welsh singer DAVID WRENCH (ISLAND).
The album abounds with GOTHIC ROAD-ness, as in the coda of the song GOTHIC ROAD itself, where the royal road pomp of HENRY PRIESTMAN’s massed plucked cellos is counter-pointed by JOHN ROBERT’S skeletal spoons playing, casting a cold eye on the poverty-stricken end of the street. Or in the lush celestial choir voices on LAST OF THE BADMEN as the anti hero at the end of his personal road pleads in a PARTON-esque refrain – ‘please don’t kill me just because you can’.
The music on GOTHIC ROAD provides cast iron proof that the creative phenomenon that is JACKIE LEVEN is not simply continuing to go from strength to strength, but is close to passing out of sight on a road that others fear to tread.
(Signed copies available from Cooking Vinyl.)