A peaceful Sunday in Last Of The Summer Wine country belied the fact that The Levellers were in town and stirring up a sell out crowd inside the century old Picturedrome. The Levellers might well be described as a band for all occasions. From the fields of Glastonbury and the Isle Of Wight to provincial theatres to their very own Beautiful Days Festival (now in it’s tenth year), they carry off their legendary live shows to perfection. Like many bands of their ilk, they have deservedly earned their reputation in the live arena. Currently on a trip which has taken them from summer festivals to some smaller indoor venues, it’s in intimate venues like the Picturedrome that they are really at their finest.
In an online interview with Mark Chadwick before the autumn 2012 tour to promote their new Static On The Airwaves album, he dismissed a question about spending time rehearsing; his reply being about how the band do what they do very well without rehearsals. It’s hard not to disagree with him as a twenty five year career and the constant round of touring has kept them sharp and at the top of their game, and with no new album to promote this time round, there was a welcome opportunity to juggle the setlist. It was fiddle player Jon Sevink’s frantic bowing which set the ball rolling with a stirring England My Home being plucked from the archives of the band’s first EP along with a handful of songs from the seminal Levelling The Land album which continues to make up the core of the set. Although that album itself is over twenty years old, it’s difficult to ignore the strength of songs like Sell Out, Liberty, the punk attitude of set closer Riverflow and even the more folky Boatman, all of which are almost anthem like in their status and generally invoke mass pogoing and crowd participation.
They are a compelling band to watch live with effectively four frontmen lined up across the front of the stage. Despite not paying dues to being the traditional guitar hero, Mark Chadwick handles his guitar with appropriate disdain and throws in a few classic shapes for good measure whilst he and Simon Friend swapped vocals and various stringed instruments flanked by iconic dreadlocked bassist Jeremy Cunningham and the fiddle of spring heeled Jon Sevink who regularly took the chance to swap positions and provide a highly visual foil to the centre mics as well as impressively playing their instruments while constantly on the move. In fact it was Sevink who stood out as the key player with his inimitable fiddle sound giving the band their distinctive flavour and only right that he took a solo showcase in Forgotten Towns where his frenzied and feverish fiddle was accompanied only by Chapman’s tirade against the decline of commercial values and “dying in the shadow of shopping malls” As one of the few more recent songs included in the live show along with Mutiny and The Cholera Well, it’s an indication of the strength of their last two ‘On The Fiddle’ albums produced by Sean Lakeman which have managed to capture their live energy into a studio environment.
Thrown in for good measure were fresh workings of World Freak Show and Belaruse all the while some of the more ambitious fans in the audience attempted some crowd surfing while some were content just to balance on their mate’s shoulders; all part of the full on live experience with The Levellers which breaks down the barriers and extends from the stage all the way to the back of the room such that everyone feels fully engaged and part of the event. Paying tribute to their home for the night, Simon Friend blew out a harmonica tribute of the mournful Last Of The Summer Wine theme tune to the delight (or chagrin) of the locals before the more familiar opening to the standard Carry Me from the early days.
Suffice to say that whenever I’ve seen The Levellers I find myself coming out of the gig with a healthy sweat on (and judging by Mark Chadwick’s shirt, he’s shed a bit too) and also vowing to get online to check out the next nearest levs gig. There must be a few more fans who feel and do the same too.
Review & photos by Mike Ainscoe