The Levellers: A Curious Life

Regular readers will know I LOVE the Levellers. And I’ve been to see them AGAIN. Yes, I did only see them in November and in May before that, but you can never get enough Levellers in my humble opinion. Well, I can’t. And this time was different. This was a screening of their documentary film A Curious Life, celebrating their 25 years as a band, followed by an acoustic set. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I do know that it far outweighed my expectations.

The documentary was the story of the Levellers, but told in a bit of a backwards and forwards kind of way, mainly from the point of bass player, Jeremy, who is funny and endearing in front of the camera. He fed the seagulls in his garden and showed us his extensive collection of history books, before introducing us to his art and music, interspersed with ‘that light switch is broken’, ‘we had to kick the door in’ etc etc. The film was made by Dunstan Bruce, formerly of Chambawamba, who toured with the Levellers on a number of occasions, and would totally have got where they were coming from.

The Levellers have a huge fan base, yet they’ve never been ‘popular’ as such. The film shares their tiffs with the music press. Remarkably, I remembered the exact covers and the exact headlines, it’s incredible what you can fill your head with as a young adult with no responsibilities! The film also shared footage of Glastonbury 1992, the first time I saw them. They didn’t have footage themselves and had to literally go crawling round a loft and sifting through boxes to find it. Again, I remember the exact words that were uttered (rather choice language against Michael Eavis), because I’d had a bootleg tape of the concert.

Despite their long career, the Levellers have no intention of splitting or quitting the music business. They say they are going to keep on playing and recording until they’re dead!

After the film, Jeremy and Dunstan took questions from the audience. I would really have liked to ask one, I just wasn’t sure what!

Then it was time for the acoustic set. In many ways, an acoustic set doesn’t differ that much from a regular Levellers set, because that’s the nature of folk music. The main differences were that they were sitting down and the lighting was un-spectacular! Oh, and the audience stayed seated and didn’t punch the air. It was REALLY hard not to punch the air, but I danced in my seat.

They kicked off with The Boatman, which we saw from the film had a particular significance to band member, Simon. Then it was onto The Road.

The next song was the first song they wrote together – Hard Fight. It didn’t appear on a studio album initially, but appeared on See Nothing, Hear Nothing, Do Something, a collection of singles, B-sides and live tracks in 1992. It contains the words ‘you’re by yourself again,’ which struck a chord with me at the time. I was in my first year at university and it turned out that broadcast journalism students (of which I was one), weren’t keen on Levellers fans from Gloucestershire, so I quite often was by myself (again).

PicMonkey levellersacousticCollage

There was a handful of songs I didn’t recognise. After Mouth to Mouth, the fifth studio album, I got wrapped up in kids and didn’t have as much time to listen to music. I bought the albums, but hardly listened to them, then, when I did have time to listen, I went back to my old favourites – the first five albums.

The band chatted to the audience between tracks and it turns out that lead singer, Mark Chadwick, has a Stewart Lee-like sense of humour. The acoustic set suited both his and Simon Friend’s voices perfectly.

It wasn’t until three tracks from the end and Truth Is, from most recent album, Static on the Airwaves (which I love as much as the old albums), that people finally got up and danced. Thank goodness for that!

For the encore they sang Carry Me and What You Know, both from first album A Weapon Called the Word. Earlier in the evening, my husband asked me what it was that got me into the Levellers in the first place. It was Carry Me. They played it at the club I went to on a school night at the age of 17, among New Model Army and Sisters of Mercy tracks. It was simultaneously beautiful and dirty, and I loved it. And I’ve never stopped loving it.

Together, the documentary and the acoustic set make a brilliant evening. It’s a pretty long tour, so if you get the chance to go along, I would highly recommend it!

Author: Sarah Mummy

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  1. Sounds like a fabulous evening! I love it that you were into The Levellers from such a young age and haven’t wandered at all – a real hard core fan! x

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    • Thanks! I loved them right from that first song! I think it’s partly the fact that they tour so often has meant I’ve stayed a fan, but also because their music is brilliant! x

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  2. That was a really great read – and I’m so pleased I spotted the post – so much nostalgia. I first got into the Levellers just before that Glastonbury and that was the first time I saw them too – and Carry Me really is just the most amazing tune. I saw them a few more times over the next few years, but I never really stayed with them because my music taste is pretty eclectic, so I was just as happy with The Bunnymen, The Sugarcubes and The Stone Roses as I was with The Levellers or Faithless.
    A mate of ours used to ring up Chumbawamba occasionally – their phone number was on the back of the album, and we rescued a dog that couldn’t stomach anything rich – so therefore actually couldn’t eat meat, we called him Chumba – he lived another 10 years so we eventually had to go through the embarrassment of people asking “Tubthumping?” 😀

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    • Love your comment too! I had completely forgotten about the existence of The Sugarcubes, but you’ve just reminded me! Nice to hear from someone else who saw them at Glastonbury in 1992 too!
      Love that your friend used to phone up Chumbawamba! We saw them a fair few times back in the day too and had a few albums, not just the famous Tubthumping one!

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  3. Def be watching this- tho on a night when my OH is out due to his irrational hatred! I reckon I first saw them in 1989 – I think it was 50p entry and was just in our local alternative club, within a couple of years I remember moaning it was £15 to see them at the big hall in the town when Levelling The Land had come out!

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    • Wow, 1989! That is impressive! Apparently the DVD is out in April, so not too long to wait! I think your OH is just uninitiated and needs to open his mind! 😉

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