The festival circuit's favourite uncles shrug off the years, rejuvenate themselves and shine more relevant in recession-grappled Britain than ever.
Warmed up by Hobo Jones’ scrapyard challenge fuelled hippy-punk and Pama International’s nu-Ska reggae vibes, the Forum is a tight-packed tinderbox. The crowd spans generations. But for very few will this be a first-time experience. Coming out to see The Levellers isn’t just a pastime, it’s a way of life.
But once you’ve seen any band as many times as this audience has probably seen this one, despite loving them dearly, there’s a risk of simply not really listening: another great gig but nothing new – just that satisfying collapse into a comfy old leather sofa and an excuse for a sweaty workout all rolled into one.
But here’s something just that little bit different… a positive insistence to stand up and listen anew. Is it these hard financial times that are proof that a band who were born out of the political strife of Thatcher’s divided Britain still have something fresh and relevant to offer? Bands half the age of The Levellers stand up, shut up and listen… looking at the youngsters in The Forum tonight there’s a new old kid on the block.
The stage is set in darkness as military pipes fill the venue and Mark, Simon (resplendent in Easy Rider beardiness), Jon, Jeremy, Matt and Charlie enter stage right to launch into Battle of the Beanfield. As the set unfolds, there’s a dawning sense of slipping back to ‘88 and the need to listen just that little bit harder, as new songs and old favourites vie for attention.
It may be that The Levellers are past the peak of their commercial chart success (such as it was, despite the antagonism that they always courted with the popular music press), but their performance tonight is as good as they ever produced at their height. Easy confidence flows across the stage, freeing each instrument and voice to speak for itself, whilst simultaneously creating one almighty foot-stomping, head-jerking swirl.
The playlist has been meticulously crafted, meshing old favourites such as One Way of Life and Dirty Davy with new tracks form the current album "Letters from the Underground". When a band spends as long playing live as The Levellers have then you’d expect nothing less.
Cholera Well, and Before The End are particular stand-outs from the latest album, the latter being a powerful and heartfelt ballad which induces that swaying mob behaviour which would have ingnited a multitude of lighters in pre-smoking ban days. Old songs have undergone careful, subtle reworking to give them a new lease of life and Matt’s keyboards have taken on a life of their own since their introduction to the band’s sonic armoury several years ago and help to fill out what was already a fully rounded sound.
Whether the half-time lull in energy levels is a calculated device to allow the crowd to catch their breath or a reflection on the band’s need to recharge after their seemingly incessant touring schedule (which must take its toll on men who are no longer flushed with the vigour of youth) is of no consequence. The tempo drops for Before The End and Behold a Pale Rider, and then bang! They’re back at full power, careering towards a double encore, which includes England, my Home and Liberty.
Roll on Beautiful Days.