A Virtual Audience with The Levellers

Still keeping it real after nearly 20 years, festival legends The Levellers bravely exposed themselves to the scrutiny and lunacy of our message board users, answering questions about their time in the band and their award-winning festival Beautiful Days.

[r-zone1]There are two types of festival-goer – those who love The Levellers. And those who loathe them. Given the total lack of any middle ground whatsoever (you will never meet anyone who thinks this band are 'alright'), it's a dichotomy that has long intrigued us. Some philosophers might claim it reflects a more profound divide in humanity. Others would say folk-punk is just not a genre worthy of philosophy. We don't really care. Just like the band (fast approaching their 20'th anniversary) it's not going to go away any time soon.

[l-zone3]The Levellers still hold the record attendance figure for a headliner at Glastonbury Festival – estimated to be as high as 300,000, back in 1994 – more than double the size of the crowds that Paul McCartney, Radiohead, Oasis, Rod Stewart, Coldplay and David Bowie have played to since. Yet can you imagine any of them sitting down before one of their own sold-out gigs to crowd around a laptop to answer questions submitted by our message board users?

[r-zone2]That's exactly what Mark Chadwick (singer) and Jon Sevinck (fiddle player) did, much to our respect, when we met them backstage at their sold-out gig at London's Shepherds Bush Empire recently. What's more, they weren't interested in our edited list of questions. They wanted to see – and respond to – every single one posted, no matter how tedious, loony or offensive it was. Crowding around VF's laptop, with Jon reading out the questions to Mark, the result was one of the most funny, enjoyable and at times emotional interview experiences in VF's seven and a half year history. To cap it off, Mark then spent the rest of the day in the pub with us, drinking us under the table before performing the best Levellers set we've seen this side of Escot Park! A video of the interview will be available soon. Until then, here are some transcribed highlights…

The band were asked to pick their favourite question with the sender winning a pair of tickets to next year's Beautiful Days.

What are your thoughts on England's smoking ban and how do you think it will affect festivals? – Steve, Morden

Mark Chadwick: [Puffing on a Marlborough] I think it's great. Can't wait. How will it affect the festival? We don't know yet.
[l-zone4]Jon Sevinck: We'll wait and see. Unfortunately I think that what's going to happen is that people who organise festivals will be held accountable and it will just be another way of taxing festival organisers because you simply cannot go into a festival and arrest someone for smoking, that's just not sustainable so they hit you in the wallet where it really hurts. 

What was the vision you had when you first envisaged Beautiful Days and does the festival live up to what you imagined?Rob, Sheffield.

[r-zone5]MC: Yes, it's just great. It's the best thing in the world. I envisioned Elephant Fayre [legendary folk/rock festival held from 1982 until 1986 on a Country Estate in Cornwall. Went on to inspire the cabaret and theatre areas at Glastonbury and was recently brought back to life as a literary festival]. I thought, 'right, we'll take that and put it in a modern environment'. 

With the exponential growth in the popularity of UK festivals, will you strive to keep Beautiful Days in it's current form, or do you think it's possible to expand to make a larger festival based on green spirit?Pav, Kent

MC: Green spirit – is that Absinthe? No, we will endeavour to keep Beautiful Days the same, and to maintain its loveliness.

If you could persuade your ultimate act to headline Beautiful Days, who would it be?Dim, Exeter

MC: Nick Cave.
JS: Of course.

Will Gogol Bordello be playing next year? – "Tootsie"

MC: We hope so, we'd like them to.
JS: 'Gypsy punks'. Are they really gypsies, though?
MC: No.
JS: Are they really punks?
MC: No. But neither are we. Do they really call themselves that? [Winces]
JS: I upset Phil Jupitus recently by saying I didn't like them.
MC: They make crap records but apparently they're good live.

Did you read some of the bitching and sniping on the message boards about facilities and organisation at this year's festival? If so, did you feel disappointed by it?"Emperor Ming", S.E. England

MC: To be honest, I did read it. As soon as I got back, I went into my local pub which has a little computer just like this and I started to read it and it was all about toilets which, let's face it, aren't the most important thing in the world…
JS: But ours are still better than most festivals'.
MC: Yes of course they are. I can't believe it – ten thousand people had a brilliant time and f**king five people  go 'toilets are a bit crap' and all of a sudden it's a big thing. I find it all very upsetting. Nobody took it into consideration that there were lorries and hills and rain. And it won't happen next year because we're good and we learn from our mistakes.

As you throw such a good party, will you extend it to include the Thursday as well? We don't need stage shows, just camping, a bar and some food stalls.Jon, Somerset

JS: This is a tricky one but give 'em Thursday, they'll only want Wednesday…
MC: Exactly. And they WILL want entertainment on the Thursday and then the ticket price will go up and they'll moan about that, so no.

Do most acts at Beautiful Days camp like the peasants, or do they wimp out and stay in five star hotels nearby? – "Pabsy77"

MC: Who are we gonna dish the dirt on here then? Ian McCulloch? He's a nice fella. [Howls with laughter] Not. [Attempts scouse accent] 'I'm not campin' on site until I've got a packet of red Marlborough and two grammes' [More laughter]. Most of them stay and then leave in a rotten state. Damian Dempsey was the best at staying, though.

Devon is indeed very beautiful but if you were to take the festival on holiday with you where else in the world would you hold it?  – Maria, London

MC: Spain?
JS: Spain or Portugal.

If you take Beautiful Days to Australia, would you rename it "Bonza Days"? – "Sawdust"

[Much laughter and applause] MC: Yes, definitely! Superb.

Does the fact that alcohol is today's festival drug of choice mean that modern events can never
have the ability to set light to the imagination in the way events used to when other substances were more popular?
Chris, a Scot living in Bristol

JS: The problem, Chris, is that we can't go back in time to when you could get a cup of mushroom tea for 50p from someone in a Tipi. But, you can sneak it in with you and you don't have to buy beer if you don't want to.

You are about to step on stage. But which stage and why – the record breaking Glastonbury Pyramid Stage headlining set [back in 2004] or Beautiful Days? – "Rich"

MC: Ooh that's not fair. I'd say the record breaking set at Beautiful Days [2006] – I was sick! 

The band are all stranded on a deserted island. What one item would each member like to have with them and why?Helen, Cambridgeshire

MC: A lady, for obvious reasons. Not a Swiss Army Knife, that's not gonna do you any good, is it?
JS: [Slightly vexed] Considering it's a band stranded on the desert island, don't you think it might help to have a guitar?
MC: What, and we're gonna sing to eachother? No! We Want a lady.

What is your favourite type of cheese? – "Purplegemini"

MC: Stilton.
SC: Parmesan [MC giggles]

If you all ended up going on a killing frenzy, who would you kill first?  – Jasmine, Stockport

MC: [howling with laughter] Good question, I like that one!
JS: Can we start with Thatcher because she's old anyway…
MC: Yes, and she'd appreciate it, actually, because she's probably in a lot of agony.

If you had the chance to all live life again then is there anything you'd change about what you've done?Alan, Suffolk

MC: No. Never, ever. Not one thing.
JS: I would have told my sister…
MC: [Explodes with laughter] …that I was a very bad choice of boyfriend?

Which song would you choose to play at your funeral? – "Tinakarina"

Both: Highway To Hell

How would you best like The Levellers to be remembered, bearing in mind all the wonderful things you`ve achieved over the years? – "Janey X"

MC: I'd just like to be remembered.
JS: Not in any particular way?
MC: No, just remembered. Please remember us!

What is your response to some people's thinking that you have sold out as a result of doing a podcast for The Sun? – "Only Me"

JS: All I can say to start that one off is that I was told, a very long time ago, that we'd sold out as soon as we made our first record. Somebody honestly said that to me – that they used to like me, but when I made a record that was it. I'd sold out.
MC: There's always something. It's like, you cut your hair and they say 'You've sold out! Sellouts!' Bollocks. Anyone who says that is a self-righteous a***hole.

Do you feel that you have, as individuals or a group, in any way contributed to the change of the polictical landscape in this country over the past 17 odd years? – "Brum"

MC: Well that can be quite an upsetting question. I'd like to say 'yes', but I'm not convinced because this country has not improved in any way. In fact, it's only got worse.
JS: And we are, afterall, only playing music. Change comes from within.

What's the general opinion of P2P filesharing as a band? Does it assist you as a means of spreading the word or is it a negative thing that you rather would not happen, morally or financially?Ally, Northampton

MC: Penis to penis filesharing?
JS: You don't know what P2P is, do you?
MC: Yes! It's when penis touches penis and you share a file…
JS: [Laughing] What sort of file? I know what that means because I'm speccy. It's about whether or not it's ok to make recorded music available for free and personally in my opinion the answer is 'yes'.
MC: Of course. All day long. The only people who make money out of records are record companies. we make our money from playing gigs, which we love.

If you could banish two politicians to outer space, who would it be and why? – "The Evil Bob"

MC: Who d'yer think? That's a bit obvious.

On average, how often would you say you actually get to have a good wash and has this number risen over the years since your birth as band? – Vita, Norfolk

[Both sqeal with laughter]
JS: I'm going to answer this one. He's allergic to water! Spit in the air, run underneath is his style.
MC: Yes, it's as simple as that. No, is the answer.

Do you enjoy being Drunk In Public? [reference to acoustic side-project] – Jan, Isle of Wight.

JS: Look into my eyes, look into my eyes, the eyes, the eyes, not around the eyes, don't look around the eyes, look into my eyes… [*clicks*] you're under. There is no such band as Drunk In Public. Three, two, one, you're back in the room.

I'm going to the bar – what's yours?Karen, Derby

MC: [Eyes light up] A pint of Guinness.
JS: A Drambuie shandy.

I'm old enough to remember you when you were angry young men in Brighton who really thought you could change the world. Have you mellowed since then? – "Curious1"

MC: [*Emits exhasperated sigh*] Oh f**k off! I'm an angry old man.

Do You Like Cauliflower Cheese? I doMad Iccy, Devon

MC: [Cracking up] Just had to be from Devon, didn't they! No I don't.

Where am I? – "Miser Bill"

MC: Devon, probably!
JS: Round the wrong end of a sheep with bailer twine on?

What would you define as Heaven?Jules, Nottingham

JS: There's no such thing as heaven, only hell.
MC: There is. it's a pint of Guinness and a full pack of cigarettes. That'll do me, I don't really ask for much.

If the rest of the band all had kidney failure, which member would you give a kidney to to save?Dim, Exeter

[Both guffaw]
MC: You, obviously [to Jon] But I'm the one who's gonna need it most.
JS: Yes, you are. I'd give you a kidney.

If you had not been in The Levellers what would you be doing now?Dim, Exeter

JS: Being thrown out by security, probably.
MC: [Laughing] Yes, definitely! Being thrown out by security.

Is it true that Mark Chadwick and David Essex have never been seen in the same room?Cassy, Midlands

[MC Almost falls off his seat laughing]
JS: Or Mick Hucknall for that matter!
MC: Still, they're both pullers.

A young festival fan called Ginger Bubble Boy writes: "My Beautiful Day was… going to your festival with my dad in the van, getting up rearly early and eating cake for breakfast in the Tiny tent and then finding all the things that people dropped all night under the hammocks. Dad makes me hand it all in though but it is funny ringing other people's phones and then meeting them to give it back. Then, spending the day lerning from Sam Sam the Bubble Man. Dad buys me a massive chinese and pancakes for tea and I sneak backstage and meet all the cool people like Mad Professor and The Levellers. I get in the fire show when it's dark and loads of people watch and clap. Last of all, we watch The Levellers and dad takes me back to the Tiny tent and we do some crazy dancing. I just wish the walk back to the van wasn't so far and the hills so big. I did all of this and it was my Beautiful Day. What has been the most Beautiful Day in your life?"

MC: [Claps] That is superb. I've never had a day as good as that, that's the best day ever. Fantastic.

I was driving in my car the other day, singing along to one of your CDs with the window open. I stopped at some temporary traffic lights. The man holding the pole made a very rude comment about my singing. If I had got out of my car, ripped the pole from his hands and bashed him with it, Would you have come and visited me in prison?Carol from Essex

[Both collapse in hysterics]
JS: Of course we would Carol from Essex, you know we would. I'm an Essex boy myself, from Harlow.

Is it true that one of you played Tracey's son in Birds of a Feather? – "Cookie01"

MC: Yes, that was Matt, our keyboardist.

Why are they so popular when they are clearly crap?Kitt, South Coast

[Both burst out laughing]
JS: You've got us there, can't fault you for that one! Shhhh – just don't tell anyone.
MC: Our little secret!

Is it possible to retain one's beverage in it's preffered vessel whilst dancing like a hobgoblin on liberty caps to the song Riverflow? – "Azaz3l"

MC: [Laughs] I've done it! Yeah you can, it's easy. Otherwise just give it to a mate to hold.

If mud is so good for nourishing the skin, how come hippos are so wrinkly? – Jethro, Barnsley

MC: They aren't! I've been on safari and they're not wrinkly. Hippos are very smooth and really quite attractive.

For more information on The Levellers visit www.thelevellers.co.uk

Beautiful Days 2007 takes place at Escot Park on 17-19 August 2007. Click on the links below for more details.