A Day With The Levellers

By Steve Jenner on 12 May 2009

On Monday I had the privilege of spending the day (and evening) with one of my favourite bands of all-time, The Levellers, in their hometown of Brighton.

Half of you reading this have just winced in disgust, I know, The Levellers being the marmite of the music world. But for me, thankfully, there's a little bit of magic imbibed in their music that just seems to brighten up any day.

The band were playing an acoustic headline slot as part of the Brighton City Festival, in an incredible portable venue which some of you may know as The Parlure at Glastonbury and Beautiful Days among other festies. For this occasion it was situated on a green, just behind the sea-front.

Our first call was a catch up over a pint with our good mate Laura Farrow, who runs The Levs' Beautiful Days festival with her husband Dave. It was great to hear that, after a soggy last year, tickets are on course to sell out again this year and word in the camp is that they've got their best line-up yet.

Aside from being created by some of my musical heroes, I've always been immensely proud of Beautiful Days and what it represents. It's a pioneering example of an independent festival set-up and run purely for passion with a creative vision and unwavering conviction that with enough attention to detail and hard work, you don't have to compromise your values and take corporate sponsorship to make ends meet. The approach paid off and it's sold out consistently for the last few years and blossomed into one of the best festivals in Europe, one that has laid a template that many others are now trying to follow. Hats off to them, it's an inspirational achievement.

After this it was time for a chat with the band. I was hoping for a couple of them so it was a pleasant surprise when all six rocked up and huddled around me.

We kicked off with a present day update. Note to aspiring journos - never tell a veteran band they appear "re-vitalised". "That suggests we've been shit for the last 20 years!", exclaimed Jeremy. Luckily they took my faux pas in the spirit in which it was intended and the chat was light and humorous, aside from a venomous outpouring at the unscrupulous organiser of a festival they'd been booked to play recently (who had done a runner with all the cash and not paid anyone).

I then recited a list of all the festivals VF had covered The Levellers at over the last decade (from V99 - their unlikely inspiration for Beautiful Days - to our very own UK Festival Awards). Despite initial worries that they wouldn't remember anything longer than 2 weeks ago, the boys were able to recall and comment on every gig! The full interview will be up on VF soon so stay posted. You'll either love it or hate it, ho ho.     

Next was a quick visit to the Queens Hotel on the sea-front (where VF veteran and close friend John Bownas is to be hosting a bunch of gigs at The Great Escape Fest this coming weekend), followed by some reminiscing on our adventures, these last 10 years of VF - something we are finding ourselves doing a lot these days - over fish and chips. John and his wife Sara (VF's chief photographer extraordinaire) have been with us since the very beginning and we've been through a lot together.

Next up, it was show-time. I've seen a lot of things over the last 10 years, but before tonight, I'd never seen full-on moshing, crowd surfing and stage invasions at an acoustic gig. If you don't like marmite, I'm sorry but you're missing out on real magic. The Levellers remain one of the greatest live bands on the planet... Especially in their revitalised form - doh!    

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