The Leveller’s marked their thirtieth anniversary with a sold-out show that was studded with classics at O2 Academy last month; part of their One Way of Life greatest hits tour.
One fateful night in Brighton three decades ago, Mark Chadwick and Jeremy Cunningham met in a pub and decided to form The Levellers after discovering they had left wing politics, amongst other influences, in common – taking their name from a radical 17th century liberal movement. With Charlie Heather joining on the drums, Jon Sevink on fiddle, Simon Friend on guitar and Matt Savage on keyboard over the years, The Levellers grew to become one the biggest names in folk punk.
A Weapon Called the Word is one of the few albums known to have gone gold without ever officially charting
Their debut album A Weapon Called the Word is one of the few albums known to have gone gold without ever officially charting. Signed to independent label China Records, their platinum-selling Levelling The Land was released a year later in 1991.
The O2 was packed out to the rafters with punters new and old eager to get their fix of The Levellers’ particular brand of upbeat folk punk rock. There were many dreadlocks in sight as well as starry eyed children who looked like their parents had brought them to their first gig.
Starting their set with a passionate rendition of England My Home, it was clear to see that the band were still loving every minute of it. Having played together for so many years, their sound is tight and every member is a master of their craft. Addressing the Bristol crowd, Chadwick says ‘Thirty years now and it just gets better. Love it here – thinking of moving’.
Stand-out track Julie was received with rapture, the audience singing along to every word. Like much of their catalogue, it’s an allegorical tale about the hardships of our capitalist consumer world; ‘Got a job what you’re supposed to do, That’s what you’ve got to do’.
Friend switched his guitar for some frenetic banjo, marrying perfectly with Sevink’s ecstatic fiddle
Levelling the Land’s The Boatman had everyone in the audience singing along too, smiles on every face. Friend switched his guitar for some frenetic banjo, marrying perfectly with Sevink’s ecstatic fiddle. A tribal, neon-painted Steven Boakes came on stage half way through their set, didgeridoo ringing out and creating an atmospheric intro to classic hit One Way, with its life-affirming lyrics ‘there’s only one way of life and that’s your own’ ringing out across the crowd.
Fifteen Years had cider and beer raining down aplenty to the ironic lyrics ‘what happened to all that energy?’ – though energy levels certainly weren’t a problem for the band or the audience. Punters formed a mosh pit, the high-octane music carrying them in its throes.
The O2 Academy’s accompanying laser and light show was impressive and went perfectly with the band’s own backdrops, covered in their traditional folk art work that adorns their album covers and merchandise.
Sell Out was another of many high points from The Levellers’ back catalogue, Chadwick’s poignant lyricism just as relevant today as it was in 1991: ‘It seems that freedom’s dead and gone, The power of the rich is held by few, Keep the young paralyzed, educated by your lies’.
Chadwick’s poignant lyricism just as relevant today as it was in 1991
We the Collective, released in March this year, reworkings of some of their most loved hits as well as some new material, and reached and respectable number 12 in the UK album chart – not surprising seeing the love in the room for this three decades old band.
Returning to stage for a three-song encore, which wouldn’t have been complete without What a Beautiful Day. A perfect ending to a set that gave the audience everything they could’ve wanted, let’s hope the band continue to be a voice for the community that they clearly love so much.
Words by Charise Clarke