They’ve shifted heaps of records, had piles of top 20 singles, been accused of being “crusty” and carried on regardless. But as Levellers change record labels and release yet another album, they’ve still got plenty to say about music, politics – and the world in general.
musicOMH caught up with red-dred bassist Jeremy Cunningham for a bout of quickfire Q&As…
musicOMH: What’s different about the new album compared to your previous releases?
Jeremy: Its very different from the last one but then that was different to the others. This one’s a bit more like the older Levellers stuff.
musicOMH: Would you say you a campaigning political band? Is political consciousness what makes Levellers different from the rest of the UK music scene?
Jeremy: I think it does set us apart in many ways but that’s just the way we are – see the next questions for where we put our money.
musicOMH: Tell us about your Metway project in Brighton, to assist up-and-coming artists and groups.
Jeremy: “Metway Sessions” is a free day’s recording in our studio here for local bands – they usually do two songs. Then the session is broadcast on local radio, the indie show. Then we promote two nights in local clubs for bands that have done the sessions each month – one an acoustic show, the other a full band one.
musicOMH: After so many years writing, recording, touring, promoting, how do you maintain your energy, your drive?
Jeremy: We still love what we’re doing.
musicOMH: Tell us about the new Green Blade Rising festival you’re planning to organise. Will it be yearly? Why have you decided to set it up now?
Jeremy: Hopefully it will be yearly. We got our licence refused at the last minute this year but we’re going to try again next year. We want to do a festival that’s more like the old ones we used to go to, where it’s not all about music.
musicOMH: With songs like ‘Battle of the Beanfield’, are the lyrics based on personal experience or on that of others?
Jeremy: Both for that one.
musicOMH: How important is Brighton to you?
Jeremy: I love it here. I am from Crawley which is a dump so you can understand why I like it here.
musicOMH: You’re working with Alan Scott, the producer of ‘Levelling The Land’, again. Why him?
Jeremy: Because we wanted to get that older-style Levs sound for this album. It’s just the way the songs came out. Also Al works here at the Metway anyway so he knows us inside and out and is with the vibe of this place.
musicOMH: The 15 Years EP was your biggest hit, just failing to reach the top 10, but you’ve had 11 other top 40 hits since. And you could not be said to be typical of today’s singles chart! What’s the secret of your continued success?
Jeremy: Always changing I suppose. Plus we love what we do so hopefully people pick up on that bit.
musicOMH: Do you expect the new album’s material – and the new album – to chart? Will you achieve that elusive top 10 single?
Jeremy: Top 10 single – no way! It’s not a radio-friendly song, but we hope the album does well obviously. Hopefully it will.
musicOMH: Define the word “crusty”. Were certain denizens of the media right to refer to you in this way?
Jeremy: No they were way off. “Crusty” is the clown in the Simpson’s isn’t he?
musicOMH: What got you into music in the first place?
Jeremy: Seeing The Clash on TV when I was 13 or 14. Life-changing!
musicOMH: Name the bands and artists whose music and way of life you most respect and why.
Jeremy: The Clash – see above. Crass – never sold out. Neil Young – says it how it is. Christy Moore, Led Zepellin – big rock. Public Enemy – brilliant.
musicOMH: Would you ever collaborate with someone again as you did with Joe Strummer? What about, say, Will Young?
Jeremy: Neil Young Maybe!
musicOMH: If there was one item you’d like to put into Room 101, what would it be?
Jeremy: The Houses of Parliament – full, of course.
musicOMH: If there was one item you could take with you to a desert island, what would it be?
Jeremy: Self-filling glass of water.
musicOMH: The cover art for the new album is particularly Communist. Why?
Jeremy: Good! Some say fascist!! Just wanted to do something activist – an anti-apathy cover.
musicOMH: Capitalism and Communism both have their faults – but is there such a thing as a Third Way?
Jeremy: Our way.
musicOMH: Why is there such an endemic problem of apathy in the UK and the world in general?
Jeremy: I’ll answer that one later…!
musicOMH: What is your favourite Levellers song ever?
Jeremy: Probably England My Home.
musicOMH: Is there anything you would have done differently about your musical career thus far?
Jeremy: Fucking loads! – easy with hindsight isn’t it?!
musicOMH: You tour very intensively – do you remember each and every gig?
Jeremy: No way!
musicOMH: What for you has been the most enjoyable gig, and tour, so far?
Jeremy: Luckily for me, the last UK tour was great in April/May and the most enjoyable gig was the last one we did – a big tent in Belgium, a near riot at the end, had to come on and play more songs!
musicOMH: Who or what is a Pop Idol to you?
Jeremy: Never really had any pop idols – Joe Strummer maybe, or Crass, but they’d hate the idea of being a pop idol.
musicOMH: If you weren’t musicians and activists, what would you be doing?
Jeremy: Well I’d like to be an artist – I do the bands artwork – but in reality when the Levs started I was doing a night shift at the local bakery! anything other than that would be OK.
musicOMH: When are the next Drunk In Public gigs?
Jeremy: Christmas time maybe – when it’s time to get drunk again properly!