Live Music + Gig Reviews

Levellers @ Shepherd’s Bush Empire, London

10 December 2006


Levellers’ Jeremy Cunningham (Photo: Michael Hubbard)

Levellers‘ heyday was over a decade ago, yet they’re still making music and retaining the kind of loyal fan base that bands half their age would kill for. There’s a reason. They might never have been – and are unlikely ever to be – fashionable, and they continue to be ignored by most media types, but they are still around for one reason: Levellers have an arsenal of damned fine tunes. Tonight’s tour-end event would prove just how many damned fine tunes – some of them arguably classics of the ’90s, with One Way surely fitting that bill if anything does – Mark Chadwick, Simon Friend, Jon Sevink and the rest of the gang have penned.

They’ve long had an eye for fine support acts too, and happy-go-lucky three-piece jiggers 3 Daft Monkeys get the place going mad early on with incendiary fiddle playing, quirky vocals and an all-encompassing delight at being on stage and doing their thing that’s infectious from the start. By the close of their set the audience are hollering for an encore. Quite right too – this is good stuff.

Unlike last year’s tour, in support of a new album, this set gets closer to a Best Of experience. As if nodding to the passing of the years, Levellers’ first two songs are 100 Years Of Solitude and 15 Years, two of their strongest numbers. Fiddler Jon, bassist Jez (that’s him and his pet dreds in the picture) and joint vox axeman Simon are all sporting wireless instruments, allowing them free range of the stage. Their performing experience is telling – they don’t ever collide, and nobody gets lashed by Jez’s hair.

In the centre, the band’s bedrock Mark is still old school enough to sport a wire trailing from his guitar as he thrashes his way through 15 Years and more recent crowd pleaser Last Man Alive. But it’s an ensemble, rather than a band led by a front man – it’s Jez more often than not who’s at the front of the stage, thanking the audience for their support.

The set steps up a gear during (my personal favourite) The Boatman. Last year, the song ended before the didge-fiddle psychedelic bit. This year there are no such problems as Stephen Boakes, face plastered in white, hips adorned by a red kilt, neck dripping a red feather boa, takes to the stage with his gargantuan didge and stops the show for a good minute or so of divine didge droning before drums and fiddle pick up his notes and head off for a jam with this vision of eccentric England.

Hope Street now sounds like a veteran track, but there are also some definite go-to-the-loo/bar moments of little-known, downtempo numbers. Newer material, possibly. When the familiar chords of first single Carry Me are heard, the audience are back in their hands once more and stay there essentially to the end of the set, the six-piece providing as much visual interest as hummable tunes.

They play out with Simon’s heartfelt Another Man’s Cause, with its timeless war message applauded now more vehemently than ever, and a rocket-fuelled Riverflow that the audience can’t even keep up with. And by the end, people in the balconies are dancing about with big silly grins on their chops. Some bands get to be past it, some split up, but it’s looking ever more likely that Levellers, like the Riverflow, will go on and on, and the media world be damned.


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