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Still the great Levellers

The champions of 'the unwashed' talk to James Scanlon ahead of their Liverpool gig

Published on November 13th 2012.

Still the great Levellers

EMERGING from Brighton’s squat scene in 1988, punk-folk-rock outfit, the Levellers have come a long way since their crusty old days. 

Renowned for being outspoken advocates of free outdoor festivals and being staunch opponents of the Criminal Justice Act, the six-piece believes in fighting social injustice wherever their guitars and fiddles go and, in many ways, continue to represent Britain’s great unwashed. 

Although massively successful throughout most of the 1990s, achieving gold and platinum record sales that enabled them to be a prominent, mainstream force, things unfortunately went slightly downhill following the not so well received Hello Pig album in 2000. 

Blaming the lacklustre support from their major record label, China Records, at the time, the band had had enough and went back to taking a more independent stance. 2002’s Green Blade Rising, released on the Eagle imprint, showed more grit and determination and oozed potential, as did their last disc, 2008’s, Letters From The Underground, the first on their own On The Fiddle Records. 

Bang-up-to-date, the band have chosen to record their latest album, Static On The Airwaves, in Prague.

Recorded mostly live with the trusted Sean Lakeman (who also produced Letters From The Underground) once again at the production helm, it was the best choice according to vocalist, Mark Chadwick: “Sona Studio was perfect for what we wanted, which was to record live and analogue all together with no messing about,” he says.

“Sona had the size and gear and attitude for us. It was recorded with a lot of space in the sound and stories in the words and we feel it to be more uplifting than some of our previous work.” 

Chadwick still believes that mixing politics with music can be effective, despite the doubters: “It’s not cool to care, but we always have,” he says. “So we never fit the music business ever. But if you can make one person think, then you’re winning.” 

The issues largely remain the same as they were at the height of The Levellers' fame, only Chadwick has found different ways to sing about them. He is, not surprisingly, dismissive of David Cameron and his sidekick, George Osbourne: “They are so out of touch with reality that they will never work for the people. Their approach is very old fashioned.” 

Some high points on ‘Static On The Airwaves’ include We Are All Gunmen, which Chadwick says "is a glimpse of a perfect world.” ("No politicians, just compassion / bankers' pay is justified and all nations come in peace"); Our Forgotten Towns — "It’s about harsh reality” — and the Pogues-esque The Recruiting Sergeant which includes a surprise collaboration with Czech band, Divokej Bill.

 “Over the years we’ve become good friends with Divokej Bill,” Chadwick says, “so when in Prague it made sense to play with them.” 

The song gives the impression of an almighty hoe-down, but close inspection brings home the reality of Britain’s involvement in Afganistan: "Don’t follow me to Kandahar / With eerie glow of tracers / Lighting every wretched scar / Who will pray for me/And cry each day this year?" 

“Recruiting Sergeant is an old folk song brought up to date: anti-war,” says Chadwick. 

On a lighter note perhaps, when it came to braving the elements in Prague, The Levellers were a load of wimps. 

“It was so cold when we were there, we never left the studio the whole time,” Chadwick sheepishly admits adding, "Prague was a fantasy to us just out of reach.” And the beer? “The best fizzy beer in the world,” he laughs. “As Englishmen we like our beer flat, but we managed.” 

Chadwick reassures that the band is prepared,” mentally, physically and spiritually,” for their current tour, which hits Liverpool this Sunday (Nov 18). But with winter approaching, let’s just hope the mercury doesn’t dip too low.

Levellers + Citizen Fish, O2 Academy, 11-13 Hotham Street  Liverpool L3 5UF. 0151 707 3200. Sunday November 16, 2012 from 7:00pm. Tickets, £22 from usual places.

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mrsmarsaNovember 20th 2012.

The Levellers were amazing. Best gig they've done yet!

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