The Picturedrome, Holmfirth
July 14th 2014
The Levellers brought their brand of alt-rock meets folk-punk to Holmfirth on Monday. Louder Than War’s Mike Ainscoe watched them as they put on a typically brilliant performance. All photo’s © Mike too.
The Levellers – since 1988, as the phrase goes – and showing no signs of slowing up. Their 2014 is shaping up to be another typically hectic year with the usual set of festival appearances booked in for the summer alongside selling out their own Beautiful Days festival. An Autumn tour is also planned to coincide with the release of a Greatest Hits collection, not to mention their ‘A Life Less Ordinary’ biopic just having been premiered. Their brand of what’s been described as alternative rock and folk-punk with a social conscience remains a highly popular live draw.
Returning yet again to one of their strongholds in West Yorkshire, the sold out Picturedrome is the perfect venue for The Levellers. Compact with its classic facades and a tight balcony circling the venue means the crowd are in such close proximity as to feel the heat being generated from band and audience alike. A fiercely loyal and passionate set of devotees a band has never had, and the enthusiasm and passion of the Yorkshire branch of their following typifies the intensity of the dedication of the totally partisan support of the masses.
No time is ever wasted at a Levellers gig – the crowd were up and bouncing along and into overdrive from the start. To dig out and old cliché, it’s a case of hitting the ground running, and there was absolutely no let up in the pace. After only half an hour into the gig it felt like twice the time had passed. People talk of the feeling when you look at your watch at a gig and find two hours of your life has slipped away in a moment – but this turns the theory on its head; in half an hour the energy expended is what some bands spend in a lifetime.
The seminal 1991 ‘Levelling The Land’ record still provides a healthy chunk of the current live. Probably their ultimate statement and the set of songs which represents The Levellers in how they play what they stand for. In particular, ‘Another Man’s Cause’, saved for the encores, was one of the moments which despite being musically more low key, allows for those mass arm waving moments.
Instrumentally they might not be on a par with the technical wizards of the progressive genre, while drummer Charlie Heather and keyboard player Matt seem content to play their part and sit contentedly behind the front four, but the sum of the parts provides an immense sound. However, it’s Jon Sevink’s howling fiddle leading the frantic set opener ‘England My Home’ and continuing to be the overriding force through the set and underpinning the inimitable Levellers sound. At times akin to a synthesiser, his towering physical presence is a key element of the Levellers live experience. Swapping sides with dreadlocked and restless bassist Jeremy Cunningham, he’s a focal point around the centre stage Mark Chadwick/Simon Friend guitar/vocal pairing.
They know they’re good as well – there was a recent interview with Mark Chadwick in which he laughed off a question about how much they rehearse – the reply being along the lines that they don’t need to, they are top of the class at what they do. Of course they’re passionate and fiery and their songs speak about just causes and setting the world to rights, but they’re far from being a retro act or a curio from the nineties. They have their anthems of course; ‘What A Beautiful Day’ and ‘One Way’ were belted out with no less conviction that you’d expect and sung with gusto and exultation by the crowd, but they recognise the relevance of the newer material from ‘Letters From The Underground’ and ‘Static On The Airwaves’ – albums from the last few years which showed their songwriting is like the band, as robust resilient as ever.
Yet going right back to the beginning of their catalogue, ‘Carry Me’ – the last time in Holmfirth preceded by Simon Friend’s cheeky blast of the Last Of The Summer Wine theme – found itself accompanied this time with one of the regular crowd surfers being passed from the mosh pit to be welcomed onstage. Shirtless and with the Levellers famous three sickle ‘rolling anarchy’ forming a huge tattoo on his back and leading the crowd through the last verse, just when you thought it couldn’t get any hotter, it was into overdrive with a frantic romp through ‘Riverflow’.
The Levellers have always ploughed their own furrow and dance to no one’s tune but their own. They symbolise what live music is about and their shows continue to be nothing less than an event. When you leave the room after you’ve watched The Levellers, you know you’ve seen a proper gig.