Beautiful Days Festival
The rest of the main stage bands from day three of Beautiful Days is reviewed here
The very fact that Beautiful Days even exists is a triumph for content over style.
As the music industry becomes more homogenised and the accountants try and control the creativity, the passion just keeps leaking out. Of course at LTW we see so many great new bands who exist DESPITE the music biz and we celebrate their furtive existence like the small mammals nibbling at the feet of the soon to be extinct dinosaurs so we, like you, know that music is in safe hands. But in the times when ugly neo politicians like Boris Johnson claim the Clash for themselves, we are happy to celebrate the true spirit wherever we find it.
The new bands are one thing but the wild eyed veterans is another. A band like the Levellers have defied everything to not only survive but thrive in these tempestuous times. Longevity was never part of anyone’s battle plan when they picked up guitars in a youthful frenzy but the band with an ongoing creative streak and some well placed structure around them have thrived and much is to do with this festival which is an extension of their id and ideology and has also created a space for them, their music and their community to survive in.
Beautiful Days is very much true independent affair in the times where the very word, ‘independent’ means watered down sixties music. It’s great to see something from the inside that is truly independent and is run from the inside out by the band and their team, many of whom have been here from the start and slept on the floors, in the vans and in the squats as the group somehow maintained their focus and their ideology in the ups and downs of the stormy seas of survival.
This year it means even more as the past few months have seen the band buffeted by some of their own madness or the harsh heartbreaking blows that life can throw our way. The fact they even managed to play at all this year is a triumph over adversity and also the fact that they turned in one of their best ever shows is a tribute to their innate toughness and inner resolve and camaraderie.
A good long way away from the world of fashion and cardigan clad commentators who potter to gigs about twice a year are the foothills of olde England. Deep in the musical soil is the blood and dust of generations and close to their hearts are their songs. Songs that are folk tunes and scoundrel celebrating laments that have resonated for decades before being twisted and handed onto a new generation. The Levellers are less of a group and more of a conduit of this ancient spirit that defies the kings arrows and the barbs of the those who wrap themselves in the Emperor’s new clothes of so-called ‘good taste’.
As ever, the band celebrate their own festival with the Sunday night headline slot and they have lost none of the magnetic power to pull in the biggest crowd of the weekend. If there was every any doubt at the strength of this group then this show is the place to come to and scientifically test their resolve. With many songs in the set culled from the band’s second album, 1991’s Levelling the Land, they are welcomed like old friends with many chapters of history to celebrate. Simon Friend delivers his more folk strewn melodies whilst Jon Sevink skips across the stage slashing out the defining violin lines.
Decades in and it shows no sign of wavering. Few groups transcend the rough and tumble of time and fashion and become classic. Many groups attempt to swerve this accolade but the Levellers fit very firmly into the role, after all, they are just playing the music of our fathers and mothers, albeit cranked up through the electric folk of late seventies punk rock.
It’s been a bumpy few months for the band and this gig nearly didn’t happen but they are made of stern stuff and there is a culture to celebrate. Battered and bruised they may be but somehow the Levellers turn in one of their best headline shows at Beautiful Days in its 16 year history.
Group talisman and bouncing bomb bassist, Jeremy, is of course missed, his flailing octopus dreadlocks is one of the key signifiers of the group and a link back to their underground punk and traveller days. Each one of those flailing dreads is imbued with the spirit of second wave punk, the Clash, Discharge, dub, sleeping rough and living wild, old folk songs, smokey pubs, dancing paint brushes and a rebel spirit that has defied the mainstream for years and won.
Of course, he will return to the front-line of the band, a gentleman deserves a rest every now and then. Somehow though the band are firing on full fathom five as they blow away the cobwebs and apprehension of these recent hiccoughs. Mark Chadwick’s voice has never sounded so good for years, he retains the Lennon/Strummer rasp but it’s delivered with sharp intensity and perfect focus. These words are worth delivering properly as they actually carry heavy manner meaning and tonight they penetrate to the back wall of the 20 000 capacity packed arena.
A gig like this is quite special. Defying the odds, the Levellers remain committed to their cause and soundtrack for a generation of idealists who may have long ago left this itinerant lifestyle but are happy to check in once a year in a kind of rehab in reverse. Song after song bounces out invigorated and full of energy, with melodies and emotions as old as the surrounding hills. there are arms aloft moments like ‘Hope Street’ and ‘It’s A Beautiful Day’ and mass sing-alongs.
The Levellers were perhaps the first band to figure out that punk rock was modern electric folk music and placed it into a new context that fitted with the old rabble rousers and mystical ballads. The English may not be very good at revolution but we are very good at singing about it, The Levellers remain the talismatic connection between the old and the new and whilst the barricades may remain up the soundtrack is still great…