The Levellers are arguably the original and best of the folk punk bands. Theyâve been together since 1988 and yet are still releasing songs with the same vigour and political message that they always have, something which best comes across when they play live. Louder Than War were lucky enough to catch a recent show by them & here’s our review.
The trouble with levellers fans is that weâve all seen them so many times that taking a friend to the see them who has only ever been to one other gig was quite an interesting experience. I hadnât seen the Levellers for a while so I was excited to see if theyâd developed musically and to check out some of their new material.
First though, the support came from Citizen Fish, a band of rather more mature punks that have definitely still got âitâ, whatever âitâ might be. The front man seemed to have boundless energy, singing songs about the dangers of television and the media. They were fairly well received by the audience, especially by the two person mosh pit right at the front. The band used a brass section to good effect, changing their music from pure punk to ska punk on occasion, which in my eyes is always a welcome move! I probably wouldnât go and see Citizen Fish on their own, but as a support act they were a good warm up and the crowd were moving by the end of their set.
Levellers fans definitely make the best audience around and there was a really nice atmosphere throughout the entire gig, with everyone being friendly and helping each other out, even when youâre pushing past them (at 5â3 I think Iâm legitimately allowed to get to somewhere I can see!). At the first notes from the fiddle everyone began to jump, dance, clap and express themselves in any way they wished, which of course began something of a mosh pit. My friend had never seen real life moshing before and probably sensibly decided to hang back. Me? Well, who wouldnât want to be flung from one side of a hall to another during The Riverflow?
The set list was good. Although to my shame I had no idea what the first song was – I think itâs always a bit of a gamble to start with a new song but since this is a tour of an album and not a âgreatest hits tourâ itâs probably fine. Next came Beautiful Day, the only song my Levellers virgin friend knew. This got everyone moving and from there on in the gig was amazing fun, with particular highlights being Fifteen years, The Boatman and One Way (of course!) before the encore. The Boatman was made especially special by Stephen Boakes and his didgeridoo, dressed not unsimilarly to that epochal performance back in 1992 (which Iâd love to say I remember but I was only one at the timeâ¦). It was nice to see One Way played prior to the encore and not last, and I was surprised to hear three songs from Letters from the Underground, but I suppose if you have songs you havenât been playing for 20 years youâre going to play them! The last song played before the encore was The Cholera Well, which made it very obvious there were still songs to play. After a good show of stamping, clapping and shouting âmore!â back they came, launching into a joyous rendition of Far from Home followed by Liberty Song.
It was the last song that was the most interesting. Over the past couple of weeks the band have been advertising for people to come and play / sing along to The Recruiting Sergeant, requesting instruments that were a bit different and definitely not the guitar. It appears the Cambridge volunteers could only muster a harmonica, but the volunteer singers sang with great gusto and seemed to be having the absolute time of their lives.
Cambridge Corn Exchange is an interesting building, being, of course, an old corn exchange, it is quite different to venues which are solely used for concerts, and I think this is reflected in the sound quality. Itâs not that the acoustics are that bad, but it is very hard to hear the vocals at time, something I also noticed when I saw Bellowhead last Saturday. Drink prices are typically expensive, at around Â£4 a pint and considerably more for anything else. There is a cloakroom but itâs hidden away by the balconies. I was particularly impressed by the cloakroom attendants letting me half stuff my coat into my bag and then only charge me for one item, I can think of few other places that would be so nice!
My friend was incredibly impressed, which says far more than myself as a typical Levellers fan can, and I donât think he stopped dancing all the way through. The fact that The Levellers still have an appeal to those who donât know their music, younger fans like myself and those who have been with them since the beginning, shows that the band arenât going to disappear any time soon. They celebrate 25 years next year with no wane in the quality of their live performance, and that is an achievement. Whether youâre reliving your youth or discovering new music, thereâs something for nearly everyone at a Levellers gig. Providing you like folk punk, that is.
The Levellers website is here. They are also on Facebook & Twitter.
All words by Nyika Suttie. More writing by Nyika can be found in her author archive here. Nyika also write on her website Outsider Looking Out & is on twitter as @puzzledbyadream .