The Levellers: Beautiful Days – live reviewThe Levellers

Beautiful Days Festival

17th – 19th August 2013

We are in a field full of people dressed as animals, which is far more effectively odd than it sounds. Spirits are high. It’s been a great weekend. Even the weather has been really good for once, apart from a couple of hours of rain the day before.

It’s Beautiful Days, one of those festivals that lives up to its name and a festival that really raises the spirit and battered standard of WHAT FESTIVALS USED TO BE ABOUT- you know that camaraderie and non corporate good times with an eclectic bill of mixed music, with a soundtrack of English folk to punk rock to rock to dance tents. It’s an end of summer party, the wasps are out and so is the sun and as the night draws to a close everyone dresses up in fancy dress as the Levelers take the stage.

The band have been throwing this festival cunningly disguised as a party for ten years now. Like the band themselves and whole swathes of British music it has been beautifully defying the hipster media and their obsession with Hoxton music and their willful ignorance of the amazing cross section of music and musical taste that makes up the thrilling patchwork of British culture in the early 21st century.

The Levellers were written off years ago by these fashionistas without a musical soul years ago, these fashionistas who lurk in the mainstream media with their dead eyed market surveys and hearts of stone who lost touch with the musical parade years ago and are finding themselves increasingly ignored by the new music fan who mixes the old and the new, fashion and classic and utilises the internet making their own informed choices in a time when we are the media and not waiting to be lectured by what we have to listen to.

And it’s a good job that this is the new attitude, the festival is a comfortable sell out and could easily be twice the size but stubbornly remains about the same to keep the atmosphere right and lock out the tent stealing idiots (a couple made it this year and were lucky to get arrested- some of the old school travelers are still here and I’m not sure if they would be so generous in their methods of detention)

When the Levellers  take the stage it is, like it is every year, triumphant. The huge crowd are dancing deliriously as the band run through a long set of hits and obscurities, song after song that mixes the passion and the honesty of the Clash with older English folks and a ragged trad music- drawing that line between rabble rousing music that had something to say that runs through generations of British music before the academics got in and changed what folk music was after the war.

Punk is/was a folk music, crazed loons in village squares with straw filled mandolins in the sixteenth century probably singing about the English Civil War in the 17th century were the same. It all joins together and that sense of communality is still there. You can feel it in the chorus of the band’s anthemic Beautiful Days song that birthed the festival its name.

The song sits early in the set but as the band kick into the chorus and the whole 15 000 strong backing vocal joins with them you get that rush of the moment, the moment when just being really great at what you do, writing great songs and singing them with rough edged but perfect rock n roll voices makes a real connectIon and makes a real sense. As it combines with the churning guitars and powerful rhythm section and the flailing dreads of the long haired bass man dancing like a dread scarecrow and the defining violin you have the band’s signature sound- that fluid mix of styles. An ancient dance.

That’s the Levellers for you. A genuine people’s band in perfect unison with their constituency and that’s a great thing to see in these times when the click click of market research has tried to kill our music and culture stone dead.

The Levellers and their whole operation defies this.

Long live the humans in the machine!

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Award winning journalist and boss of Louder Than War. In a 30 year music writing career, John was the first to write about bands such as Stone Roses and Nirvana and has several best selling music books to his name. He constantly tours the world with Goldblade and the Membranes playing gigs or doing spoken word and speaking at music conferences.


  1. I’ve done my share of gigs n festivals through the ages and Beautiful Days tops them all. If you want to escape the usual pseudo alternative chart dross and chill with some real music, real people and real good vibes for a weekend there is no better place. Couldn’t get there this year but there is a very good reason BD regularly wins the awards ;)

  2. Beautiful days is the most amazing festival ever, I have been to them all from the start and have watched it grow and improve over the years. Their is music to suit all people and there is always something new to stun you. I have thoroughly embraced and enjoyed each year. The atmosphere is relaxed and the site is safe so children can be free to enjoy it as much as the adults. I love that the levellers start and finish the weekend. I love being there with my good friends and all going on the ferris wheel and helter skelter. Absolutely blew away by PIL’s set in 2012. A magical place run by a magical band! Only thing I could fault is that it needs to last way longer, somewhere in the realms of a year!!!!!

  3. fantastic review John. I love the Levellers and agree that they are a superb live act, still one of the best around in my opinion. Long may they continue to make awesome msuci.


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