The best thing about modern music is that there is no certainty any more.
In these post media times everyone gets to tell their story, gets to tell their truth. There is no consesus, no zeitgeist as they used to say.
That’s why Beautiful Days exists. It tells it’s own story. That’s why the Levellers exist- they tell their own story- a story edited out of the modern media and one that is a glorious, misfit, jester dance in the scrubbed clean corridors of modern alternative music which has become nice hobby of jingling jangling, joining the dots of hip to fit into strict alternative radio formats… buddum buddum.
That’s why the Levellers can put on their own festival and sell it out in moments. That’s why 15,000 people have the time of their lives to an eclectic bill and that’s why on the Sunday night the Levellers get to close the whole shebang with a celebratory, swirling set that combines all those loose strands of music into one raucous rush.
The Levellers have staged a remarkable comeback that sees their new film getting rave reviews and a greatest hits album poised to go top 20.
Asd the gig unfolds and the crowds go wild we jot down a top 10 reasons why the Levellers can still pull this off.
1. The songwriting
The Levellers know how to write a tune- Nearly every song comes with one of those big embracing choruses that stretch out across the fields to the back rows of the field like agiant octopus of warmth and raucous melody. They write rousing and impassioned and huge choruses that really connect and songs that ebb and flow with great dynamics and tension. Songs that sit 4 square into a very English tradition that stretches back centuries but also into the now and into the future.
2. The violin.
The key constituent of the band’s actual sound, John Sevink’s violin is what gives the Levellers their flavour. As he lucifer dances across the stage in top hat and tails his violin lifts and gives the songs a fluidity and originality that takes them away from rock and into a whole new dimension and olde tradition that also sounds oddly current and makes the songs really move.
3. The Didgeridoo
Much maligned by the journalist straights who report on modern music and one of the sticks used to beat the band- the Didgeridoo is a defiant symbol of the group’s willingness to stretch out beyond the guitar. bass, drums format. Seen as a symbol of ‘new age traveller blah blah blah’ as if having an open mind and moving beyond is some kind of crime against rock n roll or the straightjacket of hip indie.
The Didgeridoo is utilised and threaded into the band’s sound and is a symbol of their open minded hippie, as in hip to everything, background. The way the Levellers play the digirdoo is focal to their set- a reminder of their other side of Brighton bohemian roots- the squat brighton before it became london by the sea. When Stephen Boakes comes on for two songs with his Didge’s he is dervish dancing and deals out onstage antics that gives him the presence of a demented Puck jiving with Flavour Flav- playing gthe jester to the king painted head to toe in white and in kilt like some kinda Ganges holy man Agora dancing to the Indian holy full moon… Boakes is providing a drone for the band to build on and is more of a hint to to the throbbing pulse of post acid house combined to an ancient drone than any kind of new age tomfoolery.
4. Jeremy’s dreads
The bass player’s defiant dreads swirling in the stage lights is like some kind of follicle ‘V’ sign to convention. They hark back to the living in the bus, traveller era, they are a vigarous nod to the Crasstafari days when people really believed that anarcho punk and wild hair could change the world- a world that for one weekend here does feel changed in a tiny way. As the dreads dance their own psychic dance in their spider like way and are silhouetted through the stage lights you can hear the echo of punk when it got smart and angry and those beat up old Crass albums and Rudeimentary Peni singles and the guru like Penny Rimbaud flaoting through the air- the real roots to the hair…
5. What the folk!
The Levellers key trick was to untie the strands of folk and punk and create something for the now. Punk rock was the electric folk music of the late seventies – at the time it felt like a clean break but looking back it was just another chapter in the eternal lineage of strumming Joes- the Levellers recognise this and the festival itself is an extension of this thinking with esoteric folk music sharing bills with punk rock legends and all manner of music. Eclectic in the modern festival sense seems to mean the Killers sharing a stage with Jimmy fucking Carr and playing after Girls Aloud but at Beautiful Days it takes back on the true meaning of the word. The Levellers themselves could easily fit into a folk fest or a punk fest or a normal fest- that’s a victory in the niche music times.
6. The Lyrics
The levellers are a band that sing songs that are ABOUT STUFF – in these post everything times were irony rules and smirking hipsters hide their fear behind metaphors and snarkiness it’s pretty invigorating to hear someone sing about what they feel about the world and document their, and their communities, place in it. Of course the audience hang onto every word and mass singalongs break out regularly.
7. Rock n roll.
Despite everything the Levellers are actually a great rock n roll band.
Touched by the hand of the Clash they understand the value in rabble rousing and constructing songs with see sawing emotion and energy to set a field alight with that warm rush of communal connection but they also pack that sense of adventure that, combined with a deep tradition, is always the best seam for great guitar music.
The Levellers brought the pyro out for this year’s gig- this is important as there is always a bit of grudging anti pyro from the old school but you gotta have a bit of showbiz wow at a big gg. A sense of theatre and the spectacle is everything as the situationists knew. Lots of billowing fire and sparks frame the band’s own constant energy perfectly.
It’s always being sneered at but a ribald passion delivered with a grasping rasping voice- a voice that sounds lived in and Lennonesque in its nodule bashing impassioned rush is alway really engaging. Mark Chadwick is from that school of heart on sleeve singers- mid song he can say all that stuff that in real life he probably can’t say and that’s another beauty of great rock n roll- a great tune can make everyone articulate.
People still believe in all this stuff.
There is still a hope, a flickering of the fame, a hint that a series of chords and great lyrics can change the world for the better and in the modern fucked up world, where there are no certainties, and communities have been destroyed by bulldozing corporates selling poison disguised as food, TV and music that communities built around music are like a last stand. The Levellers grab that moment, grab the electricity out of the air and grasp at this lingering hope. All great rock n roll is a conduit for feeling and emotions and the Levellers embrace this and the 15 000 people in front of them with a set peppered with greatest hits that were actually hits.