As they finish up the tour to accompany their Greatest Hits we sent John Pateman to catch The Levellers Sheffield show.
The Levellers have been out on the road since the end of October touring their Greatest Hits album, taking the solo artist She Makes War (aka Laura Kidd) and 2Tone legends The Selecter with them. Tonight sees all three acts arrive in Sheffield as they near the end of a marathon three and a half weeks.
The engaging She Makes war opens proceedings with her brand of melodic ‘gloom-pop’, expertly compiling vocal loops, ukulele and guitar to form her songs. Her ethereal vocal swirls hauntingly around the main room encapsulating those savvy enough to reach the venue early enough to see her perform.
In a venue such as the Sheffield Academy, I did wonder if her voice would sound a little lost as it did on occasion at Rock City the previous week, but I’m pleased to say it didn’t. With her 20 minute set again being very well received, it’s clear she has deservedly found some new admirers.
Within moments of She Makes War leaving the stage, The Selecter appear and treat us to tracks taken from their seminal album Too Much Pressure. Although the sound man gets some strong looks and seemingly harsh words from Pauline Black, (strange as she sounds great), The Selecter live up to their reputation as slick and powerful performers.
The seemingly ageless Black and Arthur ‘Gaps’ Hendrickson prowl the stage with a presence and a purpose, and with Winston Marche (drums) and John Thompson (bass) driving the ska rhythm hard, the punters are skanking and singing along like The Selecter are the headline act.
Murder, Three minute Hero, Danger and Too Much Pressure the obvious crowd pleasers and with James Bond and Guns of Navarone also going down a storm, The Selecter leave the stage with the crowd feeling suitably treated.
And so to The Levellers. Date 20 of this 22 date tour again sees the headliners in mighty fine form and they bound onto the O2 Academy stage like it’s night one, launching full pelt into Beautiful Day.
As you would expect from a group viewed for along time by many as the best live band going, their sound is tight and as usual they play with skill and a passion to entertain. Tonight’s punters, although not the most raucous bunch, are there for one reason only and they bounce around to the opening song in a joyous union.
They storm through the first three songs (Beautiful Day, 15 Years and Belaruse) hardly pausing for breath before Mark Chadwick stops to grin at the audience, ”How are ya??” he laughs before the band again have their fans dancing and singing with high tempo versions of World Freak Show and Far From Home.
The Selecter’s Pauline Black joins them for a stirring rendition of Together All The Way, followed by Neil and Orlando who provide the saxophone for Dog Train.
Sell Out and Exodus follow but for some reason the crowd are a little calmer. ”You lot all right?” shouts Simon, ”You’ve gone a bit quiet.” Julie gets the audience singing again and suddenly people are on shoulders much to the annoyance of the security at the front of the stage. Laura Kidd joins in on This Garden and One Way quickly follows with the room belting out the chorus and the hip swiveling, neon painted didgeridoo man Steven Boakes goading the front rows with manic looks and laughter.
The songs keep coming with both the band and audience clearly enjoying themselves. Mark and Simon are swapping their guitars over when permanently grinning keyboardist Matt Savage rips into the intro of Truth Is and I’m wondering momentarily if the rest of the band is ready. Jon starts his fiddle, Mark is back and there is stomping and cheering from the floor. The crowd are suddenly a raucous bunch.
Mark Chadwick is in his element, thoroughly enjoying holding court with his audience. ”That was great, how are your singing voices?!” The crowd let out a cheer. ”No, that’s cheering!” he responds, to be met with the sound of drunken las, ”haha…..tuneful….” is the retort.
Carry Me gets the biggest cheer of the night so far, bodies sway around on the dance floor, folks are back on shoulders (security have given up trying to coax them down) and 1000 people, led by the ringmaster Chadwick, sing along.
A whirlwind rendition of Come On and the relentless Cholera Well are drawing us to a close with a fervor, ‘‘Liberty!!” is the cry and three more minutes of mayhem ensue.
The band exit the stage to rapturous applause and we don’t have to wait very long before they re-emerge to encore with Just the One.
”Right then” says Mark before the next song, ‘‘go mad to this one! Lets burn this place down so we don’t ever have to play here again!” Some bemused looks from the audience. ”Not Sheffield, we like Sheffield” says Simon; ”yeah not Sheffield, I mean this place, the O2” agrees Mark gesturing around the venue with arms out wide. ” Just dance!”
The band launches into The Devil Went Down to Georgia, with Mark telling the room, ”you know what to do, let’s see those Ozzy Osbourne fingers.” ‘Devil’ always goes down well and tonight is no exception, the crowd responding to Mark’s instructions to keep those Devil horns in the air.
They leave again, only to return once more to cries of ”Riverflow” emanating from the floor to which they duly oblige, bringing the show to an end with the live favourite.
”Now that wor bloody fantastic!” says the man stood behind me with a beaming smile, and I’m inclined to agree with him. There is after all something special about following The Levellers; those attending their gigs know where the band have come from and what they are about.
The Levellers are a band for everyone, a people’s band, and one thing is guaranteed, when you’ve heard them live you won’t forget them.
All words and images by John Pateman. This is John’s first piece for Louder Than War.