2006 was a big year for the Levellers, the five-piece from Brighton who have been combining folk instrumentation with a punk rock ethic for the past eighteen years. They released a new live DVD --Chaos Theory— and embarked on a major tour to promote it. I spoke to Mark Chadwick, the group's lead vocalist, about the DVD. "We're proud of this: we did it on our own with no record companies, and have mixed and edited it ourselves....We filmed it at one gig and have got 5.1 surround sound as well.... it sounds amazing. Plus there's over four hours of extras. We're very pleased with it."
The Levellers are, of course, famed as a quality live band, and so I asked about the tour. "We're on tour to Europe for a couple of weeks, then we're back over here.... we've not worked out our set list. We always like to mix it up, as we think we're playing really tight at the moment and we seem to be on it more than ever."
Last year also saw the fourth Beautiful Days festival, organised by the band. The yearly festival has featured artists such as Seth Lakeman, Echo and the Bunnymen, and Killing Joke. I asked Mark how it came to be. "We'd played so many festivals that we decided to put one on ourselves. We've taken all the best elements of the festivals we've played, and got rid of all the stuff we hate, like overpaid bands. It's not for making money for record companies. In these days of the internet you don't need bank managers --you can use your own contact and do it yourself. Our festival sells out to a 10,000 capacity within days of the tickets going on sale."
The Levellers are clearly very keen on doing things themselves; they even have their own studio where they rehearse. "We're in there every day working, doing our own thing without any pressure from record labels. On a big record label you're not art, you're just a product. We're an entity and a proper band, and we're not a product. We shouldn't have to be a product and shouldn't have to be marketed." They're currently using the studio to work on their new album. "The material we have for the album is keeping it as fresh as possible, very up tempo. We won't be putting the album out until summer because of the DVD."
The band once appeared on Top of the Pops, which Chadwick recalls as an unpleasantly stifling experience. "We didn't enjoy it at all—TOTP were really strict at the time.... Most bands jump through the hoops and we don't. We have a loyal fan-base who love the fact that as a band we stick to our guns." --James Turner
Interview conducted by James Turner. Many thanks to Mark Chadwick for his time.
The Levellers Chaos Theory On the Fiddle Recordings
Recorded in spring 2006 in front of an enthusiastic crowd, this is the Levellers' debut on DVD, released on their own label. Disc One is the complete concert in 5.1 surround sound, while Disc Two provides two hours of bonus footage, with 1993 tour diaries. These extras include acoustic shows at the Buxton Opera House, featuring Maddy Prior, Nick Burbridge, Rev Hammer and Nick Harper. There is also hidden footage, and band interviews.
The Levellers are one of the finest groups in the UK, with many years of fantastic festival performances behind them. This brilliant 'best of' set, recorded on fifteen cameras, contains all the classic material -It's a Beautiful day, England my Home, Dirty Davey, One Way, Elation— and conveys the sheer excitement of being at a Levellers concert. If you haven't managed to catch them on their winter tour, then this is the next best thing. This astonishingly brilliant release is exactly what a music DVD should be.--James Turner
The Levellers supported by 3 Daft Monkeys Sheffield Octagon, November 30th 2006.
A late arrival due to work commitments meant that I missed most of the 3 Daft Monkeys set, which was a shame because the trio were performing some amazing numbers. Their female violinist/singer, Athene Roberts, is an exceptional talent. Now I know who they are, I will be investigating them further.
The Levellers are probably one of the best live bands working at the moment, and it certainly shows. Blasting their way through a greatest-hits set that showcased their musical versatility and the quality of their song-writing, they pleased the crowd with sing-a-longs like One Way, Beautiful Day, and Carry Me. The interaction between the band onstage was great: they were like a group of mates playing together and not worrying who was watching, and because they were enjoying themselves, the audience got swept along too. For the final encore, they brought back Athene Roberts and held a fiddle-off between her and their own fiddler, which was clearly as much fun for the performers as for the audience. This was a great concert. If you ever get the chance to see the Levellers live, jump at it.--James Turner