Marking twenty years

The Levellers are celebrating two decades making music together, and at the start of this anniversary year they’ve played Wolverhampton, Manchester and London under the banner of ‘The Beautiful Nights’ tour.

Brixton Academy wasn’t quite a sell out, people were buying tickets on the night, but by the time the band took to the stage the venue was packed and, thanks to the high-energy support set from Dreadzone, was rather sweaty.

The set opened, appropriately enough, with the late eighties track ‘England My Home’. This was followed by ‘Beanfield’ which, amusingly for me if nobody else, had an intro not dissimilar to Iron Maiden classic ‘The Trooper’: Maiden covers featuring a violin, the idea still amuses me now.

The Levellers have, in recent years, dropped under the mainstream and commercial radar, but retained a loyal and passionate following. For this reason the choice of setlist that missed out a number of big hit singles is logical, although a little surprising given the significance and branding of the tour. ‘Fifteen Years’, ‘Hope Street’ and ‘This Garden’ all sold well but were absent on this occasion. ‘Beautiful Day’, ‘Dog Train’ and ‘Just the One’ were played, with arguably the biggest sing-along reaction coming for the brilliant ‘One Way’.

There was much for the die-hard fan to enjoy as the classic albums were well represented. From ‘Zeitgeist’ we got ‘Exodus’ and the fantastically catchy anthemic ‘Men And Tol’, and from breakthrough album ‘Levelling the Land’ we were treated to ‘Sell Out’, ‘The Road’, ‘The Boatman’ and ‘River Flow’.

Although well known for being an issue driven band, supporting anarchy and environmental issues among many others, The Levellers are just as much about having fun. Their music is best described to a newcomer as alternative rock meets folk with a nod to traditional Celtic sounds (a fan of The Pogues would be sure to have a good night out in the company of this lot), and Brixton was full of people, some who could actually dance, others were simply jumping about like idiots, drunken or otherwise.

The crowd was always likely to go home happy; this band fan bond is as strong as you’re likely to see. Looking at this night objectively, The Levellers are masters at turning on the style and, although this collection of songs did start to tread a familiar sound path, and the addition of a ‘Fifteen Years’ or ‘Hope Street’ would have added to the variety, by the time they were back for their second encore that featured ‘Liberty’ and ‘What You Know’, you were left in no doubt that they richly deserved the acclaim they were receiving. On one hand this respect should be for the night itself, but also for the past twenty years that has seen them do their own thing musically regardless of where it fitted, enjoy a period in the nineties where their albums would bother the top end of the chart, be behind the Beautiful Days festival giving those bored by the over commercial big hitters a viable alternative and remaining at the top of their own game, even if the music press spotlight is shining elsewhere now. Not that The Levellers, or their fans, give a toss about the latter.