For me the Levellers were once a great band, I looked forward to their tours with baited breath and I would always see what gigs I could do when their tours were announced. I always eagerly anticipated their albums and would be in the record shop on the day of their release (this was in the days before internet had developed into a mass free market).Their music was a great mix of folk and rock and their lyrics were designed to provoke a reaction and instilled an ability to question everything that was less than perfect. The Levellers' first four albums all confirmed and consolidated their position in the British charts and they appeared on the radio and gained a large following, all of this largely without much help from the popular music press who tried to sabotage their career with a blanket ban. Then after 1997 came a downward spiral with albums such as ‘Mouth To Mouth’ to ‘Truth and Lies’. They sepnt eleven years producing lame and uninspiring records, seeming to concentrate on their festival ‘Beautiful Days’ to keep their name in the fore of the music press. All that changed in 2008 with their release of the last album ‘Letters from the Underground’ which saw them returning to past glories with an imaginative and creative record.

Their live shows were very similar to their creative ability. One of the best live shows ever for me was watching the Levellers at the Leeds Town and Country Club in 1993. I had a great time, and everything about that gig was just perfect. Eight years later at the same venue I watched the same band destroy their live reputation with a show that was stale, staged and devoid of any passion. They had sold out and pampered to the masses by giving them what they thought they wanted. Rarely have I been so disgusted at a band for selling out. It was a sad and pathetic attempt at chasing money. Here I was watching five guys trying desperately to kick life into a dying corpse with about as much success as a politician making a correct decision.

You can begin to understand my trepidation at watching the Levellers for the first time in nearly ten years and to be honest I was only persuaded on the strength of 'Letters from the Underground'. Also helping my decision to go was the venue, the Picturedrome in Holmfirth, a converted Edwardian Theatre that has seen some great names play here and to which I have been to a lot in recent years.

The night itself involves the usual hanging about waiting for the band to come on and doing my best to kill time between a few beers and chatting. Then at last the lights dim, the background music fades out and the crowd start to clap and cheer spontaneously. Lead singer Mark Chadwick's first task is to thank the crowd for coming, with the ease of a man with nothing to prove. After a quick glance from Mark at the others behind him, they pipe up with ‘100 Years Of Solitude’. As they start to work their way through the set you can see them visibly relaxing as they get into their stride and by the time they launch into ‘Outside/Inside’, their fourth song, they all start to move about the stage with much more ease and fluidity. Jeremy Cunningham, the bass player, is jumping about with the enthusiasm of a fourteen year old, Simon Friend and Mark, both guitar players seem to be concentrate on their playing, more than anything else. Jonathan Sevink, the violin player, starts to sweat like he has just ran through a sauna, quite a feat for someone who is pretty much stationary most of the time he plays.

As the night progresses, the crowd becomes more and more boisterous. They seem to reflect the mood of the band and you wonder who is feeding off whose energy here. Their choice of songs for tonight is a well balanced reflection of their back catalogue. They play songs like ‘Exodus’, ‘Too Real’, ’Beautiful Day’ and ‘Come On’, but the one disappointing thing for me is that they only play four songs out of a set list of twenty from their latest album. You are left wondering if tonight is a warm up for the summer festivals and not a promotion of the ‘Letters from the Underground.’ The middle of the set includes an almost obligatory didgeridoo solo that lasts some minutes. I am left wondering if there is a better way to incorporate Stephen Boakes' low noise rumblings, but then again what other band has a regular didgeridoo solo?

It’s great to see that the Levellers haven’t fallen into the trap though of trying to please the crowds. They seem to be playing for their own pleasure and entertainment and the fact that the crowd appreciate the songs seems almost to be coincidental. When a band enjoys playing live it becomes infectious and the crowd joins in making it very much a party type atmosphere. They might not be able to jump about like they used to and there are times when Jeremy in particular tries to catch his breath like a marathon runner who has just crossed the finishing line. Most of the rest of band as well are sweating far more than anyone in the crowd. That isn’t, however, a criticism about the fitness of individual members of the band, but an endorsement of how enthusiastic they are tonight.

The main set ends all too soon for my liking after seventy five minutes. The encore is three songs long and ends on a high note with ‘The Devil Goes to Georgia.’ As we make our way through the back rooms and out to the exits I realize that the last time I saw the Levellers this good was over fifteen years ago. Then I realize that there were some songs missing from tonight’s set that I would loved to have heard such as ‘The Game’, ‘Blind Faith’, ‘The Fear’, ‘Belarus’ and of course ‘Fifteen Years’ to name but a few. Then I remind myself that we rarely get everything in life. I know I should be contented with tonight’s show, but like anything you enjoy you are left wanting more and right now as I am leaving I could go another ninety minutes.

The photographs that accompany this article were taken for Pennyblackmusic by Russell Ferguson.

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Commenting On: Picturehouse, Holmfirth, 28/4/2010 - Levellers

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