The Levellers are one of those bands I reconnected with through my children. When my youngest son discovered them he was about fourteen. I have seen them play Buxton Opera House a couple of times since then. It’s an intimate gem of a theatre, designed by Frank Matcham in 1902. It’s still used to stage opera. It has 902 seats apparently and it always looks a sell out for them. I have never seen such wildly enthusiastic audiences in such historic surroundings. The safety curtain is definitely up when they play. The plaster cupids must look on in astonishment as dust and flakes of gold leaf are stirred up by the tones of a didgeridoo. I have seen people on the shoulders of people on shoulders, three high and reaching up to the balcony.

But this tour promised something different, and the screening of a new film, ‘A Curious Life’, directed by Dunstan Bruce formerly of Chumbawumba. It looks at the Levellers’ story from 1988 through the 90s and up to present day. They have been together for more than 25 years, quite an achievement. Their fans have been with them all those years too, crossing generations and genres. The mix of folk and punk, protest and rebellion, is a heady one.

The film is an affectionate, insightful, informative and funny look at their successes and achievements, from the perspective of Jeremy Cunningham. It’s about family and support, friendship and community. He’s a talented and remarkable artist and musician, with parents who almost steal the show. Look out for the interview with Michael Eavis too. There’s great footage of concerts, notably Glastonbury in 1992 and 1993. As someone who has worked with archives, my eyes lit up when I saw theirs. Reminders of the politics of the day were welcome too, in these politically interesting times we live in. Beat the Blues in Brighton and the Battle of the Beanfield. The original political movement, way back in the 17th century, was about rural rebels, levelling hedges after enclosures. Later that century the name was given to a group of activists who were part of the English Civil War.

This practical approach to politics shines through in their songs, lyrics, ethics and integrity and is part of a common bond with their audience. There’s no obvious rock’n’roll indulgence in their approach to life, with the exception perhaps of Jeremy’s previous ‘pharmaceutical peccadilloes’. There appears to be ‘no side’, as they say where I come from. The Q and A session with Jeremy and Dunstan was a good example of this. I’d been to a local restaurant for a quick bite to eat before the concert and Simon Friend was at the next table, happy to have his photo taken by a fan. I wondered why he was taking his time, and then realised he didn’t have to be on stage until after the film!

So, the film is a great reminder of who they are and what they represent, and well worth watching when it comes out on DVD in April. During the interval my son (now 21) and I discussed the eighties and nineties. We agreed we would have loved to have been part of it, to have seen them at Glastonbury, but he wasn’t even a gleam in my eye in 1992, and I was busy bringing up babies and taking on responsibilities. Nowadays ‘lifestyle choice’ is used as a term of criticism, but back then choosing a politically aware, creative and alternative lifestyle was a positive action.

After the interval the band came on for an acoustic set. They were seated, the audience stayed in their seats. This wasn’t quite what I expected. The acoustic versions of the songs highlighted lyrics and melodies, more folk and protest than punk. There were security men in the shadows of the theatre. In spite of the audience being a cross-generational crowd, I wondered if they had grown up just a bit too much. Two ladies came to the front to dance and were sent back to their seats. Suddenly the middle aisle was invaded by dancing fans and the energy exploded. Everyone in the stalls was standing, dancing, waving, singing along. The Levellers’ spirit soared up to the cupids and the gold leaf.

Two songs were conspicuous in their absence in a great set, ‘What a Beautiful Day’ and ‘One Way’. But they were there in spirit. It had been a beautiful day, no snow or icy windscreen, Spring seemed to have come to Buxton at last. And, of course. there is only one way of life and that’s our own, but it was a wonderful evening of celebrating and sharing what we all have in common too.

And thanks to Jeremy Cunningham, it’s the first time I have bought an artist’s exhibition catalogue from a merchandise stall.

Related Links:

Commenting On: Opera House, Buxton, 5/3/2015 - Levellers

ie London, England

tick box before submitting comment

First Previous Next Last