The Levellers
@ Bradford St. Georges Hall

It’s a home-coming of sorts, since Simon (on guitar) is from Bradford. So he gets to front the show with a solo spot. “The year it is 1991”, he sings, in “Sold Them Down The River” and oceans of time open up before me. Was it really so long since the struggles of the eighties and early nineties catalogued here? Was it really fifteen years since the judicial review that sealed the end of the last big class war in this country; the miners’ strike of the eighties? I’ve recently been to hear Tony Benn speak and was reminded of the power of popular song to rally the struggle. The Levellers have always been one of those bands that wear their hearts and consciences on their sleeves though lately, perhaps through the natural order of things, some of the effect seems to be more about rekindling the spark in existing Levs fans.

St Georges is packed with the gentle folks that followed them in the eighties, in that second era of hippydom that flowered then. They’ve come to hear the uplifting songs like “It’s A Beautiful Day”. The band agree to play that for us since it’s been chucking it down all day in Bradford. It’s a good-natured audience and, with no beers allowed in the auditorium, it’s a pretty hassle-free place to bop and jump about or punch the air. There are no real surprises except the energy of the band, who’ve been shaking their thing for twenty-five years now. The band come on and off stage, circulating the space and guests arrive. The bass and fiddle swap sides and there is a sense of constant motion. There’s a didgeridoo solo, manipulated into spacey surround sounds through the mixing desk. The bassist leaps and throws his dreads about. Despite the onset of male pattern baldness, he carries more hair than most bands and has had his legs replaced with giant coils of spring. He is more a beat than a tune but I’d not want to lose the visual energy, even for musicality.

The floor bounces enough to blur the snaps here. “Come on, sing the words, I can’t remember them”, begs the singer after the didgeridoo player manages to crack him in the teeth. The keyboardist turns up out front as a drummer boy. There is little subtlety in playing when there is so much bouncing. Fundamentally, they all play at once and jump up and down. The fiddle spins around tirelessly and grins. The drummer is straight-ahead – boom, chicka, boom. Out front we are packed tight, no room to jig and some adopt the Riverdance bounce instead.

The pace is well set, alternating fast, slow, lament and hits are spread throughout – Hope Street, Beautiful Day, Liberty, One Way Of Life, etc are not saved till the end and I wonder what they have left for an encore. Reminding us of the never-ending war of international capital, they flag up the tragic inevitability of war in Iraq or anywhere with their “Your Daddy Died In The Falklands” – a rallying lament from the eighties. You might have thought we wouldn’t have need for anti-war songs in the twenty-first century…..

Just before the last song the singer pauses, pointing out someone in the front row; “I’m not leaving till YOU smile. Has it been that bollocks a day? Ah! You’ve got one more song to get your grin on or I’ll twist your nipples”. The Levellers still have a community spirit and a sense of belonging. I have memories of the grasping materialistic Thatcher-ite eighties but bands like The Levellers, New Model Army, Billy Bragg, Chumbawumba remind us that there was a counter-culture present to raise a banner against the evil banalities of the time. It’s nice to celebrate it and timely to remember we will always need a new wave of contemporary musical attack on the ruling culture of the day to focus our emotions on the need for the battle against heartless government. And if you want to see where the Levellers drew the inspiration for their name from and get a history lesson in the inevitable oppression in hierarchical systems, check out the historical Levellers on Wikipedia.

Ross McGibbon