REVIEW: The Levellers, O2 Academy, Newcastle

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FOR me, laughter and The Levellers are part of the same thought.

I think of their music and I think of parties, good times, youthful, exuberant rebellion against authority, love, intoxication and sitting round campfires telling stories.

But laughter and tears are never far apart, and The Levellers also evoke that sense of melancholic, rueful, rainy feeling: the half-buried almost folk-memory of grey rain-swept hillsides and ancient folk.

This may all seem like waxing somewhat poetical, but what I’m trying to say is that The Levellers are a band who write music of passion.

It’s full of feeling, much of it borne of the anti-establishment politics of founder-members Mark Chadwick (guitar/vocals) and Jeremy Cunningham (bass).

Actually, this may have explained the somewhat bizarre police presence outside the O2 on this rainy midweek evening (fancied a spot of political policing did we, PC Keen?).

Anyhow, the point is that strong emotion often produces memorable music, and The Levellers are the proof of the pudding. Consummate song-writers with a talent for telling folk tales wrapped up in timeless musical hooks, both lyrical and instrumental, with sing-along-a-choruses aplenty.

I last saw them in the very early 90s, when as a keen young reporter I went along, notebook in hand, to review them at the Mayfair … only to toss my notes away midway through the first track and join the mosh pit.

A quarter of a century on (gulp!) I may be a little more circumspect, but the pull of The Levellers’ songs is no less strong, as the sell-out crowd (most of equally, erm, respectable vintage) showed.

They threw themselves around like good ‘uns, as Messrs Chadwick and Cunningham and their motley crew (Jon Sevink on violin, Simon Friend on guitar, Matt Savage on keys and Stephen Boakes on didgeridoo) ran through their ‘greatest hits’.

In all, I counted 23 tracks, all belted out in a little under an hour and three-quarters.

It started with a bang – literally – as confetti cannons announced the first snare-slap of opener Beautiful Day, and went on from there; a party-time procession of the familiar, taking in tracks such as 15 Years, Belaruse, Far From Home, Sell Out, Julie, This Garden, One Way (of course), Hope St, Carry Me and Liberty Song.

By the time the latter wrapped up the main set (cue the confetti cannons again), the whole place was on its feet, including the upper balcony, and dancing like kids, as Cunningham and Sevink capered either side of the stage like a pair of ageing musical pixies.

At this point I suddenly realised I had a huge grin plastered across my face: see what I mean about laughter?

Just The One and a rip-roaring version of The Devil Went Down To Georgia were the first encore, and a killer version of Riverflow marked the end of proceedings.

As he came on stage for the final time, Chadwick told us: “Literally anything could happen now.”

An hour later, sitting down to write this, I discovered (via that Riverflow was also the last song on their gig in Portsmouth three nights earlier.

Just shows you that what seems spontaneous can sometimes be a repeat … but then, some repeats are well worth the watching – that’s why they’re repeated!

Long live The Levellers.

Repeat to fade…