Published on October 5th, 2014 | by Mike Ainscoe



As well as reviewing the latest ‘Greatest Hits’ release and catching the band headlining the Friday night at the Ramsbottom Festival, Mike Ainscoe managed to grab a chat with bassist/lyricist/artist and whisky expert Jeremy Cunningham on the eve of the release of the album. It was early evening after a long arduous day when the call came through.

So Jeremy, are you keeping busy?

Am I busy?! Yeah – well, no not really! We’re busy doing  promo stuff but we just got back from Berlin where we were doing some gigs, but we’re not really busy apart from doing all the promo.

Just before we talk about the ‘Greatest Hits’, I got to see the band the previous weekend at the Ramsbottom Festival.

I really enjoyed that actually! Pity about the fucking rain! I just wanted to have a good look round – we’d been on a bus for fucking ages so we like to take a look around and talk to people and see what’s going on.

You were also spotted at the side of the stage enjoying one of the local bands, The Tapestry!!!

Yeah, I thought they were great. I was speaking to their manager beforehand and our tour manager knows them as well. We were trying to get in touch with them about playing at our festival, Beautiful Days. I think they’d be really good for that, they’re a great live band.

So looking at the Greatest Hits album, for a lot of fans the appeal will be in some of the guests you got in to work on some songs with you. How did you choose who to invite?

They were people who we wanted to work with and admired. All of them had played at our festival and we wanted the right kind of people to ask to have a go and Frank (Turner), Imelda (May), Bellowhead and Billy Bragg were the first four we asked.  Basically we said choose a song of ours, any song you want and we’ll be your backing band and come into our studio in Brighton and record it live so what’s on the album is what happened. They all rose to the occasion; they all arranged the songs – it’s 90% their arrangement and we contributed like 10% in the working of it all. It was great fun for us.

They seemed to be pretty good choices. The Bellowhead choice (‘Just The One’ – a drinking song) was most appropriate!

Yeah, that one was just chaos. Just the logistics of trying to get about thirteen people – all of us and all of them – in our studio and playing live all at the same time. Plus the guy who was coming in, who’s a mate of both bands who runs a pub in Brighton, came in and did the voiceover where there’s the list of drinks. It was a logistical nightmare but we managed to pull it off! It’s all live that song.

a Jeremy Cunningham LevellersThe one I really like is Frank Turner’s take on ‘Julie’ which is quite a big arrangement compared to the original.

Absolutely, yeah! We’ve known Frank for years and he came to us and he’s always said to us that ‘The Levellers’ album, which is the album that ‘Julie’ was on, is an album he grew up with and that he loved. When he headlined ‘Beautiful Days’ three or four years ago, he played ‘Julie’ as a tribute in his set so when we asked him if he would do a song for our greatest hits, he said he’d like to do the song again, but a really hard version of it. That was all he said, he just wanted to do a full on version and I’ll try and work it out. When I heard that, I was like “Oh fuck! I can’t really hear it!” I had confidence in him but I couldn’t really hear it – it could go either way. It could be really good or it could be fucking awful!!!! But we’d all committed ourselves, but honestly, we played it the first time through and maybe the second time through we started recording and it sounded great straight away. His commitment to the lyrics really works – just the commitment and the intensity, you can’t knock it.

In contrast, what Billy Bragg did with ‘Hope St’ tones the song down quite a bit.

That one to me has been a real grower. I’ve gotta say that when we first did it – it was great recording it because it was really laid back with a lot of space in it so that as musicians we could work with it, but after that we put it aside a bit whilst we did the others, and it wasn’t until listening to it after all the other songs and coming back to that one and ever since it’s been growing on me. Billy does what Billy does and he brings that to a song and it was kind of the underdog of the mix for a while, but I think it’s probably going to be the biggest grower out of all of them.

The digital box set (itunes) version is enormous! Was it ever tempting to go with a physical package?

We couldn’t really ever afford to do that as a physical package so there wasn’t really ever talk of putting it out that way – it would be nice, nice to do it as vinyl, me being old school! But it was always intended to be digital because then you could put that amount of tracks and that kind of price basically. It’s Jon (Sevink) who does all that. He mastered it and went through all the tracks. I haven’t even heard some of them – well I must have heard them but I can’t remember them!

So what sort of input did the band have on GH?

It’s Jon really who’s the music guy and Mark (Chadwick) while I do the artwork. Simon, Mark and me write the lyrics when we’re writing songs, but for the actual choosing of songs for something like this it’s mainly Jon and Mark will have a say and Steve Moore who runs our record label who’s been with us since we started pretty much.

Just to digress a bit, a word about the ‘A Curious Life’ film, – a project in which you had a big hand.

Yeah, yeah – by default!!

a Levellers7Are there any plans for some sort of general release?

It’ll definitely be out on DVD, but the thing is it’s been doing film festivals basically all over the world. We’ve just been in Lisbon and Toronto and we were just in Berlin this last week showing the film and playing an acoustic set. We’ve done that a few times now and it’s been so well received in that package that we’re going to do a tour in the UK early next year, February/March time, showing the film and us playing an acoustic set, and then we’re going to do the same in Germany doing the same – film and acoustic set from the whole band. After that it’ll come out on a DVD basically. That’s as far as it stands at the minute. It’s doing the round of film festivals and offers keep coming in. I’m not sure it will ever be out on general cinema release – I don’t think we’re kind of a big enough band for that.

That should be quite an exciting and different package to take out on tour.

It’s really good I’ve gotta say! We’ve only done it a couple or three times but it is really good – really fun!

Are there any plans for any new music? The last couple of albums produced by Sean Lakeman have been great.

Well, we were ready and he’s the man! For me personally and the others would probably agree that we’ll do the next one with him as well and we have been working towards that. We’ve done a few demos already and we’re confidently writing, although it’s slower because we’re doing all this live stuff as well, but we’re constantly working towards another album. We probably will be with Sean because he brings the best out of us – we’re up for it and he’s a great producer. We’ve worked with a lot of guys and he is fucking brilliant!

The Levellers play Manchester Academy on Saturday 22nd November and as Jeremy said:

It’s always good in Manchester – Love it!!

2 Main Body Pics taken by Mike Ainscoe

To read the review of The Levellers Greatest Hits click here



About the Author

Mike's mellowed in his old age, discovering the delights of traditional folk and acoustic music and the constant stream of new music coming through his passion as a gig-goer, music photographer and writer. With favourite artists and favourite songs which change daily, even hourly, he adds another spoke to the Sonic Bandwagon wheel of fortune.

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