Published on November 30th, 2014 | by Mike Ainscoe0
THE LEVELLERS @ Manchester Academy – 22/11/14
The Selecter, She Makes War
The final date on The Levellers ‘Greatest Hits’ Tour, and to quote Leveller Jeremy Cunningham from the stage: “Saturday night in Manchester, can’t f**king beat it!” And as is their wont, they delivered in spades – real big ones, with a two band support bill to boot.
Performing solo, but with the help of vocal and instrumental loops (and a megaphone), a short set of poppy sounding songs with a dark edge from Laura Kidd, aka She Makes War, proved to be entertaining and absorbing enough for those early arrivals desperate to get a prime barrier spot for the main course. Combined with eighties 2Toners, The Selecter, it was as perfect a support bill as you could get at a Levellers gig. From the same era, and with a no bones up-tempo and buoyant attitude, combined with a set of classic songs from the ‘Too Much Pressure’ album, you can imagine many of the crowd would certainly have been there the first time around. What’s frightening is that they look so young! The band may have been through a line up change or two in their time, but rude girl Pauline Black and the ageless Arthur ‘Gaps’ Hendrickson still have that youthful vim and vigour, prancing round the stage and transferring their vim and vigour beyond the barrier. Songs like ‘Three Minute Hero’ and ‘Missing Words’, all accompanied by that infectious ska rhythm, are part of a broad musical education. Be ashamed if you don’t know them.
With The Levellers there is simply no messing round. Walking on in a haze of blue light and swinging spots with the usual open arms greeting from Mark Chadwick, it was indeed a case of “What A Beautiful Day” with confetti cannon explosions leading into an impressive 23 song set, and perhaps the best lighting show seen at a Levellers gig and a eye-catching set of Jeremy Cunningham’s artworks as a backdrop – no expense spared!
They don’t indulge in the triumphant in between song patter or lengthy song intros – none of the “here’s a song called…….” or what it means and the story behind it, and certainly no patronising of the crowd. They change their instruments and get on with it. They’ve been there and done it as have most of the hardy crowd, the usual boisterous mob who bounce up and down at every opportunity, sing along with gusto, jostle about and climb on each other’s shoulders, all the while being backed by a round of ‘hits’ pouring from the stage. It was essentially a ‘greatest hits’ set although having said that, aren’t most of The Levellers’ concert staples well known enough to be hits of a fashion, although ‘fashion’ may be the wrong word – The Levs have never been a fashionable band. As underground nonconformists they have continued to plough their own alternative furrow, ever shadowed by a large and loyal following.
Accompanied by guests from both support bands during the set, Steve Boakes’ traditional and expected didgeridoo appearance upped the ante in terms of the general onstage (and off) shenanigans. ‘Too Real’ and ‘Exodus’ still carried the strength of their messages swamped in an intensely dense and swarthy soundtrack while on the other side of the coin, there were the more light hearted moments in the singalong with ‘Just The One’, and what may well class as a couple of their higher order anthems – ‘Far From Home’ and ‘Carry Me’. Having said that, most words to most songs were joyously belted out by a sell out crowd, and none more so than the acoustic ‘Julie’, where the vociferous Mancunians almost drowned out the tale of angst and desperation emerging from the stage. While Frank Turner’s big band re-working of the same song may have been a highlight of the ‘Greatest Hits’ package, the desolate words rang out true and clear in Manchester on Saturday night.
After a quarter of a century of rabble rousing, The Levellers show no sign of letting up. Their ‘A Curious Life’ film and acoustic tour is already booked in for the Spring of 2015, and with the murmurings of a new album, they seem to be passing into folklore as one of the great originals.
What A Beautiful Day, Fifteen Years, Belaruse, World Freak Show, Far From Home, Together All The Way (with Pauline Black), Dog Train, Sell Out, Exodus, Julie, This Garden (with Laura/She Makes War), One Way, Too Real, Hope Street, Truth Is, Carry Me, Come On, Cholera Well, Liberty, Just The One, The Devil Went To Georgia, Riverflow
To see more live photos of the gig from Mike Ainscoe click here