The Levellers with Damien Dempsey

by Jill

53o, Preston
Saturday 25th March 2006

It’s great catching up with old mates, isn’t it? I used to go and see the Levellers quite a lot in the 90’s, not only as the inevitable support band to New Model Army, but also once they started headlining in their own right. Always entertaining, with a worthy message to boot. You could always guarantee a good night out with the Levs. And they’ve always been around. The likes of the Wonderstuff and Ned’s Atomic Dustbin have had to have a little rest, split up for a bit, have a nice sit down and a cup of tea, then reform and start gigging again, hoping nobody would notice. Not so the Levellers. Total troupers, they’ve been slogging away for all these years with their principals and their fanbase intact. In fact, gaining a new fanbase as they go. Tonight, diehard older fans are rubbing shoulders with fresh-faced students, townie girls comparing their mobile phones stand next to mohicaned punks brandishing roll-ups and pints of cider.

First up is Damien Dempsey, the Irish singer-songwriter, whose largely acoustic set is received with genuine interest. He is rousing without being overbearing, his Celtic stylings hitting just the right mood. Understanding and admitting the limitations of performing unfamiliar material to a crowd who have largely come to see another band, he finishes his set with a joyous version of ‘Whiskey In The Jar’, accompanied by the Levellers’ Simon on harmonica. He need not have been so modest. Later I see people leaving the merchandise stall clutching his CD. He clearly has made an impression.

A short break, and up against the barrier we jig along to indie favourites while we wait. The Levellers take to the stage with the fiddle-rich ‘England My Home’. The crowd moves as one and the front rows are showered with beer from a flying pint. Yes! It feels like I‘ve never been away! Swiftly on to an ecstatic ’15 Years’. The band seem amused; Mark Chadwick comments upon the fact that they are spending a rainy Saturday night in Preston, but in no way do they disappoint. They play a lengthy set, newer numbers and album tracks nestling comfortably up against familiar crowd pleasers, such as ‘The Road’ and ‘Beautiful Day’. Simon slows everything down with a solo acoustic number, before being rejoined on stage by Mark and Jon, and then the rest of the band to explode into ‘Men-an-Tol’. To lump this band in with all of the other political artists would be unfair. It’s true that many of the songs do carry a socio-political message or new-age sensibilities, but above all The Levellers are about having fun. They know that they are there to entertain, and they seem to be entertaining themselves as much as the crowd. The set concludes with a quartet of favourites: ‘Carry Me’, ‘Dirty Davey’, ‘The Game’ and River Flow’. Their return to the stage is as inevitable as X-Factor’s Andy Abraham being back on the bins before the year is out. And of course, first back on is didgeridoo player Stephen, garishly painted and somewhat bizarrely sporting a kilt, playing a low-down and primal intro to ‘Three Friends’. This is followed by an explosive ‘One Way’ and a version of ‘Liberty Song’ that still has me deaf in one ear three days later. They return one last time to round off the 90-minute set with ‘What You Know’.

I leave with the sense that this is a band that is unfairly labelled as a bunch of raggle-taggle, dog on a string, macrobiotic types. First and foremost they enjoy what they do, but have managed to keep their folk-punk credentials intact. Just remember – The Levellers have always been there for you. I’d recommend the experience.