Telegraph: The Levellers are back with their best album in years. Ben Westwood has a drink just the one with lead singer Mark Chadwick
To say that the Levellers are back is not strictly true because they’ve never really been away. The pioneers of political folk-punk have been touring every year since they formed in a Brighton pub in 1988.
And although the days of headlining Glastonbury are long gone, they can still pull in the crowds, playing to more than 100,000 people at gigs across Europe last year.
The Levellers’ new album Truth and Lies is a return to form and the best since their mid-Nineties heyday. From the punk guitar riff of Last Man Alive to the anti-war rocker Knot around the World and the endearing pop singalong For Us All, it’s clear that they can still weave social commentary together with driving rhythms and catchy melodies.
Mark Chadwick reflects: “It’s a fast, bouncy record because the band has found more energy recently. The last few albums have been more collections of song but this one has a very pointed direction.”
“There’s so much angst in the world at the moment and this album addresses that. It’s about a desperate need to do something. There’s a morass of truth and lies out there: with the advent of modern media, we’re bombarded with information. Are we going to become greener or continue f***ing things up?”
The Levellers’ music has always had a political edge and they were one of the few bands of their generation to translate this into mainstream commercial success, selling more than six million records, including two number one albums, in the Nineties.
But mixing music and politics is fraught with difficulties, as Chadwick acknowledges: “It’s understandable why a lot of bands shy away from being political. People think you’re po-faced and serious and you don’t know how to have a laugh. We’re a rock’n’roll band first and foremost but we make political statements when we feel required to do so.”
Many of the band’s biggest hits Just the One, Far from Home, Beautiful Day are uplifting tunes with no political agenda. And Make U Happy, the first single from the new album, shows that they haven’t forgotten how to write a feel-good pop tune with a catchy chorus: ” I would love to make you happy, but I’m busy with my mind/ I would love to make your world right/ I need your help and you need mine.”
The Levellers have indeed been very busy recently and have embarked on yet another tour. Even though they’re promoting a new album, the old classics figure heavily in the set. They still belt out songs they’ve been playing for over a decade with as much gusto as ever, to the delight of the audience. The moshpit goes wild to classic anthems such as Liberty Song, Riverflow and Sell Out from 1991’s landmark album Levelling the Land.
The band have also launched their own festival, Beautiful Days. Now in its third year, the three-day festival in Devon attracts 10,000 people. It was conceived as a less commercial alternative to the bigger festivals that offered little more than “beers, bands and burgers”. Costs of food and drink are kept low and all produce is locally sourced.
Running an eco-friendly festival in the West Country seems entirely appropriate for a band that inadvertently became the leaders of the “crusty” movement.
But the band has never been comfortable with the crusty tag: “It’s a complete misnomer that our fanbase is made up of travellers. We haven’t had any at our gigs since the late Eighties. We attract families and teenagers who are first getting interested in politics. The crusty tag was totally inaccurate. We wash, we live in our own houses, now we have children that go to school.”
Mark Chadwick is now a married man with a three-year-old daughter and is trying to slow down a little, if his choice of drink is anything to go by. But he’s clearly labouring over the blackcurrant cordial so when I suggest something stronger, he doesn’t protest. After all, as the song says: “Have a drink, just the one to clear your head, it won’t be long.”
The new single Make U Happy is out now on Eagle Records. The album Truth and Lies is out next month. Visit www.levellers.co.uk and www.beautifuldays.org for more information.