The Levellers, Manchester Academy, 26th November 2021
Boy these cold nights are starting to kick in. Just in time really for some dodgy analogies about The Levellers warming up Manchester Academy or blowing up a bigger storm than that which was gathering pace on the streets. Whatever, rolling anarchy is alive and well.
Just over a year ago, they released Peace, and they’ve also kept busy and the tills registering with some lockdown releases, but tonight is all about celebrating another milestone as Levelling The Land hits 30. New songs and albums may have come and gone but this is a set that’s been good to The Levs and their supporters. An album that’s constantly returned to. They’ve all grown up together with this music which is why the forty and fifty somethings in the sell out crowd are in a jubilant mood. It’s not just a COVID-related relief that’s on show.
Band-wise, Dan Donnelly (he of solo and The Wonder Stuff fame) seems well bedded in, stepping from the subs bench to make an immediate impact in covering for Simon Friend. “He’s probably been in your front room,” jests Mark Chadwick in reference to his new buddy’s penchant fr being on the road and house concerting. He’s actually a perfect fit; he even has the shirt, complete with ‘Subvert’ patch stitched in a prominent place.
The year might have been 1991, and even though the lyrics of Sell Out are altered to fit the current year, many of the messages are still the same. The passion and gusto with which the crowd respond as Chadwick belts out the opening of One Way show that we’re still on the same page. The air raid siren of the reverbed fiddle, the bounding energy of Donnelly as Chadwick tosses his guitar around, gesturing and spinning while Jez Cunningham’s swinging dreadlocks soon escape any sort of confinement – has he done a health & safety risk assessment? It’s been a while but The Levs are as potent as ever. Maybe it’s the long wait, but there’s a buzz about the familar sequence of songs that feels particularly intense tonight and as likely a snot throughout the tour.
The songs flow so easily and quickly; through the “hippy music” of The Boatman and its epilogue where the Boatman Jig is more psychedelic; the folky singalong of Far From Home and The road into the intensity of Fifteen Years and The Game. By the time Riverflow and Battle Of The Beanfield are belted out at a frantic pace, the second wind has carried us thus far and the ticket price alone has been fulfilled.
Main course delivered, the afters come with a handful of those new Peace songs and a few jewels that starts with Hope Street. Aside from the intro tape and flashing slideshow that reminds us of the roots of the Levellers and the world into which they were born – hell, we’ve just had eleven songs from that era – Generation Fear, Food Roof Family and Our Future are reminders that The Levs still bite as we pass into 2022 as a Post-COVID generation still in the hope that those who lead us can channel their efforts in a fairer and more effective and empathetic manner.
They might not be solving the problems of the world with their guitars, they ain’t that pompous or egotistical, but they certainly make it a better place. Thirty years of Levelling The Land, demanding the truth and pumping out their anthems of hope and defiance. Here’s to a few more. Don’t bet against many of the same folks belting out “the way we were is the way that we want to…BE!!” for a few more years yet.