Leveret – The Met, Bury – 10th March 2022
It’s been a few years (some unavoidable of course) since an encounter with Leveret. One of those was actually at The Met at the live launch of the National Youth Folk Ensemble…remember the name. 2019’s Diversions being their last recorded and released artefact, (although the excellent Variations Live album culled from tour recordings is possibly the most essential Leveret purchase) we’re well overdue a dose of the magic that flows when the trio of Sam Sweeney, Andy Cutting and Rob Harbron come together.
As Sam Sweeney notes, The Met has played a major part in the almost ten-year existence of Leveret, despite now being relegated to the second most played venue for them. Blame it on defection to the bright city lights of Manchester and a gig at Band On The Wall in 2017 for that maybe.
As the three chairs sit on stage in the pre-gig period, thought #1 of the night pops up. Aside from the usual technical spec for the gig and band rider (presumably a bowl of smarties with the blue ones taken out sort of thing – I tell a lie, they’re always handsomely fed in Automatic Cafe below the venue), is there a chair spec? There’s Sam on the left with a slightly higher seat as he’s a bit taller while Rob’s in the middle seems a little less high; maybe the optimum height for resting the concertina across his knee. A little like having the guitar strap at just the right height. Andy on the right opts for more traditional wood design rather than the tubular frame of the other two. More organic with a simple red fabric seat.
When the trio enters and set off on two sets, we’re reminded that Leveret stock is built around playing “a couple of tunes.” Sounds simple, but there’s so much more to it than it sounds. Later in the evening, Andy Cutting explains how the way that the three work is very different from the traditional manner: “We have the tunes, but not the arrangements.” The skill is how they put meat onto those bones.
After almost ten years of creating and playing together they have it off to a tee although even tonight, several moments (probably not spotted by the non-musical of us) were things take an interesting turn. Just watch for the looks between them for a clue. That’s the beauty of watching and listening to Leveret play. there’s something for everyone. Musicians may well spot/hear these subtle moments and delight in the moment of creation, while for us mere mortals, we can do as Sam Sweeney often does; let the head fall back, look to the heavens (or the ornate Met ceiling) and let the experience wash over you.
It’s a fascinating process and not having had the chance to watch it for a couple of years, it’s amazing how addictive it is and how quickly time flies. That closing of the eyes and wallowing is akin to the feeling is of sitting in the middle of a soundtrack to England’s green and pleasant land. Jerusalem recreated in folk music – a world away from anything outside the room.
The combinations of their own original tunes, often inspired by places or events – Rob’s Robber’s Road whose name was unclear back in the days of the Inventions album, now turns out to be a pathway used to escort villains to their execution (“the scenic route” we’re told) vies with their penchant for digging deep into the dusty old tune books, the deeper and more obscure the better. Almost inevitably – it’s folk music after all – there are references to Cecil Sharp and Playford where The Italian Rant takes on a more sombre tone – dark and ominous, it may be Sam’s viola that coaxes out a vaguely Russian ambience.
As Andy notes, any steps into darker musical territory just make the jolly tunes sound even more jolly and when it comes to the morris tunes and hornpipes, or those written by the many Anons and Trads, or even their own pastoral pieces, he’s bang on.
There’s a further reminder of Sam’s work with the National Youth Folk Orchestra by showcasing and showing off Rachel Darling’s Snow On The Tracks (whilst musing on how nice it would be to be called ‘Darling’ – “just for once!” – and all without a Blackadder Goes Forth reference). A lovely piece that sways and glides towards the close of the evening and come encore time, bless the person who briefly broke ranks and gallantly clapped along to Nelson Hornpipe. For a band that plays several dance tunes, seemingly not a foot has been stepped in anger at a Leveret gig – yet.
Despite the growing catalogue of recorded music, the Leveret live experience is what makes these guys special. It seems a shame to have the tunes set in stone when they’re allowed the chance to evolve and head off into unchartered territories. Just like the progressive rock giants of the past did, it’s wonderful to see the no boundaries philosophy being carried bravely on the unassuming shoulders of three folk giants.
And as the evening draws to a close, we get sidetracked by thought #2 and Andy Cutting’s left arm. Watching him stretch out the melodeon at times, you wonder about not just the musician’s version of tennis elbow or repetitive strain but if his left arm is actually longer by some small measure. Peter Hook allegedly has one arm slightly longer than the other with playing his bass slung so low…How we miss Andy’s days when he played in Kate Rusby’s band and we had regular updates about his chickens. These days (and for quite some time apparently even before it was bloggable) it’s photographing his food – foodtography – that’s his passion.
And as they reluctantly call time, thought #3 – “have they been practicing the ‘Beatle Bow’?
Ah well. It might be a case of absence making the heart grow fonder, but even without the rose-tinted glasses, a post-pandemic reconnection with live music via Leveret magnified what we’ve been missing. The brief absence of live music and the chance to witness such unique musical creation is another reminder to appreciate what we have while we can.