“You worked it out yet?” says Mark Chadwick, smiling mischievously. “Don’t worry, you’ll pick it up.”
The Levellers have just played “Liberty Song” and the band are sitting – even more odd, so are the audience and normally, the words “this means nothing to me” can rouse the rabble to dance.
So, have you? Have you worked it out?
This is The Levellers stripped down (sort of, there’s more of them than usual on stage – they are joined by Hannah and Ollie from the Moulettes as normal for this acoustic shows) relying on the power of their songs.
Never in doubt, really, was it?
The one that follows “Liberty Song” is all the proof you need. “Battle Of The Beanfield” sees Hannah up front and centre, (“she’s breaking the rules and standing up”) to play a wonderfully powerful version of a brilliant song.
And that’s what tonight is about. Brilliant songs and different versions of them – there’s a gypsy jazz stomp to “Wheels” here for example. The band are just about to release “Together All The Way”, the follow up to their acoustic album “We The Collective” from a few years ago. The two new songs that are on the album are played one after the other. “Man O’ War”, written by newest member Dan Donnelly (“I had to learn to write especially for it” he smiles) is poignant, but its “Sitting At The Social” that really hits home. Raw, visceral and full of anger at the world in 2023. Not for nothing does Chadwick say “we’re all heading down the Town Hall with pitchforks after this” – this really is the band at their incendiary best.
They have always been brilliant songwriters, though and the balance in this superbly paced show is shown by the lovely version of “Julie” all windswept folk, there’s even a touch of Seth Lakeman here, while “Born That Way” with its effective use of percussion sees Charlie Heather banging his cowbell, while a surprising “England My Home” and adding a real rock n roll groove to proceedings.
Jonathan Sevink’s violin playing has been to the fore throughout (perhaps elf evidently given the nature of the show?) but he makes it sound primal on “Cholera Well” – and its after this one that something happens. “The Road” sees people – The Collective, maybe? – rise up and dance. All of a sudden the vibe of the show changes from a performance to a organic thing. A chap runs onto the stage (he soon removes himself), but it seems spontaneous, unplanned and in the moment, the rules don’t matter.
After “Far From Home”, there’s an encore, and there’s a real sense of fun in the harmonica driven “Hope Street”, while the stoicism of “Down By The River “O””, written by their friend and collaborator Rev Hammer comes through here. And as “Just The One” ends the show, there’s maybe three things to take away. First, my long held belief that great songs can be played in any format holds true here. Second, there’s no band quite like this one. And third: yes, I think they worked it out.