Interview: The Levellers all set for Grassington

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By Graham Chalmers

The Levellers are back where they started and all the better for it, says lead singer Mark Chadwick.

“We run everything ourselves now. It’s our record company, our recording studio, we manage ourselves. It’s a lot less pressure than being on the merry-ground of the music business. ”

This Brighton-based, raggle taggle six-piece may have returned to their original DIY ethos but it’s still a long way from the days they were regarded as the ‘Crustie’ house band of the 80s ‘New Age Travellers’ movement.

After an incredible 25 years together, Mark, Jeremy, Charlie, Simon, Jonathan and Matt now play the top venues at home and broad and all the best festivals, from Isle of Wight to Cambridge Folk Festival, Camp Bestival to Grassington Festival where they will be appearing this weekend.

“It’s strange to see pictures of ourselves back then but it doesn’t seem like a long time ago.

“It’s cool to be a folk-rock band now but in 1988 it really wasn’t. We’d try to call ourselves a punk band with a violin to get away from that!”

The Levellers’ early mix of passion, politics and land on tracks such as Battle of the Beanfield made them household names and clearly fed into other Rave era acts such as The Prodigy.

For a while, it even became fashionable to be ‘Crustie’ and the band ended up in glossy magazines, much to their surprise and displeasure, even.

“The media treated it as a lifestyle choice but we were just straight down the line geezers who wanted to be in band.

“The scene disappeared but we have continued. We were always anti-labelling.”

Recent EP The Recruiting Sergeant saw The Levellers record five anti-war songs, though the band were keen to emphasise they weren’t anti-soldier songs.

Survivor of an era of ‘free festivals’ and confrontation with the authorities over the Criminal Justice Act, time hasn’t changed Mark’s viewpoints.

In this day and age, how can he still care?

“Nothing’s changed so we’ve got to keep caring. If it was ‘job done’, we’d be writing songs about lovely, fluffy things but it’s not.

“As a band, we’ve never been afraid to put our heads above the parapet.”

The Levellers’ legendary appearance at Glastonbury Festival in 1994 is still regarded as a classic moment and the glow of the incredible energy of their live performances hasn’t faded with time.

Recent albums by The Levellers Letters From The Underground and Static on the Airwaves have made the top 30 with little fuss in an almost organic fashion.

It must be nice to be able to pick and choose what to do, to turn up at Harefest at Pateley Bridge as Mark has done in the last few years purely for the love it?

Mark told me: “The big record companies are just accountants these days. The advent of the internet made us realise we didn’t need them anyway. It’s given us a direct connection with the audience.”

I was going to ask Mark about The Levellers’ label-hopping over the years, about the band’s most divisive album, Hello Pig and whether he was going to follow up his recent solo acoustic album All The Pieces (he is, he’s working on one at the moment even as he tours with the band).

What interests me is how hard it is to think of any other acts who’ve been going for 25 years or more whose root principles have remained so clearly in tact as The Levellers.

“I personally love Hello Pig. I listen to it more than all the others. Audiences want bands to remain the same but everyone’s allowed their ‘blue period’. You can’t keep turning out the same ****. We always sound like The Levellers but we keep changing.”

The Levellers play Grassington Festival on Saturday, June 29.

For tickets call 01756 752691 or book online at www.grassington-festival.org.uk