16 June 2006: Levellers – Big Session Festival, Leicester, England, UK

“And these are the days and the ways I’ve known”

This is the second year running that I’ve been to the Oysterband’s Big Session Festival in Leicester. Last year was to see Mark Chadwick and Rev Hammer (with Seth Lakeman on fiddle) on the Friday night and this year I’m back to see the Levellers headline the main stage.

The Big Session Festival is a small-ish festival, run by the Oysterband out of De Montfort Hall in Leicester, and the line up over the weekend included Dan Donnelly, Seth Lakeman and Chumbawumba (acoustic), as well as the Oysterband themselves.

After catching a bit of Nizlopi, while sitting on the grass outside the marquee, I wandered into the main hall at the designated time to be greeted by loads of kids running around having a wail of a time and hardly anyone awaiting the Levellers.

As the time moved on, the hall gradually filled up with a wide selection of people ranging from young children right up to people way past retirement age. This is one of the great things about this type of festival, everyone gets to mix together and experience and enjoy the same music rather than being segregated by venue type.

At about 21:00, the lights went down and (I assume it was) one of the Oysterband came on stage to thank the Levellers for appearing, mention the Levellers own Beautiful Days festival that the Oysterband have appeared at a number of times and set the show going.

The band took to the stage to the sound of the audience whooping and cheering and Mark started off by introducing the band. I’d already noticed that there was a stranger in the midst. Sat on the left of the stage in Simon’s seat was Mr Dan Donnelly. Mark went on to say that Simon was unable to attend due to personal reasons (what these were was not elaborated on, but I hope that all is OK with Mr Friend) and Dan Donnelly was sitting in and helping out. I’ve seen Dan perform before and he is a very good and very competent musician.

The band launched into “Robbie Jones” and we were off, with the crowd quickly warming to the performance.

“The Road” followed and then it really took off for me with “The Lowlands Of Holland”. I love this song, especially when performed live, and it certainly seems to go well every time the Levellers play it.

Mark was keeping up a great rapport with the crowd and seemed to be enjoying himself enormously. “Together All The Way” was next up and despite Dan struggling with the Harmonica parts at times, it seemed to gell together wonderfully. The lovely “Confess” was followed by, the new “Song for Bloke” was next. Written as a tribute to a very dear friend who has passed away, this is a lovely number, but unfortunately the crowd were unfamiliar with it and it seemed to only attract some light applause, which was a shame.

Dan took over the vocals for “The Boatman” and despite being forced to battle against a sound engineer who seemed to refuse to turn his mic up, pulled it off very well and was entitled to the positive reaction of the crowd that greeted the end of the number.

Most of the band left the stage for “Julie”, leaving Mark, Jon and Dan to perform the song. Mark had trouble with his mic this time and the vocals at the start were virtually inaudible, until they were suddenly turned up about a third of the way through, which prompted a massive cheer from the crowd who had been helping out on vocals until that point.

“Four Winds”, as it so often does, seemed to blow the roof off of the venue and at the end a bra was chucked at Mark, who passed it to Charlie on the drums. The Levellers seem to be amassing a vast collection of girl’s underwear over the last couple of years, and it seems to surprise them every time it happens.

During the gig Dan received quite a few visits from his roadie, who kept having to remind him to plug his next instrument in. I guess this is what happens when you take on the roll of a multi-instrumentalist at a moments notice and Dan coped admirably with the situation. Before the start of the next song Dan asked what key it was in and Mark told him immediately that it was in D, Dan misheard and questioned again “E”, and Mark reassured him that it was D, but that it didn’t really matter and that he could play it in E-minor if he wanted. There was then a short discussion between Charlie, Jon, Mark and Matt, before Mark announced to much laughter that it was actually in A.

A storming “What A Beautiful Day” followed, with the crowd forgetting (once again) that there is a break in the middle of the song and applauding during the break. The real and louder cheering happened at the end of the song.

Dan on vocals again for “Men-An-Tor” followed, and his vocals were even better on this one, and then we were launched into “Carry Me” and the floor erupted into what it was designed for, a dance floor. “Burford Stomp” was next, with Mark forgetting the words half way through and seemingly repeating the chorus twice instead. It didn’t make any difference at this point though, as the whole place had gone wild and the dance floor was rocking out.

“Dirty Davey” then brought us up to the end of the set, with the crowd once again forgetting the break in the middle of the song and applauding prematurely. It makes no difference in the end though and the song continues speedily, before the band left the stage to warm and rapturous applause.

After much stomping of feet and yelling, the Levellers reappeared for “Another Man’s Cause”, a slower number to lull us into a false sense of slowness, before the ever-present “One Way” sped us into “The Riverflow”. This was the song that I’d started off the day singing, so it was fitting for me that they should end the show with it tonight. As ever, it was fast and got faster as it went on, but probably didn’t quite reach it’s normal very high tempo, perhaps because Dan was helping out in place of Simon.

All in all, another great show as expected, with Dan Donnelly proving that he’s a very versatile musician as well. I hope that other people who experienced his own set later in the weekend, which unfortunately I was unable to attend, appreciated that as much.

Setlist; Robbie Jones / The Road / The Lowlands Of Holland / Together All The Way / Confess / Song For Bloke / The Boatman (Dan Donnelly vocal) / Julie / Four Winds / What A Beautiful Day / Men-An-Tor (Dan Donnelly vocal) / Carry Me / Burford Stomp / Dirty Davey / [Break] / Another Man’s Cause / One Way / The Riverflow