Contrary to popular opinion, it’s a late spring this year. You can tell by the way my first Levellers gig of the year is at the end of April. Apparently these are the only dates, apart from some festival appearances in the summer. God knows how I’m going to tell when it’s Christmas as the Levellers festive gigs now represent the official start of the celebrations to a lot of people.
After meticulous planning to ensure that I did not miss the 3 Daft Monkeys support show for the third time in as many shows, I arrived to hear the final 30 seconds of their last number. Realisation slowly dawned that this was a Sunday night and everything was earlier than normal or I had perhaps forgotten to put the clocks forward.
The venue was packed and it was an effort to fight your way towards a decent position. I found myself to the right as you looked at the stage; slightly forward of the mixing desk, surrounded by a fair few eager-looking faces.
At almost exactly 9 o’clock the Levellers appeared on the stage and after a few hellos went straight into “100 Years Of Solitude”. The venue went wild with almost everybody dancing.
And we danced straight into songs two and three before taking a breather. The Levellers were in excellent form, seemingly even more energetic than normal. As the gig moved on more and more people pushed to the front, as Jeremy bounced up and down on the drum riser and all over the stage. Even Jon got in on the act, at one point leaping off the drum riser towards the edge of the stage, still tearing the tune out of his fiddle.
The set list rocked and was a mixture of old and new favourites with a couple of surprises.
We were treated to “Last Man Alive”, the crowd went wild for “What A Beautiful Day” (with Mark swapping guitar mid song due to a broken string), “Carry Me”, “Hope Street” and “Men-An-Tol”, amongst others.
Particularly memorable to me tonight were “Forgotten Ground” and “Burford Stomp” which seemed to take on lives of their own and be filled with more energy and emotion than usual.
Mark walked onto the stage, after doing a spot of drumming during “The Boatman”, with a lighted cigarette and said “Put your hand up who smokes”. About 10% of the audience raised their arms to which Mark responded with “What are we going to do?” referring to the smoking ban that comes into force on 1 July in England. Adding “It’s no longer cool or trendy (to smoke), but it still tastes bloody good”, before dropping the butt to the floor and launching into “One Way”.
The didgeridoo and Boaksey appeared who manically bounced around the stage, nearly knocking Jon and Simon over in the process. In fact there were a number of near misses tonight. This being not your usual nanny-hand-holding type venue there were no “Stop Enjoying Yourself” signs up, with not a bouncer in sight inside the venue, and consequently the mosh pit was a melee of bodies smashing into each other for most of the evening. Simon in particular looked very startled during his solo rendition of “When Love Runs Out of Time” when somebody’s legs unexpectedly went past his face. There were a number of upside-down people heading for the band at various times and even several attempts at pyramid-building. Good to see people enjoying themselves.
And everybody around where I was standing was having a great time, with the exception of a couple who looked like they were attending a wake. This was explained on the way out when I noticed the chap was wearing a Funeral for a Friend T-shirt.
Simon appeared for his solo spot and introduced us to a new guitar. He sarcastically thanked the person who stole his old one and then went on to say that the new instrument was much better. It sounded it as well on “When Love Runs Out of Time”.
There were a couple of equipment breakdowns during the show, but it was so hot that they deserved the brief rest. At one point Jeremy was trying to contend with a heavy bass riff, bouncing up and down, backing vocals, escaping dreadlocks and a towel all at the same time. It was quite a sight.
I’m not sure when they played “Come On” but I was ecstatic. Why this single got nowhere in the charts will never cease to amaze me.
“Burford Stomp” powered us into the break prior to the encore and then the band reappeared for a slower “Another Man’s Cause”, before speeding it up again for “The Riverflow”.
Mark introduced the next song as “A ballad dedicated to my best mate”, during which Jon showed off his fiddle playing skills in “The Devil Went Down To Georgia”. Amazing stuff!
Mark said that as this was the last gig he needed some extra crowd participation and wanted us all to clap along. All I could think was “last gig? What? Last gig ever?”, before realising that he just meant the last gig of this mini-tour.
Most of the crowd thought that was it and started drifting towards the exit but we were rewarded for staying with the reappearance of the Levellers, together with 3 Daft Monkeys, for a final song.
“What You Know”, as ever, blew everyone away. I swear they added an even faster bit at the end.
After almost five months without a Levellers gig this gig was the best one I had been to for quite some time. I left the venue with my ears, head, body and soul buzzing.
How I am going to make it through to 2008 without seeing them again I do not know. Where’s that list of festival dates again?
Setlist; 100 Years Of Solitude / Fifteen Years / Last Man Alive / Hope Street / What A Beautiful Day / The Boatman / One Way / When Love Runs Out Of Time (Simon Solo) / Men-An-Tol / The Road / Come On / Burford Stomp / Forgotten Ground / Carry me / The Game / The Riverflow / [Break] / Another Man’s Cause / Liberty Song / Devil Went Down To Georgia / [Break] / What You Know