08 March 2008: Bloom Festival – Koko, London, England, UK

The Bloom Festival, taking it’s cue from the likes of Big chill, took over KOKO last night in a one off night to spread it’s fare beyond the confines of a single summer weekend. First on were the London Breakbeat Orchestra. Watching a thirty piece classical string and wind section putting their melodies on top of a broken beat backing track was initially charming and novel, but there was not enough groove, incision or even humour to justify using them as anything other than what they were… Canon fodder for what was on next.

Super Nashwan, a real find for Bloom, took to the stage in as a young whirlwind of Gospel singers, Caped Keyboard players and dirt-driven guitars. Suddenly we had a six piece band on stage who made the atmosphere kick into the fever of a festival. Super Nashwan’s frontman takes you through a hot spectrum of anthemic emotions that leaves you feeling truly uplifted. No question – Super Nashwan stole hearts with their high voltage good time performance.

Next up Caged Baby capitalized on the good will built up by Super Nashwan’s performance with a balearic live P.A. party set showing the light side of four to the floor. Although his voice was not in the same league as what came before or after it, his extended laptop band have a warmth and rumble that got feet tapping and towards the end of the set, hips twisting.

The Elektrons were the headliners – a band hand built by the Unabombers (top Djs in the Manchester scene responsible for the infamous Electric Chair Club Night.) Their similarity to Gnarls Barclay in their look, tone and vibe is astounding – although, on last nights givings…. there is no stand out “crazy” to propel them to megastardom. However their funky party pop-hop really won over the crowd and is exactly the sort of upbeat festival fair that you can imagine winning them a lot of friends on the circuit this summer, at bloom and beyond. A special note must also go out to the elektrons vocalist who’s laid back charisma and pitch perfect soul voice was the highlight of the Elektrons set and endeared them to many.

Newcastle grand Central DJ Riton finished the night off with some pounding miami bass, electro and techy beats: encouraging the frivolities of the crowd to spill onto the stage. All in all a great party night which bodes well for a young festival spreading it’s wings and coming into full bloom.


06 March 2008: Levellers – Beautiful Nights (Night 1), Civic Hall, Wolverhampton, England, UK

06 March 2008: Levellers - Beautiful Nights (Night 1), Civic Hall, Wolverhampton, England, UK

Billed variously as Beautiful Nights, by the Levellers themselves, and 20 years Levelling the land, by the venue, this was the first, if you don’t count the warm up at Brighton Concorde 2 the night before, of three Beautiful Nights to celebrate the Levellers 20th year as a living, kicking, rocking live act.

With support from 3 Daft Monkeys, who were probably great but who I missed due to an apparent time warp between Walsall and Wolverhampton, and Alabama 3 (Acoustic), who from what I heard were frankly horrific (it’s not a good idea to yell “You’re rubbish” at the audience), the Levellers three Beautiful Nights continue on 07 March at Manchester Apollo and 08 March at Brixton Academy.

Judging from this performance the next two nights should be a mind blowing experience.

As the lights went down, a single spot light picked out a lone figure standing confidently on top of the left hand speaker stack, and as the crowd roared its approval, Jon Sevink and his fiddle launched us into England My Home, and Jon then leapt spectacularly onto the stage.

The sound was awesome, the loudest I’ve heard the Levellers for years and the band were pulling out all the stops to make the evening a great show.

The third song was the A side of the Levellers new single, A Life Less Ordinary (download it for free from www.levellers.co.uk), and it sounds magnificent in a live performance. This went almost immediately into crowd favourite What A Beautiful Day. As the first notes rang out, the wall behind the band lit up with a spectacular backdrop of multiple TV screens which took the show to a new level.

Other outstanding tracks were Men-An-Tol, Battle Of The Beanfield, Sell Out, The Boatman (with Simon Friend taking over vocal duties), Carry Me and One Way, which Mark Chadwick introduced as “Can we have the audience lights on so that we can see them. This one’s for you”. With Stephen Boakes and his didjerydoo rampaging around the stage it was amazing that the band didn’t collide with each other. Manic!

The band also played us two other new songs from the forthcoming album, Letters From The Underground; the double A-side of the download single, Cholera Well and Burn America Burn, which Mark Chadwick introduced by saying “Let’s see how they misinterpret this one”. I look forward to the new album with anticipation.

Dirty Davey and The Riverflow took us, dancing energetically, to the end.

But this was too early to finish and the crowd knew it. We weren’t kept waiting for long and the band reappeared, complete with a three man brass section, and blasted us with Warning, a song I don’t think I’ve heard them play for about 10 years.

Before the next song Mark Chadwick pointed out the new brass section and then we slid smoothly into Dog Train, another song that’s not been played for far too long.

Just The One took us to the end of a fantastic set and some of the crowd started to drift towards the exits…only to scramble back into the main hall as the band reappeared on stage and Jeremy Cunningham screamed “Liberty”. The whole building seemed to shake as the band seemed to take the song beyond where it had ever been before, seemingly giving it a whole new relevance and power. The screens behind were lit up with succinct, meaningful, messages in huge letters; “Democracy in a gift box”, “An eye for an eye, a life for a life”, “The atmosphere is killing you”.

And then we wait as 2 Daft Monkeys appear on stage, introduced by Mark, with a chuckle, as “See no evil and hear no evil, or Beauty and the Beast”. Most of the crowd knew what was coming.

What You Know, as ever, blew me away. It seemed even faster, more energetic, louder and more powerful than before. The mosh pit erupted, taking over a very large proportion of the dance floor, beer glasses flew through the air and the foundations took a battering as even the balconies seemed to be jumping up and down.

Faster, Faster!

You always know it’s all over when Jeremy says “Thank you. Goodnight”.

20 years, 8 Studio albums, live performances numbering in the thousands and an uncountable number of happy, smiling, gig going, revellers. Here’s to another 20.

The Levellers once again live up to their “best live act in the world, ever” tag. Easily.