27 September 2008: Levellers + Nick Harper – Royal Albert Hall, London, England, UK

The Royal Albert Hall is an awe-inspiring place. Not for the faint-hearted, to stand on its stage demands presence and the ability to prove to a 6000+ audience that you command the right to be there. Tonight the mighty Hall played host to the Levellers, supported by acoustic guitarist Nick Harper.

Harper is an old mate of the Levellers, but was an odd choice of support, rather like putting Gordon Brown on the same bill as Russell Brand: as different as chalk ‘n’ cheese as you could hope to get.

Harper has been around on the circuit for a good 15 years or more and this was probably his most prestigious venue to date. But, the solo figure armed with just his Lowden guitar, sadly cut a lonely image. This was an arena just too large for his folkish tunes and at times it appeared as if he didn’t know why he was there.

Tonight saw none of the usual satirical banter, nor the often mesmerising dexterity of his guitar playing to lift proceedings. A polite audience response followed little played songs The Wanderer And His Shadow, Evo and Sleeper Cell, although the morosely sombre Real Life and the title track from his 2005 album Treasure Island demonstrated his knack of juggling the thought-provoking with the jaunty.

Introducing his young daughter to accompany him for the last number, CSN&Y’s classic Our House, he was reprising his own debut on the same stage with his father Roy some 35 years before. A sweet end to the set, but overall a performance that will have done little to garner Harper any new fans, and may well have left a few of those who are disappointed.

In contrast, the night’s headliners may well have added a good few more of the unsure to their fanbase. They opened this two-part acoustic/electric set with just vocalist Mark Chadwick and Jon Sevink on fiddle to play No Change, showing a confidence and ease with their majestic surroundings. They were joined by Simon Friend (and later added to with a string quartet) and gradually built up numbers on stage as other band members joined them, pushing the feelgood ambience higher as they embarked on a run through Julie, The Boatman and Together All The Way. Before The End, from their 20th anniversary album Letters From The Underground, gave a nod to how well their new material works alongside classics such as Beautiful Day and Carry Me which came in the second electric half of the night.

By this time the seated audience had risen to their feet and danced happily along to the likes of Exodus, Burn America Burn and Dirty Davey. All-in-all, a 23-number show, with plenty of crowd pleasers, and no doubt they could have gone through a third half with another dozen equally as popular songs from their vast repertoire of the last two decades.

Of course it wouldn’t have been a Lev’s night without the emergence of the didgeridoo for the encore. And its eerily atmospheric strains echoed around the Albert Hall on This Garden, Men-An-Tol and One Way, bringing the end to a night that delivered on all counts.

© tomcummings