The Minack is an open-air theatre carved into the cliff face at Porthcurno, 4 miles from Lands End, in the South of Cornwall. It is one of the most spectacular venues in the world, with the most dramatic, natural backdrops you could ever imagine. Seeing a band here has always been on my bucket list, but the opportunity or the right band has never arisen…until now.
The Levellers have been a constant on my stereo for over 25 years. I first saw them live at an Anti Nazi League festival at Brockwell Park in ’94 with The Manics and Credit To The Nation. At the time they were at their peak, they even headlined the Pyramid stage at Glastonbury that year. I had already been force fed them for 12 months by my flat mate, but they didn’t really click with me, not until I saw them live.
It’s a beautiful day (no pun intended)! With no chance of rain or even a cloud in the sky, we take to our seats and admire the beautiful setting, as the sun slowly disappears behind us and the green/blue waves lap against the rocks below us, as if they are also trying to get a glimpse and join in with the fun.
Pictures can’t really do the surroundings any justice and it is difficult to describe how steep the incline is. Let’s just say, if you suffer from vertigo this would not be your ideal evening.
The seating areas are granite pews, many areas covered with grass as padding for your weary ass. The stage area is also granite; to the left a smaller circular raised stage framed by an archway that leads out to the cliffs and the sea.
This is the first of two sold-out shows and the venue is at its maximum 750 capacity. So we squeeze in and take our seats, as around us rockers, ravers and lovers settle for the evening with tinnies and pasties or just a hot coffee for company. As we await 3 Daft Monkeys, it’s clear that bringing a jacket and a flask of Jack Daniels was definitely a good idea.
3 Daft Monkeys have been around for nearly 20 years and have regularly supported The Levellers. The Cornish-based four-piece are a full-on gypsy folk band of the highest order. And their good time party songs are the perfect warm up. Singer Tim Ashton is an engaging frontman, along with fiddle player Athene Roberts, who looks like she has stepped out of a Somerset field circa 1994, a drummer who has no drumsticks and a bassist with one too many strings on his bass. They insist on crowd participation, in part to try and attract the dolphins, which sadly never appear.
While the inclusion of three members playing tin whistles is a bit twee for my tastes, overall it’s an entertaining and enjoyable set, full of mournful fiddle and quirky lyrics. The likes of ‘Year Of The Clown’ and ‘Days Of The Dance’ offer much, and it’s easy to see why these guys are regulars on the summer festival circuit.
High energy tunes with rustic, Parisian charm. 3 Daft Monkeys are best seen in a tent at 2am with a can of cider in your hand and a doobie in the other. Well worth checking out.
The years have been good to The Levellers. They may no longer be the angry punks they were in the 90’s, but their socially conscious message is even more relevant than it was 25 years ago. While the touring and record releases are more sporadic then they were back in the day, the band still have something to say. And now they have their own record label and their very own Beautiful Days festival to continue doing things on their own terms.
If you have heard the recent ‘We The Collective’ album, then you will know what to expect from an acoustic Levellers show. Tonight, the 6 piece band are joined by a string section and an extra percussionist. With a set that mixes up both old and new songs, deconstructed and rearranged, to bring something new to something old.
Vibrant string arrangements take charge as acoustics and keys take a background role. Opener ‘Exodus’ is a sprawling, cinematic piece of beauty, as 3 violins and a lone cello work the melodies in perfect harmony for vocalist Mark Chadwick to deliver his, still fiery vocals.
The chorus of ‘England My Home’ still bursts with the energy and the passion it did 30 years ago. Beautiful vocal harmonies intertwine with fiddles, strings and banjo, as we breathe the salty sea air.
It’s a chilled affair and ‘Edge Of The World’ and even ‘Alone In This Darkness’ seems quite fitting, as we chillax and watch the surroundings slowly disappear as the world around us ushers in the night and the hues of blues and gentle reds and oranges projected from above, slowly take over and silhouette the band.
The Simon Friend led tunes seem especially poignant and emotive tonight. ‘Elation’ With didgeridoo action and beautiful, haunting backing vocals from the cello player, give extra special mystical and celtic vibes. And ‘Men-An-Tol’, well it just seems to have been written to be played right here and right now.
The usually animated bassist Jeremy Cunningham takes a background role and is not involved in several songs musically. He sits, ever smiling, nods his head and sings along, his heavy red dreads bouncing along with the beat. Every now and again he looks up at the crowd as if he has just remembered where he is, transfixed by a view even he and his well travelled band are not that used to.
Old favourites such as ‘Julie’ and ‘Hope Street’ get a welcome airing alongside lesser known tracks such as ‘Drugs Bust McGee’ and ‘61 Minutes Of Pleading’ in a great set that ends with the obligatory crusty anthem ‘One Way’.
‘Subvert’ with its stabs of strings and dramatic drums is like a call to arms and takes things to another level, love it. And the sublime encore of ’15 Years’ proves you can take an upbeat classic, take it down a notch or two and still breathe new life into an old dog.
These beautiful surroundings are not far from where I grew up, and witnessing a band I admire sing a bunch of songs that I have loved for many years, it’s almost a spiritual experience. I can’t say I have ever seen a band play a gig with the sea as their backdrop, and I hope the opportunity arises again.
The gods shone down and granted us the perfect weather for The Levellers to entertain in a setting that is perfect for their music. It sure was a beautiful day.
Author: Ben Hughes
Pictures courtesy of Roz Hughes