In the wake of Coronavirus many albums being released are cited as “an album of the times” or “the soundtrack to lockdown”, yet most were written and recorded before lockdown was even a thing. It seems some musicians are just clued in to the right frequency for the times. One such band is Brighton folk heroes the Levellers.
Now, Levellers have been releasing “an album of the times” since their first album ‘A Weapon Called The Word’ was released on an unsuspecting world in 1990. Taking their name from the political movement, the band have always been outspoken with their left-wing political views and voicing change with their lyrics and in interviews.
They outgrew their humble, crusty beginnings, headlined Glastonbury in 1994 and even bothered the charts a few years later with the likes of ‘Just The One’ and ‘What A Beautiful Day’. The mid nineties saw the band go it alone, becoming independent with their own self-contained headquarters called The Metway. There they have their offices, where they run the fan club, it houses a rehearsal space and recording studio. And they continue to be self-sufficient to this day with their On The Fiddle record label.
While ‘Peace’ is their first new studio album in 8 years, the band has not been sitting on their laurels. 2008’s ‘We The Collective’ saw the band re-imagine an album of their songs acoustically, with an orchestra at Abbey Road. They continue to tour extensively and host their own Beautiful Days Festival. The recent deluxe vinyl reissues of their discography have kept fans content in the lead up to album number 11.
And album number 11 is a throwback to what the band does best. Produced by long time collaborator Sean Lakeman, ‘Peace’ sees the band in fine form, delivering the perfect mix of Celtic, guitar-driven anthems and folk-tinged balladry.
3 singles have whetted the fans appetites over the past months in lockdown. Opener and first single ‘Food Roof Family’ is an energised burst of noise, with driving bass and frantic fiddle and the same thought provoking lyricism that captures the same vibe as their early recordings. An instant anthem. With its retro keyboard refrain ‘Generation Fear’ sees a different, edgy direction. Still bold, brazen and relevant in 2020, it will surely become a future live favourite, guaranteed to get your inner crusty bouncing. ‘Calling Out’ sees guitarist Simon Friend take to the mic for a raspy tale of escaping the rat race. All 3 have their own merits but are very much Levellers in sound and feel.
Friend appears for lead vocals on several occasions, as he has done in the past. The emotive ‘Four Boys Lost’ is a sea shanty recalling the tragic tale of sailors lost at sea. ‘The Men Who Would Be King’ is raucous, punk fuelled noise-mongery, and for the first time he duets with singer Mark Chadwick on the marvellous ‘Albion and Phoenix’. The latter references the bands beginnings, Albion being a hill in Brighton and The Phoenix is the squat they used to hang out at. Full of choppy riffs and melodious fiddle, the juxtaposition of Chadwick and Friend’s vocals work perfectly on a song of reflection and sentimentality.
Elsewhere, the likes of Chadwick’s ‘Born That Way’ with its Clash-lite riff and fiddle refrain, along with Friend’s upbeat stomper ‘Our New Day’ show the more commercial mid-nineties Levellers along with the more poignant traditional laments of ‘Ghost In The Water’ and album closer ‘Our Future’.
Choc-a-bloc with their trademark observational lyricism and Celtic punk vibes, ‘Peace’ preaches a message of hope, which is nothing new for this band, but in these trying times the message seems just as relevant, if not more so than it was in the early nineties. They may be older, wiser and not the angry young punks they once were, but the Levellers still have something to say and in the current political and social climate, ‘Peace’ could well be the perfect soundtrack to our times.
Buy ‘Peace’ Here
Author: Ben Hughes