Mention the name Levellers to the average joe and they may give you a blank stare, if you’re lucky they may have heard ‘One Way’, but they probably won’t remember that the once favourite band of the traveller community and political activists of the 90’s once headlined the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury to 300,000 people and even performed their hit single ‘Just The One’ on Top Of The Pops in suits.

But there was always more to the anarcho-folk punk collective than dogs on strings, para boots and dreads. Yes, they had a political agenda and bought that to the music world’s attention, in a pre-internet/social media world. But putting that to one side, the Levellers have some killer tunes and have always been a formidable and energetic live band.

Their most recent album ‘Together All The Way’ is a stripped-back, acoustic reimagining of some of their finest moments and a companion to the 2018 release ‘We The Collective’. They are celebrating the release with an 18 date UK tour showcasing these new versions in a stripped back fashion at seated venues across the country.

“Does anyone need a wee yet?” asks Levellers frontman Mark Chadwick from his seat, four songs into the band’s set at the impressive Hull City Hall. The fact that several band members behind him raised their hands shows the Levellers haven’t lost their sense of humour over the years, coupled with the fact that I have seen the Levellers more times sitting down than standing up, surely says something about the way things are going for middle aged music fans and the bands they follow in the 2020’s.

Joking aside, this recent direction for the band works well, both in the studio and in a live setting and shines a new light on some of their finest work. With the band all seated, and the collective extended with a couple of Moulettes on cello and acoustic guitar and percussion, in these grandiose surroundings, it’s a different atmosphere than your average Levellers gig, but it is far from a chilled-out affair.

As the tribal beats and rustic instrumentation of ‘The Game’ reverberates around the hall creating drama, singer Chadwick is animated, gesticulating and pointing as he mouths the words of a song that has been firm live favourite, the message still as stark and moving, if not more so in this vast, cold hall.

What follows is a 90 minute, not so much greatest hits, but more like live favourites show. Breathing new life into old songs that have been stripped to bare bones, the addition of extra strings and percussion helps to create an expansive soundscape. Stripped back to just stabs of cello and Chadwick’s unwavering, emotive vocals, ‘Battle Of The Beanfield’ is a stunning highlight, as powerful as any full band version I have heard. Two new songs were given an airing. ‘Sitting In The Social’ with its tribal beats, gang vocals and socially aware lyrics is one of my favourites from the new album. The introspective ‘Man O War’, written by new guitar player Dan Donnelly, (who has replaced the much-missed Simon Friend) is quite beautiful in stark contrast.

As the set draws to a close, Chadwick assures the crowd it is ok to leave their seats and dance. A few sheepishly take to their feet at the front of the stage during ‘The Road’, and it’s not long before others follow, it then resembles the sort of gig you would expect from the Levellers. 

A 3-song encore sees recent single ‘Down By The River O’ sandwiched between chart bothering 90’s single fodder ‘Hope Street’ and closer ‘Just The One’ finishing off a quite wonderful set.

I know some fans have passed on this tour due to the nature of seated venues, but fair play to the band for moving in a different direction and taking their songs to an alternative plane. From what I gather the shows have been well attended and tonight was packed for sure. There were some notable absences from the set and I think that was a good thing, it kept it fresh and unexpected, and the new songs fit in well with the old favourites.

They may be rowdy festival favourites, but the Levellers can tone it back and get cultural too you know. A great night all round.

Author: Ben Hughes