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| 11 October 2016 | Reply

By Shane Pinnegar


It’s hard to believe that The Levellers have never visited Australia.

Three top ten albums in their native U.K. Three more that made the top 20. Six U.K. Gold discs. They were one of the first bands in the mid-90s to set up their own studio, rehearsal space and offices in a disused factory, and created the annual Beautiful Days Festival in 2003, which is still running to this day.

The reason for their visit is to celebrate the 25th anniversary of their breakthrough second album, Levelling The Land.

Friday OCT 07 SYDNEY The Factory
Saturday OCT 08 BRISBANE The Triffid
Sunday OCT 09 MELBOURNE Max Watts
Tuesday OCT 11 ADELAIDE The Gov
Wednesday OCT 12 PERTH The Capitol

SHANE PINNEGAR got guitarist and lead vocalist Mark Chadwick on the line to find out what the six-piece folk-punk collective were expecting when they get Down Under.

“Generally, it’s a mixture of both [ex-pats and locals],” says Chadwick, “that’s what we like. Yeah, I don’t know – we don’t know what to expect, we have no idea. [There’s been] a lot of interest on the internet over the years. Since the internet came into existence, we’ve been closer in communication with Australian fans.

“We’re pretty much playing Levelling The Land. We’ve been doing a lot of festivals this year, playing our normal set, [and] from Australia, we start playing [all of] Levelling The Land.”

Looking back on an illustrious thirty-year career, Chadwick agrees it’s been one heck of a ride for the band.

“It really has, it really has. Up and down, and around and around, but what’s amazing is that we’re the same band, we’re the same group of individuals. What we’ve done is we’ve added a keyboard player, and that’s it! And you know, we’ve got our own studio, we’ve got our own record company, our own publishing company. We’re a cottage industry really, we’ve always been that way. It’s been for us, how we’ve been able to survive for so long I think.”


In the early days of the band they were plastered through the media, receiving gold discs and touring the U.K. relentlessly. The Levellers were amongst the first bands to walk away from the established music industry major label template, and set themselves up as a truly independent band. Chadwick explains one massive difference between the two business models.

“Well, first, we make more money now than we ever did then – which is weird!” he laughs dryly. “Because no-one is taking it away from us, so we don’t have the stress of all [that]. So we make a lot more money. [However, for a] band starting out, I think you really do need the money of a record company to get your face out there.”

From the perspective of fame as well, being in charge of their own business makes the madness of attention a lot easier to control.

“We’re a small band, we’re very much an underground band, so success wasn’t really part of our equation. We [got famous] so slow and subtly, and then suddenly we were heads-on-a-glass and everyone was wearing our tee shirts, all that. ‘Whoa hang on a minute,’ I said, ‘we’ve got a bit famous.’ I wasn’t expecting that. So it did affect us a little bit, [made us] a little bit crazy. But we’re all right now.”

Chadwick doesn’t need to agonise over why Levelling The Land itself has stood the test of time – his answer is instant.

“I think it’s just timing, like anything, and the honesty of the record,” he asserts. “It’s a very honest and very free record lyrically, so I think people just really identified with what we were saying, and they still do. That’s the point – the politics that it came from, that probably works even more now than it did then.

“The rise of the Right and the intolerance, it’s something that we’ve been singing about for some time. We thought, you know, we thought we were making a difference. We were quite disappointed to find out that we haven’t made any difference at all.

“We are a refuge. That’s a positive way of looking at it. We run our own festival down here – we just did it last weekend, with 20,000 like-minded souls in the same field as like-minded musicians and comedians and playwrights, and so you’ve got that. We keep going.”


The interesting thing about that statement is that Chadwick says he’s disappointed that he didn’t make a difference – but obviously he is making a difference to some. Perhaps not reaching a million people, but certainly that 20,000 people in a field in Escot Park, Devon.

“Yeah, I think so… that is the point – it is,” he agrees. “It’s an identification that people can unite on, and it’s something that’s quite a powerful medium for some people, who actually don’t think like us, but do really love the band. That’s another thing that’s quite strange, is that some I’m meeting after [the show], they’re very right wing in their thinking, and that surprises me.”

It’s hardly a surprise that a band named after a 17th-century radical democracy movement founded in England during the English Civil War has a political streak to them. To clarify, though, I ask Chadwick if he accepts there is a certain amount of people who can enjoy the music just on a purely musical level and not have to buy into the lyrical values and the politics of it at all?

“I think there has to be, really,” says Chadwick. “I think to be valuable as an artist, you have to be valuable to everybody, to be honest. They take what they want from it.

“We’re not here to convert people to our way of thinking, because our way of thinking actually and lyrically says you [have to] think for yourself. You come up with your own concepts, your own ideas, whatever they may be.”

With the band forming in 1988 and often labelled folk/punk, were the late ‘70s and early ‘80s punk movements much of an inspiration for The Levellers?

“Well, it was quite a big influence for us, but a lot more influential was probably the ’68 Paris riots [often dubbed ‘the revolution that never was,’ when Parisian students rebelled and were soon joined by over 11 million workers striking and a near-civil war in May 1968], really. That influenced a lot of our thinking – and it also influenced punk as well – because we were kind of more hippies than we were punks. We like the punk ethic, actually, the DIY ethic that came later, with ‘80s punk. More the sort of Crass kind of punk than The Clash kind of punk.

A lot of people forget that the punk was more about attitude than it was about a particular musical style.

“Exactly, and that was the thing for us,” Chadwick explains further. “It wasn’t about a musical genre. It was about how you go about things, what you believe. It’s everything. It’s completely all-consuming, actually, and when we started out, we were completely consumed with the whole punk rock ethic, I suppose. Yeah, we were.”

So, how does Chadwick see The Levellers’ music – as folk, folk-rock, folk-punk, or something else?

“I think we’re a songwriting band, to be honest,” he says simply. “Labels are very strange things. We’re songwriters – that’s what we do. If you were to put it into a label, punk-folk-rock band, I suppose.”


Believe it or not, but Wikipedia even lists the band as a Britpop act – something which must surely be a stretch for anyone to believe.

“Exactly, [but] that’s absolutely [just] a timing thing because we came out when Britpop came out, so we got labelled with that as well. We had hits during that period of time. Labels are ridiculous things, and after 30 years, we’re kind of bored with them!”

After a thirty year career, a documentary film and a book about the band, multiple hit singles and albums and gold records, their own music festival for over a decade, a couple of solo albums and now an Australian tour: is there anything burning on Chadwick’s bucket list for him to achieve?

“As a band, yeah!” he exclaims. “We haven’t written a new album in six years. We’ve been working on it for a year now – we just want to make another great record. I think that goes for any big band, really. That’s what they want to do. They’ll never achieve it, but the desire is always there. I think we’re going to record it in January or February of next year, yeah.

“There’s over 30 songs written for it so far, but we wanted to write so many songs that we could actually choose the 12 best songs out of all of them.”

You could do a Guns and Roses and release two albums on the same day or something, I suggest jokingly.

“We could,” Chadwick says with a chuckle, though his tone of voice says they won’t.

Looking through the history of The Levellers, there’s very little scandal attached to the band: no big breakups, no big feuds, no big bust-ups between individual members, no big rehab stories that I could find. Are they just down to earth, normal blokes?

“Do you know what: we are horribly down to earth, normal blokes, who are really nice to each other,” Chadwick reluctantly admits.

How disappointing, I tell him, jokingly.

“We’re really good friends. I know, I know – you actually think we’re a bunch of cunts, but we’re just not,” laughs Chadwick.

Ahh that’s just not… ‘rockstar’ enough, is it? I laugh.

“Not really,” he laughs again, before admitting, “there has been incidents, and you know what, we try to keep that stuff very quiet because it’s our lives – and we don’t live our lives to be celebrities, we live our lives to be musicians.”


The Levellers may be a distinctly British band, but folk-rock is very much beloved of both Canadians and Australians also. Does Chadwick agree that it stems from a shared Irish heritage?

“Do you know what, well, I think it is,” he agrees enthusiastically. “It’s a love of that kind of melody, that is there. It’s something that takes us all back to some sort of mystical past that we all feel. Vaughan Williams did it in classical music. It’s just there. It’s something that emotes our Celtic souls somewhere along the line.”

Category: Interviews

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