Photographs and Review by John Bentley

Levellers

It’s a barmy Summer’s evening and the Buttermarket crowd are really up for some raucous, foot-stomping music from one of the greatest live bands around, The Levellers.

Levellers

It’s also great to be back in Shrewsbury’s Buttermarket, which was one of the great live music regional venues until it closed a few years ago. Fortunately it’s now been re-opened under new management and once again is proving a hit for live bands. It’s a lovely venue, which must be seen and experienced. Originally built as a state-of-the-art canal warehouse in the 1830s, the building has been beautifully adapted for its current use, while retaining many of its original features inside and out.

Rumours Of Spring

The evening’s entertainment starts with three local lads from the West Midlands, Rumours of Spring. Their repertoire is melodic folk-rock, but they bring in all sorts of elements to the music, including ska and blues. They’re fine musicians, with some good guitar picking and nice playing on a stick style bass.

Dave McPherson

It can’t be easy being an opening act on a hot sticky night, when the punters are just itching to freak-out to the frantic folk-rock of the Levellers. However, the audience are patient and give a fair hearing and genuine applause for both support acts. Second up is Dave McPherson, a singer songwriter from Essex. Judging from his lyrics, he seems to have had a few issues with relationships. For example, we have songs tonight about people who stay together too long and about being dumped, venomously delivered by McPherson. We also get a rather fine rendition of Roy Orbison’s ‘In Dreams’. His vocal style resembles Jeff Buckley at times, but is rather more raspy. His guitar style features some heavy duty chords, with some good picking on the last number, ‘Kingdom’.

Eventually it’s well gone nine-thirty and our heroes, The Levellers, file onto the small stage and launch straight into the familiar ‘England My Home’ from their very first EP, released back in 1989. The audience go off like a cork from a bottle of champagne and mayhem erupts. Security men rapidly redeploy and encourage some folks at the front to calm down. But it all stays good natured, with the crowd simply out to enjoy themselves, whilst indulging in a bit of energetic jigging about.

Levellers

The songs tonight come mostly from the popular and enduring first three studio albums and fans really cannot fault the setlist, which is certainly a ‘best-of’ by any standards. I saw The Levellers last year at Birmingham’s O2, where the band benefitted from the much larger stage. They are constrained by the lack of space at the Buttermarket, so the stagecraft is a little more restricted tonight. Even so, bass-player Jeremy Cunningham does manage a bit of his customary pogo-ing, when some space opens up.

Levellers

The format changes mid-set, as several band members leave the stage and singer Mark Chadwick leads a memorable stripped-down fiddle and snare-drum rendition of new song ‘Our Forgotten Towns’, which laments the run-down state of our high streets in the face of shopping malls. On this number, as always, Jon Sevink’s violin playing is central to the sound. Then there follows a pack of really core Levellers songs, including ‘The Boatman’, ‘This Garden’ and ‘One Way’. What more could anyone want? The fever pitch is ratcheted up to eleven on the dial by the appearance of didgeridoo player Steve Boakes, resplendent in face paint and sparkly top hat. It’s a miracle that no one is injured as he excitedly wields the lengthy instrument around the cramped stage.

Levellers

After a 90 minute set, with two encores, the band leaves the stage. While tonight again proves that Levellers live gigs are impeccable and immensely enjoyable, every time you hear a Levellers track you are also reminded just how good their songs are. Catchy, memorable, melodic and eminently danceable, yes. But also their lyrics are heartfelt and relevant to the present day, particularly those about injustice and the state of the nation. Their style – somewhere between The Clash and The Pogues – is also unforgettable and unique.

Levellers

Setlist: England My Home; What A Beautiful Day; The Game; World Freak Show; Belarus; 15 Years; Truth Is; Far From Home; Mutiny; Sell Out; Hope Street; Our Forgotten Towns; The Boatman; This Garden; One Way; Carry Me; Dirty Davey; The Riverflow; Cholera Well. Encore 1: The Recruiting Sergeant; Liberty Song. Encore 2: The Devil Went Down to Georgia.

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