The Levellers: A Blast from the Past

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It is coming up to the end of 2011, and I have been lucky enough to get my hands on quite a rare thing — the first ever issue of The Edge, circa October 1995. Gone is the monochromatic newspaper format — these days we are now in full colour! But don’t think that we have lost contact with our roots; we are still doing what we aimed all those years ago, to “boldly review where no-one has reviewed before” and “bring you all the happenin’ names in music”. You may be asking yourselves “Are there film and culture sections?”, and the answer there is “hell no” — a good evolutionary move by the magazine if you ask me.

Plastered across the front cover was a picture of a band that I have never heard of before, The Levellers, and it was an exclusive interview… I was hooked! What the heck did they have to say?

After Charmaine O’Reilly (ex-editor and founder of The Edge) spent weeks pestering the people in The Levellers’s offices, she finally managed to get herself an interview with Simon Friend, the band’s singer-songwriter since 1990, only weeks after the release of their Zeitgeist album. Like any good student I went to Wikipedia for a bit of background about the band. There was obvious uncertainty about where the band got their name, the ‘highly reputable’ website claiming a possible link with the democratic faction of Oliver Cromwell’s New Model Army. Luckily Charmaine O’Reilly (CO’R) asked “What are the origins behind the name The Levellers?”.

Simon: “It was actually just a case of Mark [Chadwick, vocalist and lead guitarist] looking in a dictionary. The definition was “to make all things equal”, and that seemed pretty cool really. People began to link us to up with the English civil war and an accident sect known as The Levellers. We don’t mind this a bit, because they were things that we had a natural affinity with anyway. The more we found out about that period in history and characters like John Lilburn, the more we accepted all the cogitations to the name. It is nothing to do with ‘the level’ in Brighton”, he laughed. Take that, Wikipedia.

Simon was also nice enough to try and pin down exactly what their style is: “Well, it’s a blend of ethnic techno, folk, funk, with a punk rock sort of Black Sabbath feel to it.” And I do agree with CO’R that that did not narrow down their style at all.

The most surprising feature of the article — and this could be more to do with my own ignorance — was the attitude of the establishment against festivals and festival goers. The modern view of festivals has any self-respecting music fans flocking to a field in the middle of nowhere to camp out in the mud and rain to see their favourite artists and more. However, Simon did explain that the band was seeded by “very strong feelings about the way the authorities were handing the whole thing”, with regard to the day in 1985 when riot police waged war on a field of festival goers.

Simon’s view of pop music was reminiscent of our third issue, when current editor Joe Hawkes asked Gary Numan a similar question and their responses at least began in the same way. Gary stated that “[I] never have been [interested]. Even when I was in it, I wasn’t keen on the rest of it! It tends to be very middle-of-the road; there’s not anything very challenging.” Simon bluntly stated: “Britpop, I wish it would bugger off; I’m getting bored shitless of it really.” Good to see that even some things never change in 16 years.

Where are The Levellers now, you ask?

They are still active, but they are now making music under On the Fiddle Recordings. They are still performing at festivals, and made another appearance at Glastonbury in 2010 with a new album recorded in November. Ironically, even though they feverishly deny being a folk band, they were awarded the Roots Award at the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards this year. So they, like The Edge, they have gotten bigger and better; but hopefully, unlike the band, we did not peak in popularity by 1998.

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