At a night where a film documenting their careers was screened, Getintothis’ Dickie Felton realised there’s more to the Levellers than just nostalgia.
Clad in a Levellers hoodie, the middle-aged punter lost on Hardman Street asks for directions: “Do you know where the Philharmonic Hall is?” It would be safe to assume she’s following the Levellers on their joint film screening/acoustic set tour, everywhere from Basingstoke to Buxton, but has found herself waylaid somewhere between Fly in the Loaf and Magnet.
This forty-year-old fanatic could have come straight from 1992 when Levellers were the hippy, punky, folky heroes of a festival field near you. We steer her back towards 2015 and the bright lights of Liverpool’s most distinguished concert hall.
Here is one of the UK’s great alternative groups playing in a location which shares the name of one of their greatest songs. But alas, there is no Hope Street played tonight.
Instead, a tribute to start off proceedings. The night dedicated to legendary documentary filmmaker Albert Maysles who died on Thursday aged 88.
This is no ordinary concert and this is no ordinary band. The support slot filled with a movie screening. The audience treated to A Curious Life a quirky, eccentric and warm documentary about the band’s rise to fame in the 1990s told through Jeremy Cunningham, their hugely loveable bass player and artist.
We hear how Levellers anti-establishment approach to life won them thousands of fans. We see footage of wild concerts and coy media interviews.
The story of Levellers is also the biography of the rise of the UK festival scene. At their peak the band performed to 80,000 people at Glastonbury (1992 and 1994).
A Curious Life follows the constantly giggling Cunningham around Brighton streets as he reflects on his band’s quarter of a century fighting the system. Or, “25 years of subsidised dysfunctionality” as he puts it.
The film shows Cunningham and other band associates climbing into lofts to uncover old VHS videos which contain rare live footage from Levellers early days.
And you start to understand how huge the Levellers were in the 1990s. But they made enemies along the way too. Horrendous reviews from music media sees the group refuse to do interviews.
This heartwarming and hilarious movie is something even Maysles would have been proud of. A Curious Life director Dunstan Bruce follows the Maysles mantra that documentary makers be “discoverers not controllers“.
There’s stark sentiment too. Cunningham talks openly about his past problems with drug addiction and other band members reflect on the difficulties of coping with fame.
After watching Levellers on the big screen it’s time to see them on the big stage. The Philharmonic audience treated to a fabulous acoustic set. They open with Boatman and then The Road from their greatest album Levelling the Land and the crowd love it. Frontman Mark Chadwick’s voice as strong now as it was when his group started off.
In the upper tier hardcore Levellers fans dance and jig as if they’re back at Glastonbury. But this isn’t some nostalgia trip. The band play new material and tracks from more recent albums. There’s more to life than 1992.
Streaming home we can’t help reflecting more on the film than the gig. And a line stands out from one of the Levellers who quips: “We never split up because we are unemployable“.
Let’s hope the Levellers remain jobless for a long long time to come.