Levelling out

Dave Woodhall speaks to Levellers frontman Mark Chadwick.


It’s been two years since we spoke to Levellers bassist Jeremy Cunningham. Since then the band have been as busy as ever and with a Greatest Hits album out, together with an upcoming tour, they’re not yet ready to have time off. Singer and guitarist Mark Chadwick told us what else they’ve been doing.

“We’ve done the film (A Curious Life, which tells the story of the band since their formation), there’s been some protests, we’ve done some collaborations and there’s the greatest hits album out.”

When we last spoke the Static on the Airwaves album had just been released. How did that go down?

“Yes, we did alright with that one, I’m quite pleased with it. A lot of people liked it.”

Now there’s the Greatest Hits package. It’s not really the sort of title associated with the Levellers.

“No, but it does work. That’s what it is – it gets a lot of people in and the broader media will know what it is.”

The Levellers are the archetypal festival band, and with the season just finishing how was it?

“We had a good season, the weather was brilliant which helped, and we did a lot. We started on the first of May and the final one was last weekend so yes, we were busy.”

The festival scene has exploded over the past few years. Are there too many of them now, have they become just like ordinary gigs in the open air?

“The free ones still seem to be okay, but there does seem to be far, far too many events now that call themselves festivals to get people to come to them and the feeling’s just not there. A festival should be a cultural experience, not just about music. Some people now think that to make some money they can find a field, put a stage at the end of it and they’ve got a festival.”

Then when they get round to putting the line-up together, the Levellers come to mind straight away.

“That happens a lot, yes. They think they’ll put a festival on and the first band they think of is the Levellers because we’ll sell tickets.”

You’re obviously victims of your own success. But then again, it strikes me that people don’t want to do the little things anymore. They’ll pay £200 or however much it is for a weekend festival, or they’ll pay £50 to watch a band at the NEC three times a year but they won’t pay a couple of quid to see a band in a pub. It makes it hard for new bands to get started.

“That’s true. It’s a phenomenon that makes touring quite difficult. Somehow we manage to do it but a lot of bands can’t. The price for a normal gig is starting to be hard for people to afford and that’s making it difficult for new bands to get started – it’s a chicken and egg situation.”

It’s also not helped by the belief that’s been driven by the internet that music should be free.

“That’s another problem. And there’s a lot of competition, a lot more apart from music than there used to be, it’s tough to start out.”

If you and the Levellers were starting out now, putting across your message, would you choose music or would it be more effective to use another outlet?

“Er, that’s interesting. I’d probably still do something quite art-based. Maybe not entirely music, not as a single strand.”

The band’s website says that your biggest influence is Hank Marvin. That’s not true, is it?

“You’re joking…but he probably is an influence. Maybe not style-wise but he owned the first Stratocaster in Britain, he was the first well-known guitarist, so he probably was a big influence indirectly. My dad loves him.”

On a similar subject, would you consider the Levellers to be part of that straightforward tradition of music, where blues evolved into rock’n’roll, then the Beatles and so on to punk and onwards?

“I find myself thinking that the Levellers are much more from the folk tradition, and that brings in the West Coast stuff, and punk which was very similar to what we do. We’re a branch of rock music rather than from its trunk.”

The Levellers Greatest Hits is out now and they play the O2 Academy, Birmingham, on 14th November. www.levellers.co.uk