This December was not a month I was particularly looking forward to. Normally I would be eagerly awaiting it, for the simple fact of the Pogues’ Christmas tour – a tradition I’ve been keeping going for around ten years now. However this year, for whatever reasons, it was not to be. Thank fuck then for Brighton’s finest crusties The Levellers keeping up my Christmas spirits, with a gig on the 18th playing their brilliant second album ‘Levelling the Land’ in its entirety…I knew immediately I was going to be at this show. After a skate round south London followed by some pub food, I headed down just in time to catch Dreadzone take to the stage. Never having heard them before I didn’t know what to expect, but was happily surprised by a blend of ska, rock and classic dancehall riddims with live instruments; possibly what the Specials would have sounded like if they had formed after the ragga/dancehall explosion of the mid-90s. It must be hard to choose a perfect support act for a band as musically eclectic as the night’s headliners, but this was spot on, definitely a band I would recommend. This was definitely a more relaxed crowd than the usual Pogues wrecking crew, shit down the front was looking fairly relaxed and no-one had yet dropped an entire pint over my head, so I decided to head towards the front for the Levellers set despite being sans glasses case, usually a dangerous game.
Before taking to the stage, the band was preceded by a montage of news articles from the last 15 or 20 years. This seems to be a recent trends with bands of a certain era/political bent (I witnessed the same thing before The Specials a couple of months back) and, whilst no doubt their hearts are in the right place, I can’t help thinking that they are to some extent preaching to the choir? I would imagine that most people at a Leveller’s gig aren’t going to need convincing that Maggie Thatcher wasn’t a very pleasant human being. Still, the crowd were amped anyway, and deafened as the band finally took to the stage and immediately kicked in to ‘One Way’. I won’t go in to track details, as you only have to look at the album to find out, but suffice to say they played everything, along with the B-sides (including ‘Dance Before The Storm’ and their cover of Charlie Daniel’s ‘The Devil Went Down to Georgia’, high points for me), and had me jumping around like a crack squirrel for all of the faster songs, and a good few of the slower ones as well. Hippy type dancers appeared for the majority of the tracks and the didgeridoos and other obscure instruments were in full effect, almost making you think that you were at a free festival in the 90s – only given lie to by the bouncers constantly sweeping the audience with torches to find those pesky worshippers at the chalice of sensimilla. And to be fair, with their dayglo jackets and penlights, if you squinted you could just pretend they were ravers. It was definitely a fairly sedate affair at the front, but to be honest after a day’s skating that was about what I could handle, so it worked out beautifully. Standouts for me were ‘Liberty Song’, ‘Far From Home’, ‘Riverflow’ and the aforementioned B-sides…but to be honest the whole set was a standout, especially when the band came back and played ‘Carry Me’ and 'Cholera Well' during the encore. There were other encores, but by this point constantly jumping around had turned my head into a paint mixer, which took in cider and gave out drunk – so I can only remember that they finished with ‘Beautiful Day’.
I got on the tube back sweaty and stoked, and cannot stress enough how good this band still are; at least when their sticking to classic albums. Thank you Levellers, for clearing out my Christmas malaise and Pogues-withdrawal!