18 September 2010

The Levellers

It was October 1991 and I was trying to finish my PhD. This was one of the toughest periods of my life. My daily routine involved getting up at about 10 am, heading into the Geology department and working through to about 1 or 2 in the morning. Seven days a week for about 8 months. I was totally focused on finishing the project and a 4 volume report for the sponsors within the 3 year deadline. I have never been so focused on anything, before or since. In the end I worked for 250 days straight with only one half a day off at Christmas and I narrowly missed the deadline.

One late night in the department I was drafting figures and listening to the radio. This was the days before computer drawing and all the diagrams were drafted by hand using rotoring pens on drafting film, I actually rather enjoyed it. I am not the most artistic person but the mechanics of it all are rather theraputic and the feeling of producing a nice looking figure is very satisfying. So I was there drawing figures accompanied by John Peel's eclectic mix of the weird and the obscure. At some point in the night he put on three tracks from an unknown band called the Levellers. The first two were "One way of life" and "The Game". I don't remember the third., maybe Riverflow or the Boatman, anyway I loved it. "One way", which went on to be a bit of an indi ballard was good, but The Game just sent shivers down my spine.

I hardly ever bought records back then, I didn't have the money, but next day I went straight to the small record shop on Bristol Road and bought the album, "Levelling the Land" and it became a part of the sound track to my PhD. The fusion of folk and punk with a social conscience was so representative of that period in the UK when Thatchers erosion of the foundations of society forced a generation of people to live on the road and fundamentally changed Britain for ever. It's still one of my favourite albums and I still love the Levellers.

Saw them playing in Birmingham 3 times and at Glastonbury in 1992 and again in 1994 when they played an amazing cover of the Devil went down to Georgia. Also saw them in Liverpool in 1994 and 1996. In 2003 I was walking down the road in Salt Lake City when I saw sign on the now sadly defunct, Zephyr club advertising the Levellers tomorrow night. This was a long way off their beaten track so I wasn't even sure if it was the same band. I popped into the club and asked if this was the Levellers from England? The guy at the desk just looked confused, so I tried a bit more, folk/punk, crusties, dogs on string, dreadlocks? He seemed even more confused so I just opted to chance it, rearranged my schedule and turn up.
When we got there it was indeed the same Levellers and the place was pretty much empty. When they came out there was about 20 of us in the audience and they played a blinding set, just for us. It was an awesome evening which ended up with us drinking in the bar with them until closing and getting them to autograph Chris Lepard!

I still listen to them and whenever I hear that distinctive fiddle and base sound it takes me back to the early 90's. Festivals, climbing, juggling, motorbikes, the early days of rave, travellers and long long days on my PhD. It all seems like a different World...

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