Age against the machine – The Levellers at Avebury Rocks

9 Jul

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I last saw The Levellers live in 1992. Now here was a band that walked the walk: named after an English civil war proto-communist sect, they despised The Man and his capitalist regime, and championed every man and woman’s right to grow dreadlocks and live in a camper van with a neckerchief-wearing mongrel.

Belting out their Number 51 sort-of-hit single One Way (“There’s only one way of life and that’s yer own, yer own, yer own …”), that night in Cardiff the band inspired a venue full of university students to smash the system.

So we did, and by the time the band’s poppy Beautiful Day had charted at the the dizzy heights of Number 13 in August 1997 we’d thrown out the Conservatives and elected Tony Blair and his New Labour party. Go us.

Watching the band at the second Avebury Rocks on Saturday, I wondered how many of those wide-eyed students were here tonight – sheltering under their corporate branded umbrellas (and I’m just observing, here, not sneering: mine’s a smart black and blue one from a well-known Swindon-based law firm, but I only use it because my favourite red Vodafone one was misplaced by the missus) – jigging along to their old-time-favourite band at a gig organised by the local Rotary Club.

I’ll admit to being surprised that the band who strode that Cardiff stage like behemoths chose to perform sitting down (and not even in a Westlife on stools way – we’re talking proper chairs here) although some, if not all of them, had completed a 20-mile pre-concert charity hike across the Wiltshire Downs, so I’m going to give them the benefit of the doubt.

But the good news for fans of The Levellers – now most likely to be heard smashing the system on Radio 2 – is that the band still rock in their jiggy, folky way, and, while the rest of us have cut our hair, secured a job and conformed, they’ve stuck to their principles and their hair is still as long as middle age will allow.

Best of all, they’re still delivering socially relevant songs: Our Forgotten Towns, from the new album Static on the Airwaves, for instance, is a poignant track about the decay of our town centres, and features a crowd-sourced video of pictures of dilapidated malls and high streets provided by fans.

It’s like Mary Portas, but with dreadlocks.

They delivered a set of favourites, old and new, to a diverse crowd aging from babes in arms to grandparents. Beautiful Day was, insisted lead singer Mark Chadwick, delivered without irony, while The Boatman – “If I could choose the life I please, then I would be a boatman” – raised a chuckle from those who wondered if they’d need to abandon their cars and charter a boat to get home.

They even wheeled out a didgeridoo for One Way, and stuck it to The Man by playing a whole ten minutes over the allotted curfew of 10pm. Take that, David Cameron!

The Levellers were supported by an equally socially conscious bunch of musicians, including organiser and musician Nick Harper, who last year approached Marlborough Rotary Club with the idea of staging a festival to benefit Prospect Hospice, where his mother was cared for and died.

Nick, who also compered the event, brought along some friends familiar to the crowd from last year’s inaugural Avebury Rocks: Mike Peters, former lead singer of indie-punk band The Alarm and now frontman for folk rock band Big Country, who played staples from both of the bands, including The Alarm’s Rain in the Summertime (“I love to feel the rain in the summertime, I love to feel the rain on my face” – oh, how we laughed) and Cy Curnin of new wave band The Fixx, who this time brought bandmate Jamie West-Oram along for the ride.

The musicians are all members of the Love Hope Strength Foundation, a charity co-founded by Peters, who has twice beaten cancer, with the aim of raising funds and awareness in order to benefit people with cancer and leukaemia.

In 2007 the charity took 38 musicians and cancer survivors up Mount Everest to play a record-breaking highest ever concert – a feat they aim to repeat in November this year.

But Avebury Rocks, which this year benefited Prospect Hospice and Swindon-based CALM, the Children’s Cancer And Leukaemia Movement, wasn’t just about the veterans of British rock music.

There was fresh blood in the form of teenagers The Jess Hall Band, whose whimsical Play Shy has received Radio 1 airplay, and whose tender cover of Gnarls Barkley’s Crazy brought lumps to throats and a tears to eyes.

Avebury Rocks was staged at the village cricket field, and it was testament to the organisers, the hosts, the musicians and the fans – especially those who braved the 20-mile hike– that rain failed to stop play, while across the country festivals and outdoor performances were cancelled due to the appalling weather.

For more information about Avebury Rocks, log on to www.aveburyrocks.org

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3 Responses to “Age against the machine – The Levellers at Avebury Rocks”

  1. Cyril Mannion 10th July 2012 at 9:18 am #

    Thanks for this report which beautifully captures the atmosphere of the event.

    • Festival Chronicler 11th July 2012 at 3:13 pm #

      Thanks Cyril!

  2. Owen 11th August 2012 at 3:24 am #

    Yes, despite the rain, it was good to see the performances again this year.
    And great that Mike Peters performed, just after flying back from the USA, after M-fest had been rained-off (where he had been due to perform both days Solo and in Big Country).
    BTW Mike is still the lead-singer in The Alarm, as well as solo tours and lead-singing in Big Country and other side-projects. The Alarm still tour, when the current members aren’t busy playing in other bands

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