The Levellers – Live Review – Sheffield Leadmill
By Alex Hoggard, November 2021
Over the years, The Leadmill in Sheffield has garnered a reputation for being one of the best live music venues in the country. As a result, tickets are often difficult to get, particularly for bands with a reputation for giving stellar live performances, such as The Levellers. Having originally been due to take place in September 2020, an all-too-familiar pandemic delay saw the show rescheduled twice, meaning that it now formed part of the band’s Levelling the Land 30th Anniversary Tour. Originally released in 1991, the landmark anniversary of their seminal album would be celebrated by playing the record in full, so it was no surprise to see crowds queuing round the block on Leadmill Road long before the doors opened at 19:30.
Opening act duties were bestowed on the Barnsley comedy folk and parody band The Bar-Steward Sons of Val Doonican. Claimed to be the UK’s hardest-working comedy band, the trio of Alan, Scott and Björn showed their experience with nine well-received songs. Rarely does an opening act succeed in getting mass audience participation in their songs, but the trio successfully managed to. The set showcased their talent for comedy lyric writing with numbers such as ‘The Lady in Greggs’ and ‘Massage in a Bottle’. Perhaps it was Scott Doonican’s caution of “anyone who doesn’t take part will be hit by a tram” but few could resist the “Yorkshire Freddie Mercury’s” call and response chants of “Ey ‘up!” During a parody version of House of Pain’s ‘Jump Around’, restyled as ‘Jump Ararnd’ and described as “South Yorkshire hip-hop”, the group managed to get every member of the crowd to crouch down before encouraging them to jump as high as possible to close a thoroughly entertaining opening stand.
With the stage set for The Levellers, the house lights went down and two screens either side of the stage showed key socio-political moments ranging from the mid-1980s to the present day, with the recurring theme of public dissatisfaction with their political leaders and the importance of protest and making one’s voice heard. Such was the audience engrossment in the film, few noticed the band sneak onto the dark stage before singer Mark Chadwick led them in bursting into the opening track of Levelling the Land, ‘One Way’, sending the crowd into a frenzy and enthusiastically joining in with the chorus. The energetic start continued with ‘The Game’ and ‘Fifteen Years’ before the crowd sung along to every word of ‘The Boatman’.
A spirited ‘Sell Out’ was one of many highlights with the band bouncing on stage during the instrumental breakdowns, in unison with the crowd before them. An up-tempo outing of ‘The Road’ followed by the always crowd-pleasing ‘The Riverflow’ served to further increase the level of excitement in the Leadmill.
Following album closer ‘Battle of the Beanfield’, Chadwick told the crowd, “That was Levelling the Land in its full, original order”, joking, “I’m not sure what we’re going to do next!” Fortunately, the band had plenty left to offer, continuing with ‘Hope Street’ from 1995’s Zeitgeist.
Days before the show, the band had announced that, unfortunately, long-time member and guitarist Simon Friend would be unable to join them for the tour. As a result, Dan Donnelly, of The Celtic Social Club, slotted in seamlessly as replacement. Famed for their high-tempo live performances, The Levellers are a captivating watch – from the continuously-moving, and spinning, violinist Jon Sevink to bassist Jeremy Cunningham being steadfastly focused on the music, and keyboardist Matt Savage adding another layer to the songs, also often helping with backing vocals.
The remainder of the set saw the band utilise the full scope of their back catalogue with hits such as ‘Carry Me’ from their 1990 debut album, A Weapon Called the World, to three songs from 2020’s Peace, including a stunning rendition of ‘Food, Roof, Family’.
After closing the set with ‘The Cholera Wall’ from 2008’s Letters from the Underground, the band left the stage to rapturous applause, before heeding the crowd’s calls for more with a three-song encore. The second song of the encore, ‘What A Beautiful Day’, sent the crowd, several of whom were now shirtless, into further delirium before finishing with a theatrical cover of The Charlie Daniels Band’s ‘The Devil Went Down to Georgia’, a song that has been played by the band numerous times over the past thirty years.
Such is the popularity of the album still; all ten dates of the originally scheduled tour were sold out leading to an additional seven shows being added. While it may be a slightly disheartening fact that many issues covered by the album are still present in society today, the lyrics are as relevant as ever and the music holds up. After thirty years of Levelling the Land, The Levellers proved why they are a still a must-see live band by treating The Leadmill to an excellent performance.