Words and Pictures: (C) Adrian Hextall \ MindHex Media
Someone at Brixton Academy forgot to pay the gas bill. I know things have been tough over the last 18 months but gigs have been a regular thing since the summer so surely someone could have warmed the venue up on what was a bloody cold winter’s night? Everyone in the venue was frozen. It remained that way through both supports despite a reasonable amount of energy and support for Scottish folk rockers Peat & Diesel. Come on O2, you can do better than this. The venue was near capacity so it’s not like cost cutting was necessary!
I got there in time to see Peat and Diesel perform and the three-piece band from Stornoway in the Isle of Lewis, Scotland, comprising Calum “Boydie” MacLeod, Innes Scott and Uilly Macleod really put in the effort to get the crowd warmed up. To be fair to them, the room temperature in the Academy probably felt like a cool summer’s day in Stornoway.
The trio seemed to be loving their time on stage and it felt like an intimate night in a remote Highland’s pub in front of a roaring fire with drinks flowing a plenty. The drink in Brixton definitely flowed, the fire… well not so much but Peat and Diesel definitely did their utmost to warm us all up.
Even by the time the headliners arrived, a significant chunk of the crowd were still wearing coats, hats, scarves and more. Before the band came on stage we were presented with a potted, politically charged, historical film covering key events in the UK over the last few decades. The miner’s strikes, poll tax riots, treatment of travellers at Glastonbury, all got a look in as did the political protagonist of the time, Margaret Thatcher who (unsurprisingly) was met with boos and jeers from the crowd.
As the video drew to a close, the band ran on stage with an energy I’ve not noticed in their live shows for several years. The best way to sum up the band’s mood and presence would be ‘intent’. It’s as if they needed this run of shows as much as the crowd and even though didgeridoo player Stephen Boakes and guitarist and vocalist Simon Friend were missed, the inclusion of Dan Donnelly of The Wonder Stuff seems to have recharged the Levellers’ batteries and to great effect given the power and energy displayed at Brixton.
Returning to the 30th Anniversary celebrations of ‘Levelling The Land’, the band performed the songs in full and in track order with the widest of smiles on their faces and an extra helping of bite and energy thanks to Donnelly who seemed to draw out a career defining performance from Mark Chadwick. As and when Simon returns to the band (once the pandemic is over hopefully) one would hope that Donnelly can continue to supply his services.
The songs of course are timeless and the Brixton show delivered them all as if the band were performing them back in 1991. They sounded as fresh and strangely relevant to society today as they did when they were written. The set was broken in two, with the first half dedicated to the classic album in full and the second half filled with choice cuts and fan favourites. If there was time for the band to catch their breath during the set, we never saw it. When ‘One Way’ opened the show, the chilly temperatures of Brixton were forgotten and the crowd launched head first into dancing and singing back the song word for word. ‘The Game’, ‘Fifteen Years’ and ‘The Boatman’ followed and on ‘Liberty Song’ I swear the roof of the Academy truly rattled.
‘Another Man’s Cause’, gave us a moment to reflect and with such an emotional song you could feel the crowd come together as one for a brief moment, proving as always the power of the right song, the right message and it being performed at just the right time.
Whilst the emphasis might initially have been on watching the interchange between Chadwick and Donnelly, the rest of the band were firing on all cylinders as well. Jeremy never stood still, pogoing and jumping as the show was his own party and everyone was here to help him celebrate. Jon Sevink had a smile on his face for the majority of the evening and was truly inspiring to watch as his violin playing lifted each and every song.
With ‘Hope Street’ opening Part II of the set, the party continued in the Academy and the inclusion of three new tracks from last year’s ‘Peace’ album reminded us just why the band had delivered a career high point with the recent release. ‘Food Roof Family’, feels (sadly) so so relevant the moment in a generation where those things should be a given yet we seem to have failed society completely. ‘Generation Fear’ rang so hopelessly true and they also gave us some food for thought with ‘Our Future’.
The remainder of the set included a great selection of tracks from debut ‘A Weapon Called the Word’, ‘Zeitgeist’, ‘Letters from the Underground’, ‘Static On The Airwaves’ and more. The band in the 21st Century have clearly been mining a rich seam of inspiration although with the way of the world at the moment, it’s not in the least bit surprising.
With ‘Beautiful Day’ and The Charlie Daniels Bands’ ‘The Devil Went Down To Georgia’ closing off the evening, as we wandered out into the Brixton night air, it didn’t feel quite so cold anymore. A show and a half from a band that have taken the current situation in the UK (and the rest of the world) and drawn enough energy from it to really make a statement that needs to be heard once more.
Far From Home
Another Man’s Cause
Battle of the Beanfield
Food Roof Family
The Cholera Well
The Devil Went Down to Georgia
(The Charlie Daniels Band cover)