1988 - 1990 TOGETHER ALL THE WAY
Musicians Mark Chadwick and Jeremy Cunningham met in The Eagle, a pub in Brighton, in 1988. Discovering that they had a fair bit in common, including a left wing view of politics, they decided to form a band. They soon added Charlie Heather on drums and Jon Sevink on fiddle and, after a short while, Alan Miles to play harmonica, guitar and the mandolin.
The band released two EPs on their own Hag label in 1989, which led to a contract with Musidisc. They released their first album, A Weapon Called the Word, in 1990 which is one of the few albums known to have gone gold without ever charting. After its release, Miles quit the band and was quickly replaced by Simon Friend and that Levellers line-up of Mark, Jeremy, Jon, Simon and Charlie continues to this day (with Matt Savage later joining on keyboards). The Levellers were discovered that year by Derek Green (the man responsible for signing the Sex Pistols) and signed to independent label China Records.
The following year, they released Levelling The Land which was a massive success, entering the charts at number 14 and eventually going platinum. The single One Way, despite not bothering the Top 40, became a live favourite for years to come. Levelling The Land is often cited as an all time classic amongst people who were students or travellers in the early 1990s.
1991 - 1993 THE LIKES OF YOU & I
The Levellers' success continued throughout 1992, with sell out tours and their debut on one of the main stages of the Glastonbury Festival (although they'd played the Travellers' Field previously). Mixing tracks from their first two LPs in the set with a couple of more obscure songs (like the rock/spoken word crossover Dance Before the Storm) and a high speed cover of Charlie Daniels' The Devil Went Down to Georgia, the Levellers popular performance secured their place on the large Pyramid Stage for their famous 1994 set. The band scored a chart hit with the 15 Years EP in 1992, a track which was added to later repressings of Levelling the Land due to its popularity. Throughout 1993, the band worked on their second album Levellers which reached number 2 in the album charts. It contained This Garden, which peaked at number 12 in the UK Singles Chart.
1994 saw the Levellers really hit the big time when their appearance at Glastonbury Festival attracted the biggest stagefront crowd that the event had ever seen. The band and their friends had spent the morning flyering the crowds at Glastonbury to advertise their later show and, having already become favourites with independent music fans and travellers across the country. This tactic paid off when the crowds surged to the Pyramid stage to see the band. Their performance, which finished with festival favourite One Way, was a massive hit with the crowd and is constantly referred to as a high point of the band's career. The performance of One Way was included on a Glastonbury Anthems DVD, released in 2005.
The band also featured on Julien Temple's film about the history of the Glastonbury festival which was released in 2006.
In 1994, the band purchased a derelict factory in Brighton, "The Metway", and created a self contained headquarters which they still own to this day. The buildings housed their offices, fan club, rehearsal area, a bar and a recording studio (initially equipped with gear bought from Tom Robinson). The move to The Metway (the name of the clock manufacturer who originally built the factory) enabled the band to operate on their own terms as far as possible and they still use offices in the building and have recently refurbished the studio. They are strong supporters of the Brighton music scene giving local, young and upcoming bands use of the studio and rehearsal facilities. Other acts including Orbital, Nick Cave and Electric Soft Parade have recorded at the studio in the past.
1994 - 1999 WHAT A BEAUTIFUL DAY
Number one and gold-selling album 'Zeitgeist' followed in 1995. The third single released from this album took the Levellers to their first Top of The Pops appearance, playing the tongue-in-cheek drinking anthem Just The One whilst dressed in tuxedos. Just The One was specially re-recorded for the single release with The Clash's legendary frontman and long time Levellers hero, Joe Strummer guesting on honky tonk piano.
Another extensive tour of Europe and the UK in the later part of 1995 culminated in a one-off Christmas Freakshow at Sheffield Arena in December which was recorded by the BBC.
The 1995 Total Chaos tour came to an end in February 1996 at Blackpool's Empress Ballroom with a show that was filmed for the video release, Best Live: Headlights White Lines And Black Tar Rivers, which came out as an album and video later that year. It was a compilation rather than a "greatest hits" package. The album reached a respectable number 13 in the UK album charts.
The band explored alternative guitar pop on 1997's Mouth to Mouth, which featured the single What A Beautiful Day. This catchy slice of pop rock has since become a firm live favourite, reaching out far beyond the Levellers' traditional fanbase and helping to form the name of their festival in the years to follow. The album entered the UK album chart at number 5 and spawned several more singles including Celebrate, Dog Train and Too Real.
Greatest hits collection One Way Of Life: The Very Best Of The Levellers hit the shelves in September 1998, a year which had been fairly inactive until that point. A long and successful tour journeyed the length and breadth of the UK in November and December.
2000 - 2004 EDGE OF THE WORLD
Save for a handful of live dates, 1999 was essentially a year-off. During this time out of the limelight, there was a significant change at their record company as China Records was bought by major label Warner Brothers. Work, however, did eventually begin on a new studio album Hello Pig. This was a change in direction for the band, and the resulting work confirmed this to listening ears. Hello Pig was released in September 2000 and went to number 28 on the chart. Happy Birthday Revolution was released as a single, reaching number 57 in the charts. The album received critical acclaim, however, the band's fans didn't particularly take to the Levellers' new musical change in direction. With the relative commercial challenge of Hello Pig, both the band and the record company had their excuses to sever their relationship. By mutual agreement, the Levellers and Warner Brothers eventually parted company.
2000 and 2001 saw lengthy schedules of UK and American tours. However, in early 2002, the focus for the Levellers returned once again to making new music, with Al Scott returning as producer, and the band signed a new deal with Eagle Records. Around this time, the band pumped fresh blood into their creative veins by adding new member and keyboard player, Matt Savage, to the line-up. After the recording of Green Blade Rising was completed, the band played a short UK tour of smaller venues to preview the new songs, and they were well received by the fans and heralded as a "return to form". The album was released in September 2002 but did not enter the UK Top 40 Album Chart.
In 2002, the band, growing weary of the ever more commercial UK festival scene, decided to put on a festival of their own. After a change of venue, the band started Beautiful Days (originally called Green Blade Fayre) at Escot Park in Devon in 2003 with new partners and organisers DMF Music, who also became and still are their live agents. The festival has become an enormous success story for the band and is now in its tenth year, consistently selling out in advance. Featured acts over the subsequent years have included Levellers (of course), The Pogues, James, Gogol Bordello, Frank Turner, Seth Lakeman, Flogging Molly, Show Of Hands, Willy Mason and Public Image Limited.
The festival has become one of the most popular and talked about festival on the UK summer scene winning 'Best Family Festival' and 'Grass Roots Festival' at the UK Festival Awards.
In February 2004, Levellers played a sell-out acoustic show at the Buxton Opera House. Although they had played a couple of shows in a similar format, this particular show saw the full band being joined onstage by Maddy Prior, Nick Harper, Nick Burbridge and Rev Hammer. The show set the tone for the rest of the year, with the band appearing at many festivals through the summer as 'Levellers Acoustic'. These festival dates included their first visit to Glastonbury since 1997, where they captured another audience record on the Avalon Stage where the field had to be closed due to the number of people trying to watch them. The year was rounded off with a highly successful acoustic tour of UK theatres.
2005 - 2007 MAKE YOU HAPPY
In 2005, the band released their seventh studio album Truth & Lies, the similarly rousing follow up to Green Blade Rising. The album, released on Eagle Records, catches the band in an upbeat mood, highlighted by the singles Make You Happy and Last Man Alive. Mark Wallis returned as the Levellers' producer, with Dave Ruffy, drummer with UK punk band, The Ruts, also contributing at the controls.
Following the previous year's acoustic live work, 2005 saw the Levellers tour extensively around the UK and Europe, though this time enjoying being a fully fledged electric band once again, continuing throughout 2006.
Festival success continued and in 2005 when the band set another stagefront audience record at Glastonbury Festival, by attracting the largest ever crowd attendance on the Jazzworld Stage. Chaos Theory live DVD was released in December 2006. The 2 disc set features a full electric live show from Reading Hexagon and an additional disc of bonus footage including the 1993 tour diary / concert Part Time Punks, an acoustic gig at Buxton Opera house and many more.
In the spring of 2007, the Levellers went on an electric tour, visiting Scandinavia, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, the UK and Ireland. The intensive touring schedule continued with the band playing a number of nearly 30 festival appearances throughout the summer, including Wychwood, Le Mans 24 Hour and Rock Ness.
During this time, the bands' five Warner-era studio albums were remixed, given new packaging and re-issued on the Rhino label.
2008 - 2010 A LIFE LESS ORDINARY
The Levellers celebrated their 20th anniversary in 2008 and released Letters From The Underground which debuted at 24 in the UK Album Charts. The album was released on their own label On the Fiddle Recordings and produced by Sean Lakeman (who is renowned for producing his brother’s Mercury-nominated and gold-selling albums). The album received critical acclaim with Mojo describing it as ‘an impressive return to the fray’ and the Daily Mirror as ‘one of the most politically committed and musically incisive albums of their career...’. A Life Less Ordinary, The Cholera Well, Burn America Burn and Before The End were all released as download singles from the album.
In May 2008, the band played three Beautiful Nights in Wolverhampton, Manchester and at London’s Brixton Academy, followed by festival and summer appearances including a picnic concert at Arundel Castle. There followed a tour of theatres in September including a memorable night at London’s most prestigious venue - Royal Albert Hall - where they performed a half electric / half acoustic set with guest musicians including a string section. They also embarked on extensive tours of the UK and Europe in November and December with support on the UK dates from Frank Turner.
2009 saw the digital release of Levellers Live at the Royal Albert Hall, although during the performance the year before, the recording equipment had crashed and so several songs were lost from the final recording. The band toured around the UK and extensively in Europe at the end of the year.
At the start of 2010, the band played an intimate UK tour to cities which were not on the usual ‘circuit’, including Crewe, Holmfirth, Brecon and Tunbridge Wells, which not surprisingly, sold out very quickly. They continued on this path with the announcement of a “grass roots” tour in November 2010, taking in 18 towns and cities around the UK to coincide with the re-release of their debut album, A Weapon Called The Word on their own label On the Fiddle Recordings in October 2010. The album was digitally re-mastered and included four previously un-released tracks from a BBC Radio 1 session and tour DVD, shot on a handy cam by the touring crew, dating from 1991.
As a way of documenting the tour and highlighting the release of A Weapon Called The Word, the band enlisted the help of film-maker and ex-Chumbawamba vocalist Dunstan Bruce. Dunstan’s company Dandy Films
is based at the Levellers Metway Studios.
2011 - 2013 AFTER THE HURRICANE
The Levellers performed Levelling The Land Live in its entirety for the very first time to mark the 20th anniversary of its original release in 2011 on an extensive and sold out UK tour. Featuring the hit singles One Way, 15 Years and Far From Home plus The Game, Liberty Song, Sell Out, Another Man’s Cause, Riverflow, Boatman and Battle Of The Beanfield, the show was followed by an extended encore of live favourites. The Wonder Stuff supported on all the dates. The tour was a phenomenal success and led to three more dates being added including a second night at London’s Brixton Academy with Dreadzone and Back To The Planet.
The band were awarded the ‘Roots Award’ at the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards in 2011. Presented by host, BBC Radio 2’s Jeremy Vine, he stated that the award was for a band who “stays true to folk and where it came from. Only the strong survive, and The Levellers have done it by staying true to their roots.” The band then went on to prove this by closing the show with a high-energy charge through two of their most popular songs – One Way and Riverflow.
The award was also seen as a public acknowledgement of their work over the years in and around the folk music and festival community. In 2011, the band teamed up once again with producer Sean Lakeman to work on their tenth studio album Static On the Airwaves which is already being heralded as their most accomplished album to date. It has been recently released on 25 June 2012, again through their own independant record label. Recorded ‘as live’ in the Czech Republic, Static On The Airwaves is the sound of a band whose incisive lyrics, innate musicality and passion have continued to improve rather than diminish in nearly a quarter of a century of writing, recording and performing.
In many ways, Static On The Airwaves represents a coming of age for Levellers; it is unquestionably their most mature and considered release to date. The band released the first single from the new album, 'Truth Is' on 21 April (Record Store Day) on limited edition red 7” vinyl.
The album Static On The Airwaves has been released on CD, LP, Digital and with an exclusive Deluxe Collector's Box Set. 2012 got off to a shaky start when the band unfortunately had to cancel a string of European dates and two festival appearances after fiddle player Jon Sevink needed surgery on a damaged tendon in his finger. However, their calendar remained full for the rest of the year with work around the release of the new album in June, festival appearances including at Hop Farm and Latitude, a sell-out Beautiful Days festival in August, plus a mammoth four-week tour of Europe in October and a UK tour in November with special guests, Citizen Fish.
2013 - 2015 A CURIOUS LIFE
Documentary 'A Curious Life' which is a film about the Levellers' rise to fame in the 1990's premiered in June 2014. Told through the unique perspective of Jeremy Cunningham, the band’s bass player and artist, and directed by former Chumbawamba frontman Dunstan Bruce, the film focuses on the Levellers phenomenal success between 1988 and 1998. The film is being shown at film festivals throughout 2014.
Levellers release their 'Greatest Hits' on 29th September 2014 via their own On The Fiddle Recordings label. Released both digitally and on CD/DVD, versions include every Levellers single and video released over the last 25 years together for the first time. There is also a unique 'collectors edition' 148-track Digital Box set. And all versions include four brand new collaborations with Imelda May, Frank Turner, Bellowhead and Billy Bragg reworking some of their classic material.
Levellers played a number of festivals and shows during the summer in the UK and Europe including their own sell out Beautiful Days festival in August.
To celebrate the release of their Greatest Hits album, the band will embark on a European-wide tour in October and November performing some of these songs for the first time in many years with special guests The Selecter on all UK dates plus solo multi-instrumentalist Laura Kidd aka She Makes War.
2016 - 2018 WE THE COLLECTIVE
After playing the summer festival circuit in 2016, Levellers released a A 25th anniversary box set of Levelling The Land on their OTF Recordings before embarking on a worldwide tour promoting it.
Taking in the USA and their first ever visit to Australia and New Zealand before returning home for the European and UK leg, the tour was another great success.
Early 2017 found the band in rehearsal mode with producer John Leckie (Radiohead, Stone Roses) and a string section before spending a week recording at the legendary Studio 2, Abbey Road.
The remainder of the year was relatively quiet whilst John Leckie set about mixing the resulting album.
‘We the Collective’ was released in March 2018 to critical acclaim, reaching Number 12 in the UK album chart becoming the band’s highest charting album since 1997s Mouth to Mouth.
Featuring reworkings of the band's most loved songs, including One Way, Liberty and England My Home, two new songs, Drug Bust McGee and The Shame completed the album in style.
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