Beautiful Days ahead as Levellers' frontman Mark Chadwick heads to The Gaiety Bar, Southsea
The Levellers famously drew one of the biggest ever Glastonbury crowds, and while they remain a popular live draw, they are equally at home in clubs.
But later this month there is a chance for fans to catch a solo set from frontman Mark Chadwick.
When The Guide catches up with Mark he’s in Milton Keynes for a gig, his first visit to a town he describes as ‘double weird.’
Since restrictions were lifted, Mark’s been making up for lost time, as he says: ‘I did three shows last weekend, got two this weekend and two next weekend.
‘I love it – I love playing live and what it does. Even in this situation...’
But how’s he finding it as a performer playing to socially distanced crowds forced to stay in their seats?
‘It's Spartan,’ he laughs, ‘but you know people do want to enjoy it, so it's okay. They've waited, they've paid their money, they're out, so they're making the best of it.’
Mark last played in Portsmouth with The Levellers in October 2019 – a warm-up show for the London Palladium at a packed-out Wedgewood Rooms.
‘It's all about the crowd, you play to 150 people in a small club, and if they're up for it and really good, it's brilliant, but you can play to 20,000 people at a festival, but if they're not in the mood, it's raining or whatever, it can be rubbish.’
Since forming in 1988, The Levellers have become heroes of the counter-culture – their enduring blend of rock and roots music has scored them three platinum and two gold-selling albums and 17 top 40 hits including One Way, Hope St and Beautiful Day.
Their latest album, Peace, was released last August, and it became their highest charting album since 1997’s Mouth To Mouth.
‘Yeah, we threw that out into the void,’ Mark says with a wry laugh. ‘We literally finished the videos for it then the first lockdown happened, so it was a bit of a weird one, but you know, it went out there, people bought it, it went in the top 10, so you can't complain.’
But for a band which usually spends a large chunk of its time on the road, not being able to play live in support of it has been tough.
‘It's particularly frustrating not being able to play that album because it's designed to be played live, so with the passage of time, here we are literally a year later, and it's: “Oh damn, are we going to be able to play that album? Or will people want to hear other stuff?” It's a weird one. But it's a small price we've had to pay compared to others.’
As well as his band’s 11 albums, Mark has also released a couple of solo platters, and doesn’t keep to the same setlist at each gig.
‘It really depends where I'm playing. I've got a back catalogue of a million songs, so I take a look at the audience and think: “Well, I think they can handle a bit more of my stuff and some of the more obscure Levellers stuff”, or sometimes you go: “You know what, let's give them all of the hits!”
‘It really depends – I don't know until I got there.’
While the band have always been outspoken about their left-leaning beliefs, there’s also always been an optimism to their songs.
‘That's the core of what we're about, really. We're observers and describing what we feel about things, and we've always been optimistic. Blindly, stupidly, but that's just the way we are!
‘To be honest, all our songs are pretty much common sense – don't destroy the planet, don't abuse others, things we do together are better than things we do apart – things like that.
‘People don't seem to do very well with common sense, it would appear to me, certainly not politicians. I think the people themselves are harmless and well-meaning and politicians are pretty damn evil – I hate them.
‘Anyone who wants to go into politics should be excluded straight away.’
Which brings us to Dominic Cummings. The day before we speak, the former adviser to the PM had made headlines with his appearance in front of a Commons select committee where he turned on his ex-boss.
‘I think he's a spanner – in the works of everything, the man's an anarchist at heart, I kind of admire him in a way...
‘He's as dodgy as you like though, isn't he? He doesn't care – he's amoral, but then he was working for an amoral government.’
With Cummings one of the architects of Brexit, Mark is also understandably aggrieved about the impact leaving Europe is having on British musicians.
‘I think this country's pretty much screwed right now. If I'm honest, I can't see it getting better. Leaving the EU was a total disaster – it has been for my business. Touring in Europe now, I can't take any British transport out there, I have to use European stuff now, so forget about it. Visas – everything. It's pretty much impossible for us to do it. And we're quite a mid-range size band – we've got a decent following on the continent.’
For The Levellers to not be able to reach their fans directly is a major bone of contention – they have always prided themselves on being a band of the people.
‘We're not unreachable rockstars because that's not what we are, we never have been. That's for other people – that’s not what we're about.
‘We're just songwriters and musicians who are the people, it would be strange to extricate yourself from them.
‘It's always been a thing with us from the beginning, we've always done everything by ourselves – like the fanclub. At the moment we've got an app running, which is a fan-based app, which has been really good, it's constant contact and conversation with the fans.’
Later this year, the full band are planning to head out for the 30th anniversary of their second album, Levelling The Land – the album which broke them to the mainstream. It includes a date at The O2 Guildhall, Southampton on December 15.
‘People know that one – it was a big-selling record for us. We're happy to play anything, anywhere, that's the deal,’ says Mark. ‘The thought of it being 30 years since that came out...
‘There isn't one song on there that we haven't played live. It's a well-built record – there's no bad songs on it, even if I say so myself!
The Gaiety Bar, Southsea
Thursday, June 17
A message from the Editor, Mark Waldron
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