Review | Mark Chadwick of The Levellers at The Gaiety, Southsea: 'Weird but wonderful'
When the world has been off-kilter for so long, ‘the new normal’ has become a much-abused term.
But whatever is ‘normal’ for a gig, Mark Chadwick is convinced that politely sitting at tables with waiter service from the bar is not it.
And so it is we find ourselves in the vast expanse of The Gaiety on South Parade Pier watching a solo set by the frontman of the Levellers.
Mark soon tells us to imagine we are at ‘a dystopian corporate do, and I'm selling the Levellers.’
It's a theme he warms to, later describing the gig as being a ‘bad acid trip, but it's my trip,’ and we're in a 1930s tearoom on a pier in Southsea (or sometimes Worthing...). In his head. With the Nazis at the door.
To rewind a little the gig gets off to a rocky start with sound problems which make him sound like Norman Collier doing his faulty mic routine.
And then there's the unwanted smoke machine. 'This isn't The Fields of The Nephilim,' he laughs, wafting the clouds away with his arms.
However, these little hiccups are sorted before the first song, and there are anthems aplenty in a set that leans on the numerous crowd-pleasers in the band's back catalogue.
As Mark wryly notes: 'This is what I like to see, anarchists and freethinkers... chained to their tables.'
It must be strange for a performer more used to his audiences leaping around in a packed room.
As he says: ‘I'm trying to inveigle some subversion and anarchy in here,’ but it's an uphill struggle, even with a fiercely partisan crowd.
There are plenty of favourites from their classic Levelling The Land - The Boatman, Liberty Song and a spirited The Riverflow. Another Man's Cause is a high point – introduced as part of his 'war trilogy', which he self-deprecatingly tells us is the time to 'go for a wee.'
The songs are reduced to one (very talented) man and his acoustic guitar, instead of the expansive folk-rock of the full band, but Mark asks us to imagine them here with us, instead of ‘at home in bed, or watching the Euros.’
There’s a couple of songs from last year's Levellers' album Peace, which was 'released into the void' as the band were unable to tour to support it.
There's a ‘singy song,’ So Far From Home, where the audience finally finds its voice, followed by the ‘drinky song,’ Just The One, dedicated to the raucous table near the back of the cavernous room.
The main set finishes with a compelling one-two of What a Beautiful Day (complete with breakdown where he introduces his absent bandmates) and that perennial ode to individuality One Way.
Mark returns to the stage and asks what he wants him to play, entertaining a couple of suggestions before saying: ‘It's good to feel everyone had their say.’
Pause for the punchline: 'But like democracy, it's an illusion. I'm going to play what I want anyway!’
Written down some of this might seem mean-spirited, but it wasn't – Mark is on funny, chatty, if clearly frustrated by the restrained circumstances, form.
When he leaves the stage saying: 'It's been weird, but you've been wonderful'.
It's a neat summary of what has indeed been a weird, but wonderful gig.
Still, it will be nice to get back to the old normal for gigs , but I think I’ll pass on the ‘licking strangers’ in a crowd, thanks.
A message from the Editor, Mark Waldron
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