The Levellers

Canzoni contro la guerra di The Levellers
MusicBrainzMusicBrainz DiscogsDiscogs Regno Unito Regno Unito

The LevellersThe Levellers are a popular English rock band influenced by punk and traditional English music.They are based in Brighton, England where they were founded in 1988. There are several stories regarding how they got their name; from the Levellers, a radically democratic faction of Oliver Cromwell's New Model Army, or as a reference to 'The Level', an area of Brighton around a flat triangular green in the centre of hilly Brighton, where members of the band used to live, or simply, according to guitarist, Simon Friend, they got it from a dictionary [1]. Strongly interested and outspoken about green anarchism issues the band have built up a strong and devoted fanbase, despite being nearly universally ignored by mainstream critics. The band have been spokespeople for a number of issues including campaigning against the Criminal Justice Act and various anti-capitalist and environmental issues. They continue to tour extensively around Britain and Europe but maintain a mutual dislike with the music press which stems from their early days.


Mark Chadwick and Jeremy Cunningham met in The Eagle, a public house in Brighton known for attracting the more bohemian element of Brighton's residents, in 1988. Mark had just left local glam-rock act The Soup Dragons (not the 1990s indie act of the same name) and Jeremy was trying to sell his bass guitar in the pub, having become disillusioned with the music world.

Discovering that they had a lot in common, including a left wing view of politics and a love of being drunk, they decided to try and reinvigorate their interest in music by forming a new band. Jeremy knew Charlie Heather through their previous band, The Fence, where he had proved himself a skilled but not too showy drummer. He was promptly recruited to this new band.

With Mark on guitar and lead vocals, Jeremy on bass guitar and Charlie on drums, it was decided that something extra was needed to make for a more interesting sound. Jeremy was keen to have a violin player on board as he was impressed by the sound of local angry-folk favourites McDermott's 2 Hours. Jon Sevink, the brother of Mark's girlfriend, was brought in to play the violin, adding a more melodic element to the band's Sex Pistols-esque sound. Mark's flatmate "Bucky" was also brought in to play the guitar, but lost interest in the band fairly quickly and left afer a few months.

Mark and Jeremy penned the songs that would become part of their first recordings (the audio-cassettes "An Agreement of the People" and "All the Free Commons of England" sold at gigs throughout 1988/89) and the band set off touring Brighton and beyond. They soon built up a large and dedicated live following with their raucous shows; a group of fans known as the "happy hitchers" would hitch-hike around the country, following the band from gig to gig and busking or begging for ticket money.

The first EP recording by the band was put out in 1989. Carry Me which contained the fan favourites Carry Me and England My Home was a comparatively big hit, even getting Radio 2 airplay for the title track (despite the swearing in Carry Me which apparently went unnoticed). In order to play Carry Me live, the band realised they needed to bring in an extra person to play the harmonica as Mark couldn't play the guitar and harmonica parts simultaneously. They recruited Alan Miles to the band to play harmonica as well as guitar and mandolin. Alan also provided backing vocals for the band, being an able singer unlike Jeremy and Jon. The lineup of the Levellers solidified as Mark, Jeremy, Jon, Charlie and Alan, releasing the next EP Outside/Inside and touring with this roster throughout 1989 and most of 1990.

After successfully releasing the two previous EPs on their own Hag label in 1989, a short lived contract was signed with French record label Musidisc. Their debut album "A Weapon Called the Word" was released on Musidisc in 1990 and has since become one of the few albums to go platinum without ever charting. Unfortunately, the first single from the album, World Freak Show had too few copies pressed by Musidisc; the record selling out but without sufficient copies existing for the song to chart.


After an acrimonious split with Musidisc, the Levellers were discovered by Derek Green (the man responsible for signing the Sex Pistols) and signed to China Records.

At this point, Alan became disenchanted by the Levellers' communist approach to money - all of the band's earnings being put together in a fund from which the members were paid the same amount every day. After being refused more money to buy food one day (having spend his day's allowance elsewhere) Alan quit the band. Finding themselves suddenly short of one member, the Levellers' manager called Simon Friend, a young singer-songwriter and at that time a roadie for New Model Army, who had played some acoustic support slots for the band in the past. Simon accepted the invitation to join the band, despite it meaning turning down a chance to be the guitarist for New Model Army.

1991 saw the release of their second album, Levelling the Land, which was a massive success, entering the charts at number 14. The anthemic single One Way despite not bothering the Top 40, became a popular song and live favourite for years to come among the travelling and indie community. Levelling the Land is often viewed as an all time classic amongst people who were students or travellers in the early 1990s. The Levellers' began to sound more of a well-rounded folk-rock band with the addition of Simon's multi-instrumental skill and the improvements in musicianship amongst all of the band. Whereas All The Free Commons of England sounded like the Sex Pistols with a fiddle player, and A Weapon Called the Word sounded more like gentle indie-rock, Levelling the Land had a well-rounded sound including punk-rock tracks Liberty Song and Battle of the Beanfield, folk ballads The Boatman and The Road and folk-rock crossover tracks like The Riverflow and Another Man's Cause. Simon's distinctively gravelly voice added depth and volume in backing up Mark's vocals and he began the tradition of taking lead vocals on a couple of tracks per album. Mark's singing also improved from the gruff shouted vocals of their early EPs to a fine melodic singing voice. The band also landed a U.S. deal with Electra, although they have since failed to make much impression in the USA. A disastrous tour of the USA in the early 1990s left the band disillusioned with America and the long haul journeys and lukewarm local receptions endured by touring bands.

Throughout 1992 the band enjoyed a series of successful tours, particularly their debut on one of the main stages of the Glastonbury Festival (although they'd played the travellers' area previously). Mixing tracks from their first two LPs with a couple of more obscure songs (like the rock/spoken word crossover Dance Before the Storm) and a storming 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 (despite jokingly calling Glastonbury owner Michael Eavis a "cunt" over the PA system when they heard he didn't like swearing). The band also scored a chart hit with the "15 Years EP", a track which was added to later repressings of Levelling the Land due to its popularity.

The Levellers generally consider 1993 to be a bad year for the band. Jeremy was becoming dependent on heroin, having first taken the drug as an alternative to his growing alcoholism. Feeling overworked and unmotivated the band nevertheless felt obliged to try and write a new record to capitalise on their growing popularity. The creative process was not particularly enjoyable for any of the band who were drifting apart as friends and commuting to the recording studio to lay down the tracks for the album. Suffering writer's block, the band filled space on the new album by covering Dirty Davey (an early track by McDermott's 2 Hours) and recording an old track originally written by Simon while he was still at school (Is This Art?). The generally gloomy atmosphere that surrounded the band is reflected in the darker tone of the resulting eponymous album (Levellers). Despite the band's dislike of the album, it was a huge hit reaching #2 in the album charts. In fact, Levellers contains a number of songs that have stood the test of time as fan favourites, with the negativity felt by the band giving an appropriate emotional tone to the aggressive 100 Years of Solitude (which manages to namecheck just about everything the Levellers considered wrong with the world, from Exxon to the NME) and the melancholy of Julie (which Jeremy wrote about the experiences of a heroin addicted girl).


1994 saw the Levellers really hit the big time, as their appearance at the Glastonbury Festival attracted the biggest stagefront crowd that the event had ever seen. The Levellers 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. Their landmark performance of One Way was recently included on a video of Glastonbury's finest moments and is available online [2]

In 1994 the band purchased a derelict factory in Brighton, the "Metway", and created a self contained headquarters. 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 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. Spare space was given over to other Brighton musicians and small craft businesses. Weekly anarchist newspaper SchNEWS also set up their office in the building.

Hope Street, the lead single from the new album, was the first product to come out of Metway. The album, Zeitgeist, was released in September 1995 and became another huge hit, charting at #2 in the week of it's release. Bouyed by the initial success, manager Phil Nelson persuaded China Records to advertise the album on TV and, unusually, the album hit #1 in it's second week on the chart. The third single released from this album took 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' legendary frontman and long time Levellers hero, Joe Strummer guesting on honky tonk piano.

Another extensive tour of Europe and the UK was embarked upon in the later part of 1995, culminating in a one-off "Christmas Freakshow" at Sheffield Arena on 18th December. This was recorded by BBC with eight songs being broadcast at a later date on BBC R1. The 1995 "Total Chaos" Tour effectively came to an end on 7th 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.

1996 was a relatively fallow year in contrast to the Levellers' hard working career to date. Every show on the 1995 tour had been recorded with a view to releasing a genuine "live" album with no studio overdubs. Jon Sevink tasked himself with listening back to every moment recorded on tape, picking through them for the best performances of each song they'd played. The resultant album, Best Live: Headlights White Lines And Black Tar Rivers was released simultaneously with the aforementioned video of the same name in August 1996. As the title suggests, it served as an effective compilation of the best work of the band to date, whilst not being a "greatest hits" package of previously released studio material (although the band are thought to have never been happy with the record company coined "Best Live" part of the title). The album reached #13 in the UK album charts. A less extensive UK tour was undertaken in September/October to support the record's release.

The band returned to the studio through late 1996 and early 1997 when the album Mouth To Mouth was recorded. Their first gigs in several months co-incided with the Labour Party/Tony Blair's landslide General Election victory on May 1st, 1997 (Manchester Academy, and a second show at London's Brixton Academy the following night). These gigs previewed several new songs, including the particularly catchy What A Beautiful Day. This glorious, instantly recognisable slice of pop rock has since become a firm live favourite, reaching out far beyond the Levellers' traditional fanbase. It became the first single release from Mouth To Mouth and reached #13 on the UK chart. Summer 1997 saw the band play at various festivals in the UK and Europe including a return to Glastonbury Festival, playing an afternoon slot on the Pyramid Stage. The album was finally released in August 1997 and entered the UK album chart at #5. The album spawned several more singles, Celebrate, Dog Train and Too Real (the accompanying promo video of which was directed by cult UK movie director, Alex Cox).

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. The album was a traditional "greatest hits" package of the hit singles, with two new songs, Shadow On The Sun, and a cover of punk band Zounds' Bozos which was released as the first single of the campaign. Additionally, One Way and Carry Me were re-recorded and a re-mix of Too Real was included. A limited edition digipak format was released with an extra five-track CD of "acoustic" versions. A long and successful tour journeyed the length and breadth of the UK in November and December. However, the last two dates at Brixton Academy and the triumphant homecoming at Brighton Centre had to be pulled when Jon Sevink fell ill. These dates were re-scheduled for February of 1999. The release of the greatest hits album was accompanied by a video collection of promos, also called One Way Of Life: The Very Best Of The Levellers, and the band's official biography written by George Berger titled Dance Before The Storm.


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 eventually began on a new studio album, Hello Pig. The band drafted in Mark Wallis who had worked with Oasis amongst others, to produce the record. This was an obvious change in direction, and the resulting work confirmed this to listening ears. A complex production coloured the album, with much less of the tell-tale signs of a Levellers record as had gone before. Happy Birthday Revolution was released as a single, reaching #57 in the charts. Just prior to the album release the band promoted their own OTF Weekender. This was held on the Isle Of Wight with two big shows at the Ryde Ice Arena and a smaller, "secret" acoustic show held at a much smaller venue.

Hello Pig was released on Monday 4th September, 2000 and went to #28 on the chart. It received possibly the best critical acclaim the band had yet received, however the band's fans didn't particularly like the change in direction. With the relative commercial failure 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 parted company.

Despite the downturn in record sales, in the live arena the Levellers continued with aplomb. They worked through a heavy gig schedule through late 2000 and 2001. This included a return to the United States, be it as a stripped down version featuring only Mark Chadwick, Simon Friend and Jon Sevink playing acoustic shows in February 2001, with the same trio returning to play a lengthier tour in June the same year.

In early 2002 focus returned once again to making new music, with Al Scott returning as producer. After the recording 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". Meanwhile, after contemplating releasing the new material on their own Hag label, the band eventually signed a new deal with Eagle Records. The Come On single preceded the album and just failed to make the UK Top 40. Green Blade Rising (originally a title of one of the Levellers' earliest songs) was released in September 2002 and also failed to reach the UK Top 40 Albums. Once again, the Levellers returned to what they knew best, and went on tour!

Meanwhile, the band, growing weary of the ever more commercial UK festival scene decided to put on a festival of their own. This would be a return - as far as UK legislation would allow - to the festivals of days gone by that the young Levellers had enjoyed, such as the legendary Elephant Fayre. Green Blade Fayre was the title of the first attempt, and was to be held at Bicton Park, East Devon, England in August 2002. Despite the backing of the necessary authorities, an organised local population managed to persuade the local council (East Devon) to reject the licence application.

Regardless of this disheartening first adventure, in 2003 the Levellers did create their own "Beautiful Days Festival". The festival has quickly become a much cherished annual event which takes place at Escot Park in East Devon, England every August. Their most recent album is called "Truth and Lies" .

The band are still a hard working live act, selling out venues and festivals all over Europe each year. The band remain supporters of anarchist and green issues, and are also strong supporters of the Brighton music scene by owning their own studio and rehearsal space in which they record and produce all their albums, as well as allowing use of their facilities for many other local bands and musicians. The Levellers' festival success also continued in 2005 when, despite the continued lack of attention by the music press, the band played to the biggest ever stagefront crowd at the Jazzworld stage of the Glastonbury Festival.

The Levellers remain a hardworking and hard-touring band who constantly gig around Europe and the UK. They also tour with an acoustic set under the name of Drunk in Public. Drunk in Public play a lively, energetic acoustic set of Levellers' classics, Rev Hammer's back catalogue and covers in smaller, intimate venues. The line-up includes Mark Chadwick, John Sevink, Simon Friend and solo-artist and friend of the band Rev Hammer. Although mostly ignored by the media, the Levellers have built up a large, committed group of followers, and a significant online presence such as the Levellers' alternative message boards.


* Mark Chadwick (vocals, guitar, harmonica)
* Simon Friend (1990 to present: guitar, banjo, vocals, mandolin, harmonica)
* Jeremy (Jez) Cunningham (bass guitar, vocals)
* Charlie Heather (drums)
* Jon Sevink (fiddle)
* Matt Savage (2003 to present: keyboards, backing vocals)

Sometimes supported by Stephen Boakes (didgeridoo).

Ex Members

* David Buckmeister (guitar) appeared in the first line-up of the Levellers in 1988 but left after a few months.
* Alan Miles (guitar, mandolin, vocals) joined the Levellers on guitar and backing vocals in 1989, appearing on record on the album "A Weapon Called the Word". Replaced with Simon Friend in 1990