Jonathan Lovett chats to Mark Chadwick of seminal band The Levellers ahead of their tour
Places such as Windsor, Eton, Ascot and Henley-on-Thames are beautiful,” enthuses Mark, “and we love our heritage – you can tell from the name of the band! We are contradictory; we have Tory-voting fans as well as lots of left-leaning ones…”
I’d just asked the lead singer of The Levellers if they are as happy playing more overtly “posh” areas such as the above which may not be the natural fanbase of a left-wing band named after a radical 17th-century democracy movement.
But Mark is nothing if not egalitarian and, combined with a passion for history, makes for the kind of stimulating interviewee who can quite easily fall into conversation about the Putney Debates of 1647!
“These were forced by the Levellers and paved the way for many of the civil liberties we value today,” he adds. “They were the first to talk to people as equals and the debates were a platform for common people within the context of the time. I wonder whether we need a modern Putney Debate today?”
Politics has always figured strongly in the work of The Levellers who celebrate their 30th anniversary year with a tour and the release of a new album, We The Collective. But they would never have been able to have preached to so many people if it was not for their wonderfully catchy tunes and sing-alongs which turned them into one of the most popular indie bands of the 1990s.
Indeed, they were so popular that the band still hold the record for playing to the biggest crowd Glastonbury has ever seen when an estimated 300,000-plus people saw them headline the Pyramid Stage in 1994.
“It was bizarre looking out into that crowd because it was so big,” says Mark. “It was terrifying and afterwards I had the worst stomach cramps I’ve ever had in my life because of this massive delayed nervous anxiety! I do look back with affection on those times and still get people coming up to me all the time going, ‘You helped change my life’, which is great.”
Still relevant and still challenging the status quo, We The Collective is the band’s highest-charting album entry in 21 years and features new arrangements of old classics such as Liberty Song and Hope Street alongside new songs such as Drug Bust McGee. “That’s about the subject of undercover police which is something we’ve experienced several times over the years,” adds Mark. “We’ve also been investigated and infiltrated by Special Branch and MI5 but we are no threat to society… the whole point of The Levellers is that we promote society!”
The Levellers play The Anvil in Basingstoke on Friday, 13th July. Visit www.levellers.co.uk