This show is part of The Levellers Collective Tour to promote Together All The Way the band’s latest album that sees them re-imagining there greatest hits and playing them in a more traditional folk style, to help them do this live they have been joined by three members of The Moulettes Hannah Miller, Ollie Austin and Raevennan Husbandes who joined latest new addition Dan Donnelly alongside Mark Chadwick, Jeremy Cunningham, Charlie Heather, Joe Sevink and Matt Savage.
This show at the Hackney Empire had been re-arranged giving me a chance to once again spend time in one of the only London venues I know for sure that my Grand Parents used to regularly go to back in the 1930’s to 1950’s, seeing among others Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald playing in this magnificent old theatre on Mare Street, a mere 500 yards or so from where I was born in Hackney Hospital.
Support for this show were Wilswood Buoys a young folk duo from Mersea Island in Essex who had already started by the time I arrived they were playing Crisis that had the two acoustic guitars frantically strumming as Josh and Joe sang about how they had no hope left in the sad situations that the pandemic have caused.
For A Change had some good-natured banter before it, as they sought to find a way forwards, so they could keep being amazed at being lucky enough as an unsigned band to play places as magnificent as The Hackney Empire is.
Change saw them playing the song in three parts after the first chorus they brought things to a standstill, after a good bit of banter they carried on only playing the song about 5 times faster showing off just how great there playing and timing was this went down very well. They closed with Save The Queen that is the soundtrack to the duo’s favourite drinking game, while encouraging everyone to buy the bands debut album A New Beginning before leaving the stage to a good round of applause.
The stage was dramatically lit for The Levellers with the huge bass drum behind Ollie Austin’s keyboards and percussion set up, being backlit so the drum skin glowed. As they eased into The Game they had the relaxed feel of an old school folk session while being extremely together as Hannah Millers cello added a gorgeous texture behind Mark Chadwick’s vocals.
Lowlands stripped them back to just Hannah’s Cello and Jon Sevink’s violin giving a mournful edge to this song of loss. The full band came back in on Liberty as Mark sang about how life was dragging him down as Jeremy Cunningham’s bass really punctuated the tale. Beanfield was the first song to get a big cheer from the audience as well as lots of people singing along as Raevennan played electric guitar for the first time adding some delicate flourishes that worked with Matt Savages Keyboard swirls.
Drug Bust McGee is one of those tales that sounds like an ancient folk song but with Mark Chadwick’s sardonic vocals imbuing the tale with enough sorrow and regret for everything that went down that day.
Together felt extremely laid-back plea for everyone to look out for each other from the cradle to the grave. Sitting In The Social now feels like a lesson from history as this tale from the dole years and the battles against Thatcher unfurled, with tribal drumming from Charlie Heather, Ollie Austin and some percussion from Raevennan helping to make this feel like a real rallying cry and also another great sing along.
Man O’ War was one of the sparser arrangements as Hannah’s cello floated around Matt’s keyboards as Mark sang of the dead man walking in his shoes. One of The Levellers biggest hits Julie was next it was played as a 5 piece as the cello and acoustic guitars brought out all the emotion and love in this classic that had most of the audience singing with Mark.
Ghosts In The Water was back as the full 9 piece and had a downbeat spirit to it. Born That Way was all about Jon Sevink’s fiddle that really led the band as another of the big hits got everyone singing and joining in with the band this was a real highlight.
Haven’t Made It Yet was played with a wink of the eye from Mark as they have obviously made it long ago. England My Home featured a brilliant Banjo part from Matt Savage I think. Cholera Well seems more pertinent now than when it originally came out as a single in 2008, as the fear of a pandemic has become all too real, with Raevennan playing the big bass drum adding depth to the triple drum and handclap attack this song had.
Mark Chadwick then encouraged us all to stand up rather than spending anymore time in the Hackney Empire none too comfortable seats in time for everyone to sing and dance along to The Boatman that was always one of the standout tracks from Levelling The Land as it sets out the bands need to be out touring and travelling. As usual Steve Boakes then came out for his traditional Didgeridoo solo that became a cool instrumental coda.
The Road got a massive cheer as this tale of life on The Road got going to make everyone happy before they closed the set with Far From Home while thanking us all for our patience wating for this show to happen and thanks that we all showed up to see them play in Hackney.
They came back out for the encore that opened with the magnificent Hope Street that had some brilliant lap acoustic slide guitar from Raevennan, that was followed buy a delicious version of the Rev Hammers Down By The River O. they then closed the show with a rousing take on Just The One that included the only kazoo of the evening as Raevennan played yet another instrument this was a great end to a very cool night.
Review of Levellers at the Hackney Empire on 24th May 2023 by Simon Phillips. Photography by Dnieper Cruz.