Thursday 8th December 2016
The Engine Shed in Lincoln, UK
Reviews & Photography by Mark Holmes
Warsop's Ferocious Dog have the honour of main support band on the Levellers' twenty fifth anniversary tour for 'Levelling The Land', and their fusion of folk, rock, and punk elements would seem, on paper, to be the perfect crowd warm-up for tonight's main event. That transpires to be precisely the case, as smiley frontman Ken Bonsall and his musical comrades (currently featuring guitarist Fruitbat, aka. Leslie Carter, of Carter USM fame) work their way through a forty five minute set of up-tempo, high-energy crowd pleasers that get people jigging away, from punters at the front to bar staff behind the bar at the back. Aside from Bonsall himself, Ellis Waring impresses greatly on banjo, mandolin and guitar (not simultaneously, I hasten to add... that would be seriously impressive), as he strikes various dramatic poses while wielding and playing the shit out of his instruments in all manner of dynamic ways. With the likes of 'Too Late', 'Hell Hounds' and 'Freethinker' each received like jig pit anthems, the beer flows freely and seemingly per the gallon around The Engine Shed tonight, as people young and old evidently adopt Ferocious Dog as their favourite new drinking band. Musical merriment for the jiggers and merry music for the drinkers, this Warsop crew prove to be a hit with all present.
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Levellers at The Engine Shed in Lincoln, UK, 8th December 2016
Photograph copyright © 2016 Mark Holmes - www.metal-discovery.com
It doesn't seem like five years ago that the Levellers were celebrating the 20th anniversary of what's still regarded by many as their seminal work, 'Levelling the Land'; yet, another five years have passed, and the album's now reached its twenty fifth year. However, like the finest of wines and whiskies, it's continued to mature and improve with age, during which time it's reached new audiences and stood up against ephemeral musical trends of the past three decades to prove itself a timeless classic. Just like the band themselves. To celebrate the album's quarter of a century milestone, the Levs opted to tour 'Levelling the Land' in its entirety, once again, as they did for its 20th anniversary, and as the sold out UK dates are drawing to a close, they reach the cathedral city of Lincoln to perform to a capacity crowd in The Engine Shed.
As house lights dim at 9:10pm, a screen at the back of the stage bursts to life with an updated version of the short film Dunstan Bruce (ex-Chumbawamba) made for the band when celebrating two decades of 'Levelling the Land'. A montage of the politically grotesque (Thatcher; Blair; Cameron; Trump; Farage; et al) plays out like "a real horrorshow film" and "my viddying" of such feels akin to the Ludovico technique as I'm drawn into its disturbing overtones with a mesmerising grip. It's a cunningly edited collection of clips that are contraposed and juxtaposed in such a way as to highlight a fucked up political diachrony of the past twenty five years, right up to the present day and the globally worrying times ahead of Trump's inauguration in January next year. Retro footage included in the montage of 'Trump The Game' says it all, really. As the film nears its conclusion, band members wander out onto the stage to deafening cheers. The five minute movie finishes, the Levs commence with 'One Way', and so begins an hour and a half of pure musical bliss.
The Levellers are undoubtedly the perfect antidote to all the craziness of a politically tumultuous 2016 and, tonight, they provide 2000 or so fans with an impassioned performance of musical escapism. Confetti canons placed either side of the stage explode early in 'One Way', and the tone of the evening is set. This is all about entertainment in one big emotional journey, be that through songs with inherent and unyielding optimism like 'Liberty Song', or the poignancy of pieces like 'Battle of the Beanfield'. With the album performed from front to back, all tracks from 'Levelling the Land' are received like the classics they've become. The music transcended genre back in the day, and it continues to defy pigeon-holing twenty five years later. And its timeless, unifying essence is evidenced in The Engine Shed this evening, as a couple of thousand people are bonded by their common adoration of the Levellers and their enduring appeal.
As 'Battle of the Beanfield' finishes, frontman Mark Chadwick pauses for a few moments until the ubiquitous cheers subside, before telling the audience: "That was 'Levelling the Land' then..." Further cheers, followed by another suite of songs drawn from the band's back catalogue, with the likes of 'Truth Is', 'Carry Me' and 'The Cholera Well' reminding they have the strength of material to draw upon peripheral to 'Levelling the Land'. And it's all delivered with sincerity and passion from a band who seem to be boundless in their energy, as they leap around and up and down throughout the set, which is reciprocated in the audience. Bassist Jez Cunningham and fiddle player Jon Sevink seem to sustain the most onstage energy levels, and a fine performance from sticksman Charlie Heather, who's only recently returned behind the kit after a nasty bout of pneumonia earlier in the tour.
A word, too, about the great lighting tonight - so, kudos to the engineer responsible for this, as the stage and venue are brought to life beyond just the music, with some very impressive, well-thought out lighting. And the sound guy does an equally marvellous job, as everything sounds pretty wonderful through the PA.
After an encore of 'Julie' and 'Beautiful Day', a second encore of 'What You Know' sees the band joined on stage by Ellis Waring and Dan Booth from Ferocious Dog, with the latter engaging in a kind of fiddle-off with Sevink, which climaxes in the two men executing some rather impressive and slickly fast arpeggios simultaneously. The confetti canons explode once again and people start to leave the venue with huge, beaming grins. The world feels like a wonderful place once again.
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