THE WONDER STUFF
Much loved by students and indie fans alike, and heralded by the likes of Melody Maker and NME back in the day, this year sees the “Stuffies” celebrate their 25th anniversary, and what a way to celebrate; being personally invited as special guests to play an hour long set at each of the current Levellers tour dates. Despite only having 2 original members left in the band (Miles Hunt – sans the curly locks, and Malcolm Treece), the current line-up, including former Pop Will Eat Itself drummer Fuzz Townshend and the amazingly talented violinist Erica Nockalls, play a seriously tight set, crammed with classics from their 1988 debut ‘Eight Legged Groove Machine’ right up to ‘Construction For the Modern Idiot’, along with others not so familiar; with ‘Give Give Give Me More More More’, ‘Circlesquare’ and ‘Size of a Cow’ being particularly standout tracks, as well as a poignant guitar and violin duet version of ‘Welcome to the Cheap Seats’, about which Hunt reminds the crowd they had the pleasure of recording with the sadly-no-more Kirsty MacColl. An hour on, and the crowd have already sung and jigged their way through most of an incredibly impressive and fun Stuffies set, and for those like myself that hadn’t listened to any of their material for a while, it’s rekindled a bit of an old musical flame.
Sunday 6th March 2011
The Engine Shed in Lincoln, UK
Reviews by Hannah Sylvester; Photography by Mark Holmes
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THE WONDER STUFF
“Well the year is 1991, it seems our freedom’s dead and gone, the power of the rich is held by few” so tell the lyrics of ‘Sell Out’, the seventh track from ‘Levelling the Land’. Well, twenty years on and it seems that, sadly, little has changed and hence this is still one extremely relevant album. Setting the scene for this celebration of the 20th anniversary of seminal Levellers album ‘Levelling the Land’ is a seven minute montage, an almost rolling chronological news reel made by a former Chumbawamba member (assumedly Dunstan Bruce), showing clips of events and political changes which have influenced the Levellers over the years, from snippets of the appallingly shocking ‘Battle of the Beanfield’ and the anti-Criminal Justice Bill demos of the early 90s, to clips of political figures over the years, right up to Messers Cameron and Clegg (most of which were met by booing from the crowd). From this, a suitably psyched up crowd are well and truly ready for fan favourite ‘One Way’ to launch the evening’s proceedings, undoubtedly the Levellers most famous song, and paving the way for the band playing ‘Levelling the Land’ in its entirety; from start to finish, all songs in album order. From the outset, it’s also distinctly noticeable that additions have been made to the PA and lighting rig in the venue, presumably brought by the band, and the sound, right the way through the evening is spotlessly mixed and by far the best sound I’ve experienced in the Engine Shed. ‘The Game’ and ‘15 Years’ follow, with Mark Chadwick’s vocals still as strong and distinctly folky as they were back in the ‘90s; bassist Jez Cunningham bounding and pogoing around the stage with long red dreads flailing around and energy-a-plenty; and violinist Jon Sevink doing much the same, whilst admirably wielding a far more delicate instrument; Charlie Heather pounding the drums with fevered intent and Matt Savage providing great keyboard ambience. By this point, those towards the front who assumed this was going to be standard “stand and watch the band” affair had made a hasty exit towards the sides, allowing those up for fully revelling in the pogo-jig pit of punky folk-rock to have some serious fun. The more traditionally folk leanings of ‘The Boatman’, with its vocals led by its writer, other guitarist and vocalist Simon Friend provided a welcome moment for the crowd to catch their breath, with uv-painted didge player, Stephen Boakes making a surprise (and sadly one-time-only) onstage appearance for the final few minutes of the track, accompanying the violin, before the heavier ‘Liberty Song’ and the rarely-aired ‘Far From Home’ whips stage and crowd into a frenzy of movement again. And so, as Mark declares over the mic, “end of side one” (for this was released in the times of vinyl and cassettes, of course), we were then treated to a few B-side tracks from the same era, plucked from the more recent re-mastered version of the album, including ‘Dance Before the Storm’ and Levellers cover of the Charlie Daniels Band’s ‘Devil Went Down to Georgia’. “Time to flip over to Side Two”, with ‘Sell Out’, ‘Another Man’s Cause’ and ‘The Road’ prompting more rather tuneful singing from the crowd, and ‘The Riverflow’ engendering a last upbeat jig-sesh from the frenzied front to the less-crushed back of the venue, before the more serious, final track from the album, ‘Battle of the Beanfield’. So whilst that was the album celebrated good and proper, the sold-out crowd wanted more, and we weren’t left disappointed. The band exuded more boundless energy and distinct professionalism in an encore comprising early classic ‘Carry Me’, ‘Beautiful Day’ (from ‘Mouth to Mouth’) and ‘Hope Street’ (from ‘Zeitgeist’), until sadly there was time for no more. A night of pure glorious nostalgia for most attending and upmost respect for a band and an album that has not aged one bit, and still sounds as fresh and relevant as it when it was first released. With three more UK dates added to the mainly sold-out tour in mid-May, taking Dreadzone and the vibrant (and now rarely performing) Back to the Planet out with them as special guests for those dates, there’s still the chance to catch this truly awesome band perform this very special album, and to immerse yourself in one of the most fun gigs you’ll ever go to in your life.
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