Levellers - Manchester Academy - 17.11.02

I first encountered the Levellers in the strangest of circumstances,  in-between the likes of Betty Boo and Kylie Minogue, the Levellers "One Way" appeared on Saturday morning TV as part of ITV's Chart Show. That may not mean much to our younger readers, but if you imagine a band like The (International) Noise Conspiracy sliding in-between S Club Juniors and Gareth Gates on CD:UK you can imagine the surprise that here was a band who could change your life and show a different way to a 12 year old force fed on what his parent and teachers had said over the years. Of course time change and the Levellers have been replaced by the Manics and Chumbawamba as my main motivational forces in music, yet I'll never forget it was the Levellers that set me on this path.

Last time I saw the Levellers in Manchester it would have been on the night of May 1st, 1997 - the night New Labour got into power - and although it was a short-lived victory it was still the date the Tories got kicked out. In the years inbetween we've seen students charged tuition fees, immigrants beaten and murdered and any way of life other than making career plans at the age of 12 (as long as you can afford to go to Uni of course) eradicated. It's this clampdown on alternative lifestyles which saw the Levellers Greenblade festival cancelled earlier this year over fears of trouble and unrest, yet in places like Burnley the BNP can arrange Red, White and Blue festivals with no problems.

It should be seen that tonight is a return to what made the band so special, but instead we get a band clearly on their last legs and tired of performing. With much of tonight's set made up from the bands "Green Blade Rising" album, an album which harks back to the good old days, but never quite reaches those moments of greatness which inspired us all in the first place. Of the new songs it's only "Wild As Angels" which really inspires the crowd as much as "The Riverflow", "The Boatman" or "Battle Of The Beanfield". Even "One Way", which for many people here tonight was the song that brought the Levellers into their lives is reworked so that only chorus bears any resemblance to the original.

It will be a sad time when the Levellers finally call it a day, but rather than spoil the good memories they should perhaps take some time out and consider their place in the world. With seemingly nothing new to offer and the new songs lacking the execution of the old classics perhaps it's time to hand the baton on to one of the younger contenders. With the likes of Kinesis, International Noise Conspiracy and Alec Empire fighting for a better way of life, maybe the truth is the Levellers just aren't relevant anymore.

Alex McCann

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