The Levellers / Seth Lakeman / 3 Daft Monkeys

Exeter University on Thu 15th Dec 2005

3 Daft Monkeys
The Cornish trio, who I’ve only seen at festivals before look a bit lost on the large stage bedecked in the set up for the headlining act. But undaunted they wish us all a happy Christmas and say that due to the lack of time, the doors have only just opened, they’re not going to bobble on and get straight on with delivering their driving fiddle powered folk tunes and thoughtful lyrics with a dub style. They soon win over the crowd, which is obviously a reduced one with most still in the bar getting ready for the main event. But the hugely booted fiddle player Athene takes off her coat after a few tunes and really blasts out some powerful frenetic music and we all get immersed in the pace, great stuff it’s just a shame their set is so short.

Seth Lakeman
Last time he was here at the university, Seth tells us it was the college ball. Surveying the crowd, it appears that a lot of people have come to see the Mercury Music Prize nominated local boy. He opens his set with Techno Roots accompanied by his brother on guitar, a bodhran (and then a makeshift drum of what looks like a speaker) and a bass player. Seth starts on a small Spanish and has us spellbound with a wonderfully rich, energetic and warming sound. He delivers much of his album to a respectful crowd, who are delighted and entranced. I’m surprised at how rich his music is, a delicate depth to it, I’ve only seen him solo before but he seems happier to be part of a group and he’s totally captured the crowd. Seth’s fiddle playing on Kitty Jay is frenetic and jaw dropping and the lights come up to a crowd passionately applauding such musicianship. Magical and truly spellbinding!

The Levellers
While we were waiting outside the venue, a kind bloke gets chatting to us and points out the Concert Live truck parked by the entrance saying that’s where they’ll be making tonight’s live album of the whole show. Once we’re inside we order a copy of the album, which we can pick up at the end of the show. How cool is that and cuts out the bootleggers! In fact you can buy a copy of the double album of this gig on the concertlive website.

The lights dim, the stage is swathed in blue light as George Bush’s voice echoes from the speakers with a speech about Iraq. The silent crowd releases their anticipation as the veterans of ‘acoustic punk’ take to the stage, looking happy, clean and far too sober as they let fly with ‘England My Home’, where we are the crowd are lively but lead singer Mark says he can see reticent feet stuck to the floor. I don’t know where but it’s a good way of getting everyone moving to ‘Sell Out’ as guitarist Simon Friend in a Cowboy hat leaps about the stage.

The Levellers have a new single out, ‘Last Man Alive’ and they’d like us to download or steal it to help get it to number one. I’m not sure how likely that’ll be but it’s loads better than the commercial rubbish of X Factor and it coupled with ‘The Road’ has the crowd away with the fairies. Both are a huge sing along. The band are clearly impressed with the happiness they’ve generated, Mark tells us, “We’re moving freely amongst ourselves, in a loving way.” ‘4 Us All’ and ‘Wheels’ also from the new album ‘Truth and Lies’ are all well received. It seems much of this crowd is hardcore Levs fans, especially as the students are back home for Christmas. The latter song being a little slower giving us all the chance for a breather as many of those around me are also well passed our student days.

The reception for the new tracks clearly pleases the band, Mark mentions that it could be their homecoming gig as their own festival is held so close. He says probably many of us go to the festival, and probably many of us work there, before bursting into the surprise tune of… ‘Beautiful Days!’ Only to forget the words, the band soldier on, “Drinking in the nightclub…quite clearly!” Mark adlibs as we all help them through the words.

‘Cardboard City’ slows the tempo and reminds us of the roots of the band, with it’s political message and highlighting poverty in the Old Kent Road and the beer fuelled older bunch are glad of another rest! In fact it’s too hot in the auditorium for my young daughter so we move upstairs to look over the crowd as they dance about to ‘Men-An-Tol’ and although the vocals aren’t as clear as they were a decade ago, the songs seem to be better delivered this way, slightly worn but perfectly aged, much like the band themselves, this is after all the Levellers.

With a bunch of classic tunes still to go and all the crowd eating out of the palm of their hands, bass player Jeremy is grinning from ear to ear and bounding up and down dreads flying as we sing along to a fantastic ‘Carry Me’ and the song for all of us with a guilty conscience, new tune ‘Confess’ goes down a storm, the instrumentation is tight, the band are warmed up now and it’s a live monster tune, a new classic from them.

The crowd are kept happy with favourites ‘Belarus’ and ‘The Game’ and my daughter points over the balcony, the whole place is a writhing throng of people leaping about, a happy mosh from the front to the mixing desk at the back and quite a sight to behold.

Suddenly there’s a treat for us ‘Dirty Davey’ and ‘Riverflow’ and as the band exit the stage, we’re all smiles, delighted to have been here, it’s been great and we yell for more! The encore ensues with ‘Another Man’s Cause’ and ‘One Way’ and again the whole place is alive. This is the defining moment of the Levs, they have delivered a vibrant warm performance and like a hot spicy cider on a cold festival evening they’ve invigorated us all and shown how you get to be festival favourites, we can smell the grass now, feel the sunshine, dance in the mud and they’ve delivered this moment to us all. It’s why we are fans, it’s why we’ve come here on this cold blustery night. Any new bands wanting to become masters of the live scene, should see them live. See how it’s done, see how all those hours in muddy fields and around campfires has paid off in delivering a rich performance full of love.

The band are hitting a purple patch in 2005, with a good album, a fantastic Glastonbury performance, a lovely festival and judging by tonight, a storming tour. So they celebrate the end of 2005 with us with fiddles a plenty on stage, it’s a chance to rock down to campfire fave ‘The Devil Went Down To Georgia’ and a chance for Charlie Heather to batter the skins on his drums. The musicians are clearly enjoying it. All this jigging mayhem and a fiddle off with Seth Lakeman battling Jon Sevink along with ‘What You Know’ is all that’s left of a sweaty night in December. Well that and getting the double live CD of the night and a pint. Perfect!

They may be veterans of those halcyon days, but the older musicians get the better they are, and the Levellers were always something special. They don’t disappoint live, and may not be perfect but like rough diamonds they sure shine at the moment!

article by: Scott Williams

published: 19/12/2005 08:55

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