The year is 1991 - mass unemployment, huge public service cuts, and a disaffected British public is suffering from the effects of 12 years of Conservative rule.
Then along comes a riotous folk-rock-punk collective to shake the nation and stand as a voice for an approving public. That band was The Levellers, and the album was Levelling The Land.
They say music, like politics, goes in circles. You could be forgiven for thinking things haven’t changed.
Twenty years later, as unemployment hits 2.5 million, one in five 16-24 year olds are out of work, and Tories are once again calling the shots. So what better time for the band to touring that same album at some of the same venues?
“I think Levelling The Land has as much political relevance now as when it was first released” says Mark Chadwick, lead singer of The Levellers. “If anything the political situation is worse now than it was then - I think everyone’s waking up to quite a grim world right now.”
As the band turn the clock back twenty years it’s clear the public’s appreciation for them hasn’t dimmed. “We’ve sold out quite a lot of venues,” says Chadwick, “40,000 tickets I think, so we’ve announced a few more dates.”
After a single Irish gig on 3rd March the English leg of the 20th anniversary tour kicks off in Liverpool on 4 March and also takes in Leeds on the 10th and Manchester on the 18th. Manchester is one of the dates already sold out, along with Bristol and London, but tickets are still available for the other two.
Each gig will be split into two, with Levelling The Land played in full during set one, followed by a collection of b-sides and other favourites. But any suggestions that 20-odd nights playing the same set could be arduous and even boring are quickly waved away. “It’s fine, great, we’re used to it by now” laughs Chadwick.
Many of the songs on that totemic album have become favourites both of the band and their followers, most notably Liberty Song, anthemic opener One Way, and the incendary Battle of the Beanfield, a song sparked by real events that made the band a focal point for travelers and the dispossessed back in 1991.
In a trip down memory lane, this tour will take the band back to some of the venues they played 20 years ago. “I think Brixton Academy, Cambridge Corn Exchange and Glasgow Barrowland we’ve played before, but the others are different” says Chadwick. Two decades as a Leveller have dimmed the memory somewhat.
Having headlined the Bingley festival in the summer alongside Professor Green and The Enemy, recently done a session for Absolute Radio, and set to appear at next week’s Radio 2 Folk Awards, there is no hiding from The Levellers at the minute.
And despite picking up some new followers along the way - including yours truly – there will undoubtedly be some fans with tickets this time around who were there at the beginning. “I think there’ll be some people who haven’t seen us for 20 years, and hopefully there’ll be some new people too.” says Chadwick.
With the current socio-political situation undoubtedly a perfect environment for bands like the Levellers to once again rattle this nation’s eardrums, it’s no surprise to hear Chadwick’s promise that there’s a new album in the pipeline. “We’ve been working on it for the past six months. We’ll probably release some downloads for it during the tour,” he says.
It was Edwyn Collins who sang: “Too many protest singers, not enough protest songs”. It’s good to see there’s a band out there still determined to prove him wrong.