15th March 2011

This year the Levellers celebrate the 20th Anniversary of their ground breaking difficult second album ‘Levelling The Land’. To celebrate this the band are on tour of the UK playing the whole album each night to largely “Sold Out” venues. Rock Regeneration were invited to join the band backstage at the Southampton Guildhall to have a chat with the band’s multi talented spokesperson and bass player Jeremy Cunningham.

Chinners The band are celebrating the 20th Anniversary of ‘Levelling the Land’ this year, did you expect when you recorded it the band would still be successful 20 years later?

Jeremy Sometimes it seems like 40 years others it seems like 2, it is a question that comes up a lot. At the time we did not really consider we’d be here in 20 years, but we didn’t consider we wouldn’t be either, we knew we were in for the long haul and we just wanted to write a good record for the time. We had written a lot of it before we had finished the 1st album ‘Weapon Called the World’ and had been playing them live for 6 months in various different form, when it was released our audience already new half the songs.

Chinners It’s not a bad album considering it was that difficult 2nd album

Jeremy No we had a difficult 3rd album

Chinners It is one of those albums the virtually everyone has in their collection

Jeremy I go round people houses that I don’t really know that well and you look through their record collection and most time it is there. It is certainly the best album we have made and ‘Letter To the Underground ‘ is the return to form. We made a couple of albums that we were not really happy with ‘Truth and Lies’ and ‘Green Blade Rising’, for various reason mainly lyrics we did not think that they were cutting it, they were slow records and we found that we were drifting into middle age. When we were playing these songs live we were playing more of the old stuff which was fasted to keep the momentum going. We sat down and just said we need to write some fast songs, we had a manifesto and songs like ‘Cholera Well’ which we can play live. The lyrics needed to be about what’s happening now the same as ‘Levelling the Land’, to give it the long game, a chorus that could be sung about any time, like ‘Cholera Well’ is about Sudan but could have been about Ethiopia 25 years ago and no doubt will be about places/times in the future. That was the 1st song we wrote for that record. We knew it was going to be alright just three chords, sometime the simplest are the best.

Chinners I was at the Bournemouth gig last week, what inspired you to show the thought provoking film before the band take to the stage?

Jeremy That night I fell over flat on my face at the start of ‘Liberty’, everyone was jumping around and did not see it……I tripped over Mark’s guitar lead and was flat on my back, I smashed my head open on the drum riser there was blood everywhere. I did not have a clue where I was for that whole song, luckily I know that song really well. With the film we wanted to make something that made people angry, when the politicians came on screen their were boos for Maggie Thatcher and even bigger boos for David Cameron. You should have heard it in Glasgow last week, we had the idea quite a long time ago that we wanted to do like an intro film showing events that inspired ‘Levelling the Land’ and everything that has happened in the last 20 years, when all the students started rioting the end of last year, we thought that we need to make a film that will want make people get up and do stuff. A friend of ours called Dunstan who used to be the singer in Chumbawamba was following us about on the last tour making those blog type mini films. We told him what we wanted and asked him to make us this film, we all chucked in ideas, so him and his business partner cut the film as you see it now. The speech in it is from an old 70’s film called ‘Network’, we have used it on intro tapes before, it is so ridiculously relevant. The film ends with new footage of what is happening in Egypt and Algeria, so that band coming on stage is like the celebration after the riots. We were worried that it might be a bit too long, but it is all working out well at about 7 minutes long. We just wanted to rev people up a bit and make them think, just to remind them what has happened. The expectation amongst the audience is high as they already know the album and wanted to make sure that we could deliver on every level, we have been pretty hard on ourselves to keep the show as good as we possibly can get it.

Chinners The Levellers seem to be on the road for a large proportion of each year, how do you make sure all your performances and fresh. Does it ever get hard to get up on stage to play a gig?

Jeremy It can be , but as soon as you get up on stage and see all those people in the crowd screaming and shouting, that just give you what you need. We rotate songs as well, so if we are bored of them or don like then we don’t play them. We sometimes pick something out of the back catalogue if it is relevant of what is going on at the time. The set list for this tour was very easy as we are playing the whole album as well of a few B-sides, with a few extras for the encores such as ‘Hope Street’, ‘Beautiful Day’ and we put in ‘Cholera Well’ as it always goes down well even if people don’t know it.

Chinners Over there years there have been a whole host of great alternative support bands such as Hobo Jones and The Junkyard Dogs, Pama International, Dan Donnelly, Divokej Bill, Frank Turner , and many more, they have not necessarily had the same genre as yourselves, does the band decide who comes on tour with them?

Jeremy We normally get bands recommended to us by or mangers and friends. What I like are bands when black and white guys play together in a multi cultural way, as our audience is predominately white.

Chinners To tour with the Wonder Stuff seems like an excellent combination, how did this all come about?

Jeremy When we decided to do this tour, we wanted to get the best band we could get from around that era that were still together. The Wonder Stuff were the first band we thought of, they have done our festival a few times, we were not sure if they would do it as they don’t usually open up for other bands, so we just went fuck it we will just ask them and they said yes straight away. So that was that sorted job done!!

Chinners Virtually all nights of this tour are Sold Out, how does that make you feel in times like these that people are willing to spent their money on you ?

Jeremy All nights are sold out, which is just brilliant, it could not be much better for us. We always seem to do well in a recession, when we first started moving up the greasy pole in the late 80’s and early 90’s we were in the middle of a recession then. I think people can come along and have a really good time, at the same time we are telling them about their lives, things they know already, things they might not know. An experience where they can let their hair down without giving a fuck about anything. Our audience know that we are on the same level. We have surprised a lot of people within the music industry, it sold out much quicker that any one expected it to.

Chinners Do the Levellers have any future goals?

Jeremy The ambition at the moment is just to keep it together, to make another great record which was have already written about half of, as far as gigs I think we have pretty much done it all. we just need to keep up the momentum with the quality, keep doing what we do. With the new record we started from ground zero like we did with ‘A Weapon called the word’

Chinners Do have any details about the next record?

Jeremy It is contemporary stuff with story telling, it is a bit more acoustic, not quite as heavy as ‘Letters From The Underground’, it has it’s moments. It is a little bit lighter musically and darker lyrically. It is going to be quite a grown up record, we need to find a way of making the young man’s music relevant to us. It is not so critical now if people don’t buy the records as we make a lot more money out of touring, we give some of our music away as free downloads on the website. We just hope we make a really good record and people will like it. we have a working title of ‘Declaration’ and a song on it called ‘After the Hurricane’.

Chinners Mark Chadwick released a solo album out last year called ‘All the Pieces’, do you or any other members have any plans to record any solo material?

Jeremy No I produce stuff, I am not interested in solo work, I am too busy doing all the artwork, which I have done for every album and I am more than happy writing for the Levellers. I am the visual ambassador for the band.

Chinners Thank you so much for all your time today, I really appreciate you giving this interview for us.

Jeremy It has been good talking to you to Thank you .




Dave Chinery(Chinners)

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