The Levellers + Seth Lakeman - Portsmouth Guildhall - December 2005

Images: ©2005 Stuart Leech -

by Armchair Anarchist

Seth Lakeman plays folk music. No, wait! Yes, I know the image that those words conjured up in your head – some curmudgeonly old bugger ranting on about cider or ‘the troubles’ in a bad accent over a battered acoustic. But Mr. Lakeman and friends give these clichés a thorough kick in the teeth. Oh, it’s folk and no mistake. Check out the liberal use of mandolin, fiddle, double-bass and bodhran (those Irish drum thingies). But this is folk performed with verve and energy - a sense of panache. Lakeman himself is very much the front man. He plays a variety of instruments throughout the set, has a powerful voice and great stage-presence. Plus that wild glint-in-the-eye that always strikes a spark under the big lights. And the music itself? Well, it helps to hear this sort of thing over a big pro PA rather than in a seedy pub’s back room through an old Tandy hi-fi. The lack of distortion or effects is liberating, letting the detail and craftsmanship of the music shine out. And the songs are excellent, laden with hooky dynamics, catchy choruses and some fine little riffs. It’s folk, but a rockish, almost doom-y folk that captivates and gets your foot tapping and your head nodding. You can even forgive the blistering fiddle solo - because it’s really, really excellent. And so to the headliners; a nostalgia trip for your humble reviewer this evening. The Levellers take to the stage looking distinctly middle-aged with a few beer bellies and bald patches. But right from the word ‘go’ they belt out the same righteous, cheery, fist-in-the-air music that has always been their trademark. And what a joy it is to watch a band who enjoy being on stage so much. Even after a month and a half of touring they’re still full of beans. They caper around the stage, belting out the tunes like men half their age. Not that they need to, mind. They could stop singing and let the crowd take over with ease. This is a die-hard audience who know every chord and lyric and aren’t ashamed to sing along to the entire set, comprising of the highlights of a fifteen year career. And no short shrift either; including encores they play nearly ninety minutes of music. Bass-man Jeremy still has his mop of waist-length dreads that he waves about with abandon. Jon the fiddler still does his turning-circles-on-the-spot thing. Mark and Simon up front, although a little tidier these days, are still the cheery front men-with-a-message. It’s probably fair to say they’re not quite so ‘right-on’ as they used to be. After all it’s a strange combination to still be flogging shirts with the anarchy symbol on them and playing venues like this for around £15 a ticket. But they still do best what they have always done; brash rabble-rousing singa-long-class-war folk-rock. The audience, like the band, have matured and mellowed but still howl and stomp like fiends all through the show. It would be nice to think that they will carry on for another fifteen years – because if we don’t need music with a message at the moment, we’ve never needed it at all.