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07 February 2004: Levellers + friends - The Opera House, Buxton, England, UK
What a great venue. The Levellers, acoustic and live at the Buxton Opera House, with friends. It started with "The Ballad of Robbie Jones", the Levellers sat ranged across the stage from left to right, Simon, Jon, Mark, Matt (complete with keyboard and Grand Piano) and then, at the back, Charlie and his drum kit, and a restrained and seated Jeremy (not jumping around manically tonight).
Next was an excellent "Carry Me" and then "Is This Art". The band sounded awesome, no other word for it. Mark then said, "Hope you are enjoying this, because this is what you've got for the next four hours." And then went on to ask everybody at the front to sit down, because he couldn't see anybody. They didn't.
"61 Minutes Of Pleading" was next up, Marks voice straining with the lack of a cigarette in this no smoking venue, and then announcing "Look, it's only water I've got tonight", but if you looked closely Jon had a pint of Guinness next to his chair.
An excellent "Lowlands of Holland" was greeted with fantastic applause, Matt looking the part on the Grand Piano, and then we were into "Edge of the World", after which the band left the stage, at least all but Simon did. Simon announced that he was going to sing a new song (which I think was called "Prisoner", but may not have been). This was great, the crowd listening to every chord and every lyric.
Simon was then joined on stage by the first of the special guests. This was Maddy Prior, one time (and apparently now rejoined) member of Steeleye Span. Maddy and Simon then sang "Cavalier" from Rev Hammers 1997 "Freeborn John" project. The rest of the band then reappeared on stage and Mark announced that Maddy would be singing "Julie" next, but that it was going to be in a different key. The song sounded fantastic with a female vocal, although a lot of it was drowned out by the crowd joining in, in the wrong key, Maddy struggling at times to be heard. She looked like she enjoyed it though, and we certainly did.
Next was the ever favourite "Another Man's Cause" and then the excellent "Galahad", one of the B-sides of the "Wild As Angels EP".
Somewhere during the breaks between the songs above, someone enthusiastically shouted for "Julie" and Mark asked the band members if anyone knew anyone called Julie. Quite funny at the time, but I suppose you had to be there.
"The Road" was next, and then we were introduced to the next guest. This turned out to be Nick Burbridge, founder member of McDermott's Two Hours. Nick wandered onto the stage, and the band launched into "The Boatman", Nick adding another dimension to an already excellent song. Nick then did a little solo poem to the tune of "In an English Country Garden", which went something like this;
"How Many Bastards Make Their Buck, In An English Country Garden, I'll Tell You Now Of Some That I know, And Those I Miss You'll Surely Pardon, Politicians And Industrialists, Bankers, Bent Scientists, Chief Constables, Generals, All Their Gentry And Their Brats, We'll Dance On The Wall When The Bastards, Fall In An English Country Garden."
Then we were treated to The Levellers playing "Dirty Davey" with the author of the song on lead vocals. It sounded brilliant. Nick then left the stage, but this was not the last I was to see of him, as at Breakfast, in the excellent little hotel we were staying at (The Westminster Hotel), the next morning, was one Mr Nick Burbridge and family, looking all relaxed and a bit tired, but happy. Hope you had a safe journey back to Brighton Nick!
Mark now said that they were going to take a break and then come back for the second half and we dashed off to get some drinks.
During the break, the bouncers moved in to try and stop some peeps from smoking and evicted one chap for arguing. He wasn't best pleased, but there you go.
The band returned to the stage and Mark implored everyone not to smoke and to sit down, because, he said, they wanted to play more of this type of venue in the future. This stopped people smoking (for a bit at least) but nobody seemed to sit down. He also informed us that there was four foot of snow outside and we were trapped in the building with the Levellers. If only.
The second half started with the, by now crowd favourite, "Four Winds" and then "Men and Tol", with Simon on vocal, after which the Levellers were joined by Rev Hammer, sporting a Stetson and a big smile. The band launched into Rev's "Caledonia Rain", followed by an excellent "Old Welsh Soul" and "Punchdrunk". All good stuff!
Mr Nick Harper then joined the band and Rev on stage to do the lead vocal on "Hope Street". I was quite impressed with this, as having seen Nick before, I'd been left wondering what all the fuss was about. I thought he pulled "Hope Street" off really well and certainly didn't disappoint. "Hope Street" was followed by "Not in My Name" (with Nick still onstage), a song that I am not too familiar with, but which was still very enjoyable.
Somewhere in the middle of all this someone shouted something from down the front and Mark and Simon got up, hoisted them up by what looked like the neck and shoved them into the hands of a bouncer. Don't know what that was all about, but they were both out of their seats pretty quickly.
We were by now starting to get towards the end of the evening and were treated, in the run up to the encore, to "What A Beautiful Day", the drinking song "Just the One" and then the band sped it up for Rev's "Burford Stomp" (at which point the crowd went wild) and then ended on "Riverflow". Phew!
I missed some of "One Way" as I was helping one of the camera men filming the gig to change his tape (which he couldn't see whether had run out or not), but it sounded as good as ever, and was followed by the excellent "Down by the River 'O'", Rev, Mark and the rest of the band giving it everything. Towards the end of the song they slowed it down and Mark sang "and I was born by the River", and then looked at Rev, who was giving him a "What are you doing?" kind of look, and sang back "and so was I" at which point they both cracked up laughing and sped the song up again to the finish. Just shows how much they were enjoying themselves. A very drunk looking chap in a snorkel coat got onto the stage and looked like he was having a great time dancing during "Down by the River 'O'", but he didn't last long before he was bounced towards the back door.
Encore two was the classic ending of "Wake the World", Mark looking a little lost without his customary cigarette, but still giving it everything and everyone in the house was singing along. A perfect ending.
The band then left the stage to a standing ovation, which was all they deserved. Charlie standing on his drum riser, waving away, Jon bowing and Jeremy jumping up and down behind Mark (I couldn't see Matt at this point).
It wasn't four hours, but it wasn't far off and I certainly haven't any complaints and would be there again tomorrow, given half a chance. An excellent gig from an excellent band, with great friends! And it was sold out!
We all left the venue to try and stand up in about two inches of gradually melting snow. We weren't trapped after all. Dam!
Full set list:
The Ballad of Robbie Jones / Carry Me / Is This Art / 61 Minutes of Pleading / The Lowlands of Holland / Edge of the World / Prisoner (Simon solo) / Cavalier (Simon and Maddy Prior) / Julie (Full band with Maddy Prior vocal) / Another Mans Cause / Galahad / The Road / The Boatman ( with Nick Burbridge) / Nick's Poem / Dirty Davey (Vocal Nick Burbridge)
Four Winds / Men and Tol / Caledonian Rain (for this and all the remaining songs the Levellers were joined by Rev Hammer) / Old Welsh Soul / Punchdrunk / Hope Street (Nick Harper vocal) / Not in my name / What a Beautiful day / Just The One Burford Stomp / Riverflow
One way / Down by the River 'O'
Wake the world
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