Mark Chadwick (The Levellers)

Mark Chadwick: ‘The definitive Levellers is the live Levellers’

On the eve of the release of their Greatest Hits package, Shire Folk spoke to lead singer of The Levellers, Mark Chadwick, about politics, surviving the music industry for 25 years and being a cottage industry.



SF: Loving the Greatest Hits album. I didn’t realise how many songs I knew!

MC: That’s a good thing – I like that.

SF: This is a 25-year retrospective. What do you think your younger self would think of you and The Levellers now?

MC: He’d be gobsmacked that I was still able to do it, still going and still operating, probably on a bigger scale than we ever thought we’d be able to do. We started off as a cottage industry, all round a kitchen table, printing T-shirts and doing our own posters, stuff like that. It’s on a bigger scale now, owning our studio. It feels right. I’m pretty pleased really.

SF: Your festival [Beautiful Days] has really taken off and it’s widely recognised as one of the best and friendliest to go to. You must be really pleased with that?

MC: Yeah, we’re really pleased with it. It represents what the band is for three days. We just hope people enjoy themselves and see what we’re really about.

SF: What do you think your younger self would think of the lack of social and political improvement over that time?

MC: It’s one step forward, two steps back, it really is. Nothing’s improved. At the same time Brighton has got a Green council and things have changed a little bit. We still sing about what we sing about because things haven’t changed that much. The situations we were aware of at the end of the eighties are very similar to the situations in the world right now.

SF: The alternative lifestyle you’ve advocated seems increasingly attractive as a way of opting out.

MC: It does. It’s a difficult thing to do, but not many young people are taking it up as an option. I don’t see it happening.

SF: The other thing that struck me about the Greatest Hits is the breadth of styles on display.

MC: We’re all massive music fans, everything goes in a melting pot really. We’ve got the reputation for the fiddle, but sometimes the fiddle can be quite orchestral, sometimes it can be quite heavy.

SF: Do you think there’s a definitive Levellers sound?

MC: Not really. I think the definitive Levellers sound is the live Levellers sound.

SF: So do you think ‘Exodus’ is the best representation of you on the album then?

MC: No, probably ‘Carry Me’.

SF: It’s a strong ‘singles’ set. Do you see yourself as a ‘singles’ band or is it about ‘the album’?

MC: It’s about the album. We’re very album aware. These days it’s almost pointless, but we’ll continue in this vein. We put together this Greatest Hits ourselves. We did it, we directed the whole thing. The record company were going to put it out, but we said please don’t, we don’t want a ‘greatest hits’. So they said what if you do it? We said, OK, if we can do it, then we’ll do it. So we remixed some of it, recorded some new songs, remastered it as well. If you’re going to do it, do it properly.

SF: How did the re-recorded versions come about?

MC: To be honest it’s lost in the mists of time already. We’re not sure how it came about. It came from conversations with other artists. They said – we love that song, so we said why don’t you come and record it with us, and they did. So we thought, we’re going to ask some more people to do this with us.

SF: You’ve put the Billy Bragg and Bellowhead collaborations out as singles. Are they just tasters for the album or do you think they have legs as singles?

MC: Who knows? I’ve never known what’s going to work or not or how people are going to receive it. Music’s so strange. You can hate something and then grow to love it. All art requires work on behalf of the recipient as well as the artist. You have to appreciate what’s happening there.

Jonathan Roscoe