As I’ve already mentioned a million times in posts for this series, I was an avid, perhaps even rabid watcher of MuchMusic’s CityLimits on Friday nights. On one of those nights, the host at the time, Simon Evans, introduced the next video up as one by the Levellers, likening them to The Wonder Stuff, and then, played “One way”. Hearing the comparison to my undisputed favourite band in those days, I got up to press the “Play” and “Record” buttons on the VCR to be able to watch the video again later. And so started my love affair with the Levellers.
On the back of that one video and the countless times I rewound and rewatched it, I went out to purchase “Levelling the land” in short order and that cassette spent a lot more time being shuffled between my Walkman and my bedroom stereo than it did in its case. Little did I know in those days before the internet that this was the group’s second album, that they had formed three years earlier, and that they had already amassed a cult following of ‘travellers’ that travelled (for want of a better verb) with them all across England to attend their shows. Their popularity grew further with this album and the next, 1993’s self-titled full-length, to the point that they were considered the biggest indie band in the country, culminating in a massive headline set at Glastonbury to an audience topping 300,000.
This was all unbeknownst to me, of course. For my part, I later purchased “Levellers” on CD and had procured tickets to see their Toronto stop on the tour in support of it but unfortunately, it wasn’t meant to be. Perhaps it was poor ticket sales or perhaps something else, but the show was cancelled and my $10 ticket refunded. I would finally get to see the band a number of years later, a decade after the release of “Levelling the land”, with my wife Victoria, whom I had, of course, indoctrinated to the album’s greatness. It was an acoustic show at Lee’s Palace, a mid-sized club venue and I particularly remember the guy behind me, probably from England, being so shocked at seeing the band play such a small venue, given how huge they were in their native country. That particular show has gone down as one of Victoria’s favourite shows, mostly due to the size, the intimate feel, the band’s energy, and the fact that she knew so many of the songs and could sing along with them.
“There’s only one way of life and that’s your own”
So “One way” was my introduction to the Levellers and to this day is likely still my favourite by the group. Does it sound like The Wonder Stuff? I guess… if I had to stretch things. It has that folk punk thing going for it, more punk than folk on this tune, especially when compared with other songs on the album. It has muscular bass and roaring guitars. It has funky drumming, popular around this time due to the acid house scene. It has screaming fiddles that play throughout, holding court, and pulling things all together. It has Mark Chadwick’s fresh-faced and jaded though hopeful vocals. It has the moral high ground and teen angst. And it has that anthemic chorus line that is filled with conviction and motivation.
Yeah, it’s great. Let’s rewind it and play it again.
For the rest of the Best tunes of 1991 list, click here.