Many big-name musical acts played Hastings Pier in the 60s and 70s and it’s great to see that spirit being evoked as the revived and refurbished pier plays host to bands like The Levellers. The big difference nowadays is that lacking a concert pavilion today’s events are more like mini-festivals, replete with wristbands, an outdoor stage, beer marquees and portable loos. But the pier is a fantastic open space and makes for a brilliant setting for a small but perfectly-formed festival.
Prior to the headliners taking the stage supporting acts are local band Matilda’s Scoundrels; the very Levellers-esque sounding folk-punk band Ferocious Dog; and Turin Brakes, who had some chart success in the early noughties and put me in mind of bands like Travis.
The Levellers are clearly the band that everyone has come to see, though, and the crowd has swelled significantly by the time they take the stage. It’s twenty five years since their seminal album Levelling The Land was released. It took the band from niche performers on the festival and protest circuit to the Top 20 and the main stage at Glastonbury. Tonight, and in a subsequent Autumn tour, they are performing the album in full. As on the album the set starts with One Way (“there’s only one way of life and that’s your own, your own your own..”) When it came out, at a time of road protests, demonisation of travellers and a growing authoritarianism in policing and criminal justice, it instantly became the anthem for anyone who didn’t want to conform. And judging by the way it’s received tonight those words still mean an awful lot to people.
Levelling The Land is not only the band’s most famous album, it’s a good showcase for the different sounds and influences that have defined the Levellers; bringing together their reflective folky side (with acoustic ballads like The Boatman) and their more raucous punky side (with tracks like Liberty Song), mixed in with some perfectly crafted slices of early 90s indie pop (like Sell Out). After performing the album in full the band rattle through a number of other musical highlights from the Levellers career, eventually encoring with a glorious What a Beautiful Day.
Musically, the band are still in very good shape. Lyrically, there’s even more in the world to get angry about than there was twenty five years ago. So a Levellers show today: still artistically and politically relevant in post-Brexit, austerity Britain or nostalgia for great songs in troubled but simpler times? In all truth it’s probably a mixture of both but there’s no harm in that.