Sunday, 15 March 2015

REVIEW: 'A Curious Life' film screening and Levellers acoustic set - 07/03/2015, The Forum, Bath


On a busy Saturday night in the city centre of Bath, lots of people mostly over the age of 30 have gathered at The Forum, a wonderfully preserved Art Deco cinema built in the 1930's. Inside the auditorium, what looks like a full house takes their seats to watch 'A Curious Life', a film documenting the lives of UK folk-punk legends the Levellers


Directed by former Chumbawamba member Dunstan Bruce, it's more of an insight into the lives of the group rather than a comprehensive document of their career. Billed as a tale of "25 years of subsidised dysfunctionality", a lot of the band's story is told by the film's central character, the band's bassist/artist/archivist Jeremy Cunningham. As well as a highly entertaining appearance from Jeremy's proud parents, the film goes shopping with the bassist for vintage whiskey, and takes a look at their early years as part of the anarcho punk scene, their gradual self-built success, the impact of their classic 1991 album 'Levelling The Land', their triumphs at Glastonbury, as well as the band's notoriously volatile relationship with the music press. We also get a look inside The Metway, an old factory in Brighton that the band made into their own self-contained headquarters and recording space, plus a moving scene featuring guitarist Simon Friend starting a new life living on a barge following the deaths of his partner Jude and his mother.


With Jeremy discussing his highly destructive drug habits, the film turns its attention to how the band bounced back after going off the rails in the late 90s. While it doesn't profile their return to form with their recent albums, it does document their continued success on the live circuit and their increasingly successful, corporate-free 'Beautiful Days' festival which is held each year in Devon. Band members and associates explain the secrets behind the band's longevity, and frontman Mark Chadwick's anecdotes sum up the spirit of the group brilliantly. At just 78 minutes long, you get the feeling that more could have been explained about each album to make up a clearer account of the highs and lows, but 'A Curious Life' takes a different and far more intimate approach. However if you're looking for a full, in-depth history of the Levellers, THIS lengthy article I wrote last year does the job nicely.



Following a humourous and enlightening audience Q and A session with Bruce and Jeremy, the band appear for an acoustic set. Well, acoustic except for the presence of Matt Savage's keyboards. They begin with perfect renditions of 'The Boatman' and 'The Road', which inspire sections of the audience to leave their seats and dance their way to the front, to the displeasure of the limited amount of venue staff. Everyone is told to go back to their seats until later, and as it turns out, for good reason.


Admittedly, the seated venue isn't what I'm used to when watching the Levellers either. But unlike being packed in amongst a sweaty crowd, one can better appreciate the intricacies of the band's slower, more reflective material when seated comfortably in a setting like this. The subtle details of the magnificent early EP track 'Hard Fight' benefit from the increased degree of concentration between the audience and band, while a lovely 'Confess' proves that even under-par albums like 2005 'Truth And Lies' still had their stand out moments. Simon takes the microphone for the beautifully touching 'Alone In The Darkness', a song sandwiched between the elegant 'Edge Of The World' and the brutal drama of '61 Minutes Of Pleading', two numbers plucked from the unfairly dismissed 2000 "drug record" 'Hello Pig'. 'Elation', usually played solo by Simon as a fiery acoustic ballad, is instead performed exactly as it was on 1997's 'Mouth To Mouth', while 'After The Hurricane' demonstrates how the band have matured without losing any of their passion. A spellbinding 'Maid Of The River' reminds you that the 1995 number 1 album 'Zeitgeist' is now 20 years old, and begging to be played in full on an anniversary tour.



The pace is upped and the energy increased for a resonant blast through 'Barrel Of A Gun', which immediately tempts the crowd from their seats once again. And after a superb 'Truth Is', a riotous 'Dirty Davey' and an equally charged 'Burford Stomp', a large percentage of the seats are empty as the front of the stage fills up. The band reappear for a hugely enjoyable encore of 'Carry Me', before the frantic energy of 'What You Know''s climax sends the assembled crowd into a frenzy one last time.

Not the first memorable night I've enjoyed with the Levellers, and probably not the last, but certainly a different experience, and a rewarding one that really demonstrated their versatility.





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