18 December 2011
Brixton is a place that has changed a lot over the past twenty odd years. It feels very different now then when I lived (well squatted) there in the late eighties, at that time the riots had calmed down but there was still a sense of unease . It now feels less tense and has quite up-market café culture and some of the old dodgy pubs now seemed to have gone. But scratch the surface of the place and its past is still there just under its shiny new veneer. Somehow it seem quite apt that The Levellers would be celebrating twenty years of their album Levelling the Land here.
It had been along time since I had been to the Academy and I had forgotten how vast it was, a cavernous sloping room that seems to echo the further back you stand. I enter just as Back to the Planet take to the stage. This is the first time I’ve seen them since they have reformed and they seemed as joyous and wonderful as I remember them being from all those gigs in the early nineties (Deptford free festival anyone?). Fil’s vocals were crystal clear and glorious, her infectious stage presents getting the crowd moving. They power-housed their way through a set of old favourites that included “Misunderstood,” “Teenage Turtles” and the wonderful “Daydream,” and the band seeming to enjoy every minute of it. I could have easily have watched them for the rest of the evening as a stupid grin of nostalgia crept across my face at hearing these songs live again after all these years. Hopefully they will be playing more shows next year if so make sure you catch their punk/reggae/psychedelic set as you won’t be disappointed.
I was looking forward to seeing Dreadzone play and their set contained many of their classic songs. However, it was soon obvious that whoever was doing their mixing that night left no real bottom end on the front of house speakers. So here we have a great band who play dub with no bass. I moved further back in case I was too near the front to get the aural assault in full, but unfortunately the Academy’s acoustics meant that some of the power of the songs was lost in a swirl of echo, which is a real shame as the musicianship was faultless. I hope to see them again at a venue that appreciates their sound more.
Levelling the Land album came out at important social time in Britain’s counter-cultural history. After Thatcher and the Conservative government smashing of the alternative culture at Stonehenge in 85 and The Criminal Justice Act being bought in to destroy and close down free festivals and raves, it felt like the state militia was gunning for anyone living an alternative lifestyle and to make criminals of them for the way they looked. Travellers and others disgusted with the system were beginning to re-group by the early 90s and many became anti-road activists and campaigners and a rebirth of the ‘fuck you’ spirit of punk mixed with the earth mother politics of the hippies once again began to flower. Levelling the Land was one of the most important albums of this movement as its anthems struck a chord with a disenfranchised generation.Tonight The Levellers begin their set with a film showing images from 85’s police crackdown of the Stonehenge free festival at the Battle of the Beanfield, inter-mixed with images of road protests etc. Here the band were setting out their stall for the rest of the show. The set proper starts with the anthemic “One Way” and moves at a pace from there. Classics like “The Road,” “Boatman” and “Battle of the Beanfield” are all played with exuberance and energy with none of the sound problems that dogged Dreadzone’s set in evidence. At times you could almost imagine the set being played in a field at free festival on a warm summer’s evening, a glass (or two) of cider in your hands. There were no fancy visuals other than the backdrop, just the songs played like it was the last few hours until the end of the world.
The last track of the evening was “Beautiful Day” which hd the crowd chanting before they shuffled out into the cold night air. Tonight The Levellers crossed that line between past and present to show how events from that past are still affecting things today and are still just as relevant and important. And the atmosphere of the past and present of Brixton seemed a little changed on my way back that night.