Levellers fight censorship
Politics has rotated around the rock 'n' roll music world since Elvis' pelvis was first censored by the Ed Sullivan Show. Through the "Make Love, Not War" slogans of the Hippies, to the shocking and politically-inspired lyrics of the Clash and Jello Biafra, Rock 'n' Roll has often taken up both cause and controversy. In such a tradition, the Celtic, and the Levellers, now infuse their music with political incites and excitement.
Currently in Great Britain, bands of various musical genres now protest the government's move to criminalize such rights as freedom of assembly and the right not to incriminate oneself; rights that Americans take for granted. Titled "The Criminal Justice and Public Order Act of 1994," this Parliamentary bill would outlaw free festivals, raves and peaceful demonstrations throughout the United Kingdom. The bill targets the "traveling" lifestyle; a mobile gypsy-like existence that thousands of young Britons have adopted, including the Levellers.
The Levellers used their medium to get such a message out to the young audience, which such a bill would affect. Luckily for those opposing the bill, the Levellers reach out, not only to the U.K.'s kids, but increasingly to those of Europe and the United States as well. Last year, they toured continuously, racking up over two hundred shows.
Stylistically, the band looks to the roots of English and Irish punk rock, as well as to country-blues and traditional rock rhythms. Songs such as "100 Years of Solitude" combine fast acoustics and electric guitars, the Pogues' use of violin and "ska"-ish horns. The undercurrents of a rave's drum machines and synthesizers are also heard in their songs, especially "This Garden."
"The Likes of You and I" powerfully makes their political point: "Take the rope from around your neck, take the blindfold from your eyes." The sounds of this song; the vocals, harmonica, acoustic guitars, bass and especially violin, never compete with one another, but combine and flow together, each amplifying the other.
Even with slower songs such as "Julie," the band beautifully plumbs the powerful uncertainties of a teenager's life and questions. What has been conveniently labeled "Teen Angst" in America can still move you, especially when the song is carried off on a riff of bagpipes, violin and guitar.
Their album, simply titled the "Levellers," quickly flew up the English charts. And this summer they hit the United States as part of the world music festival known as WOMAD. There, the group joined with such politically active and diverse bands as Midnight Oil and Peter Gabriel. WOMAD was held near D.C. at the Meriweather Post Pavilion in July.
During their performance at WOMAD, the Levellers quickly brought the crowd into a fierce mosh, yet the feeling of the pit was excitement, goodwill and fun. The Levellers in their live performances, as well as on the album, create a feeling of hope which results from the joy that music and independent living provide. The Levellers are not going to let the British government needlessly hamper their freedoms. Fun, fast and complex, the group's music and cause deserve much attention.