The Levellers, The Selecter - Shepherd's Bush Empire, London
The 7” split single from Coventry’s The Special AKA and The Selecter heralded the start of the late 70s Two Tone revival. The 45 featuring ‘Gangsters' and ‘The Selecter’ landed both bands their first top ten hit in the UK, with each act becoming firm friends with the British charts for the next couple of years.
The Selecter released a run of singles and two albums, including the top 5, gold selling Too Much Pressure, before calling it a day in 1982. The band have reformed on a few occasions over the years with various line ups, with the current incarnation fronted by original vocalists Pauline Black and Arthur ‘Gaps’ Hendrickson.
I had viewed a short but storming Selecter set at Rewind Scotland back in the Summer so hoped they'd play another blinder down the Bush and didn't come away disappointed, with the band treating the audience to an impressive performance, including renditions of 'Missing Words', 'Three Minute Hero', and the group's biggest single - 'On My Radio'. One of the highlights from the night was a track pulled from 2011 album Made In Britain, entitled 'Fuck Art Let's Dance', with the song's sentiment taken up by a large part of the crowd throughout Selecter's support slot.
Their Shepherd's Bush stint made me crave a longer set and I may get the opportunity in 2015, as the group are touring the UK throughout February and March.
With a career spanning over 25 years it seems the time is right for a celebration of The Levellers' music, with the release of their recent Greatest Hits package, a double CD collection, with an additional DVD featuring the band’s videos. The compilation pulls tracks from all stages of the band’s career, up to 2012’s Static On The Airwaves album, with the main focus point on the group’s songs from the 90s, including a string of Top 20 singles, many of which were on display at the Empire.
The Brighton based bunch have also included their recent recording of 'Beautiful Day', with vocals from Imelda May on the collection and it was that track, minus the rockabilly rebel, that kicked off proceedings.
I think I last saw the band perform around the time of their second album - Levelling The Land, so 1991 or thereabouts. I kept an eye on their output throughout the 90s, especially as they even showed up on Top Of The Pops on occasion, but hadn't kept tabs on the band since then, bar knowing that they put on their regular Beautiful Days Festival every year, an event they've been organising since 2002. It was actually vocalist Mark Chadwick's appearance on Channel 5's daytime talk show The Wright Stuff that got me investigating the band and their music again, with the London date of their "Greatest Hits" tour part of my re-education.
As a fan of the folk rockers' first two albums I was happy to see a large portion of the set focusing on tracks like 'Carry Me', 'World Freak Show' 'Far From Home' and 'Liberty, especially as they were terrific renditions, but the song that really made an impression was 'One Way', as the crowd just exploded when it kicked in. Although the original release failed to nudge its way into the top 50 it was still a huge club track at the time and obviously still meant a lot to the fans attending.
After shooting my allocated three songs from the photo pit I headed up to the balcony to take in the rest of the set, bedazzled by the magnificent light show the band had put in place for the performance, with lots of lasers, neon lights and confetti cannons the order of the day! It worked extremely well, especially the neon effect during the appearance of hyperactive didgeridoo player Stephen Boakes, who took to the stage to help with 'The Garden" and the previously mentioned 'One Way'.
In addition to the earlier mentioned songs, stand outs included '15 Years', 'Hope Street" and a fantastic encore, that included 'Riverflow' and the band's renowned rendition of the Charlie Daniels Band country classic - 'The Devil Went Down To Georgia'. It's been a staple in the band's set for many a year and their ferocious rendition, alongside a pummelling 'Riverflow', had the crowd on their feet, dancing away, from the front of the stage to the back of the balcony, ending a fantastic evening with a bang.