The Levellers “Celebrate”

Director Angus Giorgi, Paul Donnellon
Producer Sarah Wills
Commissioner: Jonathon Bunney
China Records


1994 saw the Levellers hit the peak of their popularity, when their appearance at the Glastonbury Festival attracted the biggest stagefront crowd that the event had ever seen. The Levellers and their friends had spent the morning flyering the crowds at Glastonbury to advertise their later show and, having already become favourites with independent music fans and travellers across the country, this tactic paid off when the crowds surged to the pyramid stage to see the band. Their performance of “One Way” was later included on a video of Glastonbury’s finest moments[2].

In 1994 the band purchased a derelict factory in Brighton, named the “Metway” after the factory’s original owners, and created a self contained headquarters. The buildings housed their offices, fan club, rehearsal area, a bar and a recording studio (initially equipped with gear bought from Tom Robinson). The move enabled the band to operate on their own terms as far as possible. Spare space was given over to other Brighton musicians and small craft businesses. Weekly anarchist newspaper SchNEWS also set up their office in the building.

“Hope Street”, the lead single from the Zeitgeist album, was the first product to come out of Metway. The album was released in September 1995 and charted at #2 in the week of its release. Buoyed by the initial success, manager Phil Nelson persuaded China Records to advertise the album on television and, unusually, the album reached #1 in its second week on the chart. The third single released from this album took the Levellers to their first Top of the Pops appearance, playing the tongue-in-cheek drinking anthem “Just the One” whilst dressed in tuxedos. “Just the One” was specially re-recorded for the single release with The Clash‘s legendary frontman and long-time Levellers hero, Joe Strummer guesting on honky tonk piano. It reached #12 in the UK.

The Levellers embarked on another tour of Europe and the UK towards the end of 1995, culminating in a one-off “Christmas Freakshow” at Sheffield Arena on 18 December. This was recorded by the BBC with eight songs being broadcast at a later date on Radio 1. The 1995 “Total Chaos” Tour came to an end on 7 February 1996 at Blackpool‘s Empress Ballroom with a show that was filmed for the video release, Headlights, White Lines, Black Tar Rivers (Best Live).

Every show on the 1995 tour had been recorded with a view to releasing a genuine “live” album with no studio overdubs. Sevink tasked himself with listening back to every moment recorded on tape, picking through them for the best performances of each song they’d played. The resulting album, Headlights, White Lines, Black Tar Rivers was released simultaneously with the video of the same name in August 1996. The album reached #13 in the UK album charts, and a less extensive UK tour was undertaken in September/October to support the record’s release.

The band returned to the studio through late 1996 and early 1997 when the album Mouth To Mouth was recorded. Their first gigs in several months coincided with the Labour Party‘s landslide general election victory on May 1, 1997; one being held at Manchester Academy, and a second at London’s Brixton Academy the following night. These gigs previewed several new songs, including “What a Beautiful Day”, which became the first single release from Mouth to Mouth and reached #13 on the UK chart.

Summer 1997 saw the band play at various festivals in the UK and Europe including a return to Glastonbury Festival, playing an afternoon slot on the Pyramid Stage. The album was finally released in August 1997 and entered the UK album chart at #5. The album spawned several more singles, “Celebrate”, “Dog Train” and “Too Real”, the last of which had an accompanying video directed by cult film director, Alex Cox.

One Way of Life: The Very Best of The Levellers was released in September 1998. The album was a traditional “greatest hits” package of the hit singles, with two new songs, “Shadow on the Sun” and “Bozos”. Additionally, “One Way” and “Carry Me” were re-recorded, and a re-mix of “Too Real” was included. A limited edition digipak format was released with an extra five-track CD of “acoustic” versions. A long and successful tour across the UK followed in November and December. However, the last two dates at Brixton Academy and the planned homecoming at Brighton Centre had to be pulled when Jon Sevink fell ill. These dates were re-scheduled for February 1999. The release of the greatest hits album was accompanied by a video collection of promos, also called One Way of Life: The Very Best of The Levellers, and the band’s official biography written by George Berger entitled Dance Before the Storm.