The UK music scene of 1991 was an odd place. The mainstream charts were clogged with awful mainstream records, the indie scene was petering out and those in the know were looking across the Atlantic. Into this world came The Levellers, a group of musical and social outsiders who were about to release their second album. No-one beyond their circle expected much, certainly not that it would propel them into those very mainstream charts within a couple of years.
As the band prepare to bring the 20th Anniversary tour of Levelling The Land to Dublin, State spoke to Mark Chadwick about the album…
Was it a hard record to make, typical ‘difficult second album’ stuff?
Not at all. Simon (Friend) joined the band with a bunch of songs and we’d written half of it as well. We’d been touring the songs for a long time too so when we got to record it, that took no time at all. That’s a luxury that not many bands get on a second album, they get put in a studio and told to write some songs. We were able to avoid that.
Lyrically, it was very much a document of the times…
It chimed with the times definitely but I don’t think it’s dated particularly. The sound quality may have done but the subject matter is still relevant. Things are probably worse now than they were then.
The audiences you played too in the early days were very much drawn from the disaffected elements of society weren’t they?
That was our background. We came from the eighties and were washed up on the tide of unemployables. We didn’t think any differently about it, that’s just the way it was. The record wasn’t overtly political, it was a comment on politics and how it affected us.
Was the commercial success of the record a surprise?
It wasn’t really a success in those terms, it was a weird one. It sold a lot of copies, it went platinum, but it never charted. It sold be word of mouth, there was no massive campaign behind it, it just went from travellers to festival goers and the rest. ‘One Way’ wasn’t a hit, which you thought it might have done. The whole thing was most unlikely. In 1992 it went massive, everybody was wearing Levellers t-shirts – which was strange. We got a little bit of the sell out stuff but people said we’d sold out when we made our first vinyl single.
Your relationship with the UK music press wasn’t the happiest of ones…
That was based around the fact that we weren’t of their creation. At the time that was very much their bag and the fact that we came up from behind and became popular really pissed them off. We didn’t want anything to do with them which annoyed them even more. Unfortunately now they’re all really big players in various newspapers and the like, so it came back to bite us somewhat.
The self-titled album that followed Levelling The Land was a lot darker affair. Was that a reaction?
That was almost our difficult second record, but it went to number one. It was born of adversity, suddenly finding yourself in a very successful band and it coming as a shock. Did we deal with it well? Not really but we managed to maintain our integrity and stay together. At the time it was pretty touch and go.
The Levellers play The Academy, Dublin on Thursday 3rd March.