You have to hand it to Nottingham music fans, many have turned out early to give little known opening act She Makes War a sizable audience to play to. In return they are rewarded with a brief but memorable set notable for its use of live sampling, something I’ve not seen used to this degree of success before. This solo act is a far cry from the run of the mill girl with guitar routines doing the rounds at the moment, here we have a genuine multi instrumentalist with a flare for folk art and digital enhancement thrown in. Watching someone effectively accompany herself on stage thanks to modern technology while at the same time performing music that has its roots in simpler times is truly quite profound. With an exquisite vocal and affable confidence She Makes War easily win the battle of opening act versus new crowd skepticism.
I can remember The Selecter from my youthful past when they were a regular feature of Top Of The Pops and daytime radio. Seeing that they were supporting The Levellers tonight made me wonder if I was going to be in for a reality check on the aging process, or the realisation that maturity has no boundaries. As it turns out it was the latter, with whistles and bells on. Put simply The Selecter are as good (if not better) than they were decades ago. They never miss a beat throughout their breathtakingly energetic set with front woman Pauline Black showing she still has that rude girl style to go with a fine set of pipes.
Irrelevant to the music but it also has to be said that time has looked favourably on Black appearance wise too, it’s almost as if someone has transported her through time from twenty odd years ago. Amazing! Much the same could be said for her co-vox Arthur ‘Gaps’ Hendrickson who bounces around the stage like a new born lamb. It might seem an odd choice putting a veteran ska band on with a bunch of old crusties but in reality it works because the music is fantastic. Of course the high point is their hit ‘On My Radio’ but in reality this is a show with no low points at all, just plenty of fun.
Considering how many big name bands play Rock City and fail to fill this famous venue it’s a tribute to both The Levellers durability and their adoring fans that tonight is very close to a sell out. It’s worth pointing out that the majority of those fans seem to be at the younger end of the age spectrum too which is a pleasant surprise to me. The crammed venue soon turns into a sweat box of dancing and excitement as hit after hit are wheeled out to ever increasing levels of enthusiasm.
We do get a few newer songs but for the most part this is a greatest hits party hosted by one of the most original bands the UK has ever produced. In fact I don’t think any other country on earth could have come up with The Levellers, they are a quintessentially typical quirky British product. Maybe that’s why so many people love this band so much. Early on ’15 Years’ tugs at the heart strings, later ‘One Way’ leads the rallying cry of the disaffected masses and ‘World Freakshow’ candidly asks who are the real freaks? The crowd go mental to a stirring rendition of ‘The Devil Went Down To Georgia’ led by the effervescent fiddle work of Jon Sevink.
As with The Selecter’s Pauline Black earlier you have to give huge credit to frontman Mark Chadwick for his sublimely youthful vocals. Close your eyes and you could easily be back in the early nineties again. Second encore ‘Riverflow’ pretty much brings the house down and it takes some time and the house lights for people to realise that this superb night has come to an end.
Gigs don’t come much better than this; I genuinely can’t find fault with anything I saw on stage and the sound and light was top quality all night. Yes, things got a bit overly hot and sticky, and yes the bar was a touch on the pricey side (show me a larger venue that isn’t) but aside from what are normal realities of most shows today this was about as good as it gets. Tonight we’ve seen in She Makes War an act with a bright future and in The Selecter and The Levellers two masters of music still at the top of their game. When you go to a gig and even the security guys are gyrating around to the music and smiling then you know you’ve been to something a bit special.
Review & Photos: Gary Trueman