Levellers frontman reveals an unexpected and assured solo debut.
Alix Buscovic 2010
It’s been two decades since hordes of disaffected teens first ran out in their DMs, silver chains and dyed hair flying, to buy a slice of The Levellers’ folk-punk idealism. The fans’ youthful belief that "there’s only one way of life" might have wavered as their boots were replaced by office shoes and their hair dye began to cover grey, but the band have never stopped packing out gigs, still chart and now even run a successful festival, Beautiful Days.
Lead singer Mark Chadwick’s debut solo album is an attempt to trace all those years, ‘pieces’ if you will, from his epiphany as a 16-year-old at the 1982 Elephant Fayre (the inspiration for Beautiful Days), in a kind of musical life story. However, don’t expect any juicy goss or a harrowing account of bassist Jeremy’s heroin addiction – this is strictly intro/retrospection of the troubled relationships/power of music kind, with tales of scary squats and a little political disillusion thrown in for good measure.
Proving there’s more to Chadwick than fiddle-filled stompers, it’s less focused on the punk rather than the folk side of his day job, with crossover artist de jour Seth Lakeman and Kate Rusby’s mucker Kathryn Roberts providing backing on acoustic laments and country-flecked choruses as well uproarious knees-ups.
Unsurprisingly, those songs closest to the Levs’ spirit – the sun-filled rabble-rouser of a title-track that looks back to Chadwick’s young anarchism; and the melting pot of Indians, which has a country soul, a crusty’s heart, an oom-pah beat and Roberts’ lilting Natalie Merchant-esque vocals – are standouts. But much of this album suits him. His bruised voice is the perfect foil to the stripped down and the poignant, adding pathos to Inevitable, a stark piano and guitar elegy to lost love, or to the wistful closer Whispers which begins almost imperceptibly and then builds to a swelling wave of strings. On The Great and the Dead, though, a low-key Dylan noodling about artistic inspiration which aspires to be profound, both his voice and his ambition are overstretched.
Chadwick’s debut is unexpected and assured, its disparate pieces (thanks in part to Seth’s brother Sean on production duty) deftly hung together. But it leaves you feeling what a shame it is that he’s hidden his penchant for anything beyond The Levellers’ template for so long. It’s time, perhaps, for that template to be redrawn.
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