[sic] Magazine

The Levellers/Amsterdam live at St Helens Eclectica Festival

Reviewer: Gary Stanton

An ambulance and a police car pull up outside The Counting House pub where drinkers are sheltering from Britain’s new rainy season under inadequate parasols. People eye each other nervously and wait for someone to be stretchered out. After some minutes, it dawns on us that it’s standard policy for pubs in St. Helens to have their own squad car and ambulance on standby, in the likely event that things get out of control. We are here for one of the highlights of the social calendar, the St. Helens Eclectica festival – a sure rival to the likes of Reading, Glastonbury and that one near Basingstoke. The Levellers (on later) exit the pub and wander off in the direction of the nearest McDonalds. Coincidence?

Picture Amsterdam. What do you think of? Derelict barges chugging lazily down the Grachten. Kamikaze blondes on rickety bicycles. A chance encounter with Ian Hislop in the Rijksmuseum. An uncertain eighteen year-old from Wigan splashing his ejaculate onto the weighty breasts of a Nigerian sex-worker before collapsing in tears of self-loathing.
A city of romance.

Wrong. Amsterdam are a highly esteemed band from nearby Liverpool. Their Myspace page states that they are responsible for bringing the great John Peel to tears twice on air. Good tears or bad tears, it doesn’t say which. ‘Does This Train stop on Merseyside?’ with its reference to Hillsborough might have been to blame. It’s something of an anthem for the band. And there’s no shortage of these. ‘Home’ and ‘Arm in Arm’ see the band at their best, mixing Celtic violins with an assured Pete Wylie-style vocal. Whether you “get” Amsterdam will depend on how you like your folk rock. If you prefer the harder-edged punk sensibilities of The Levellers you are unlikely to find what you’re looking for here, perhaps even labeling them as bland. There can be no disputing Ian Prowse’s songwriting talent, however. These tunes are highly contagious. I would liken them to aural Chlamydia. You don’t notice anything at first but then you realise something is up. Slowly, they become a part of you. Added to that, there’s a burning sensation when you urinate, although that’s probably due to the genuine article as I didn’t finish the last course of antibiotics.

The crowd has yet to be swelled by The Levellers traveling (new model) army. The police still outnumber the punters. As yet, there’s no sign of MTV. (Zane Lowe is probably stuck in traffic). And so we wait. It rains. It rains again. A police horse defecates in Victoria Square. Toilet facilities are minimal.

And so to The Levellers. To quote Gerry Adams: “They haven’t gone away you know”. Adams, of course, was referring to the Provisional IRA. The Levellers have traditionally posed less of a threat to the British mainland. It was lazily bandied around in the early nineties that Levellers fans had an aversion to soap. That non-conformism somehow went hand-in-hand with low standards in personal hygiene. Levellers fans ate babies, smoked cheap cigarettes, refused to do an honest day’s work, knew the exact location of UK ley lines and invested heavily in The Occult and bankrupt New Age mysticism, it was said. Unfair clichés. I search in vain for the legendary dog on a piece of string, although I’m aware that a good many of the canines have since passed on, either through malnutrition or, in some cases, old age. Watching the Levellers is one of those things you should do before you die, although if your breathing is becoming irregular and you’re hooked up to various wires, I’d probably leave it. We are treated to a fast-paced tour of the Greatest Hits including the favourite ‘One Way’. Due to a childhood middle ear infection I lost forty percent of hearing on my left side. Consequently, I took the hauptlyric (nice hmmm?) to be “There’s only one way of life and that’s Jerome’s ” Who is this Jerome guy? I wondered. He sounds like the sort of cat who really has a handle on things. Similarly, Midge Ure’s smash hit “Danzig with tears in my eyes” proved ultimately to have nothing to do with a traumatic day trip to a sea port on the Baltic. You might think The Levellers have had their Place In The Sun, but this is an awesome live band whose devoted followers are repaid each time with energetic, passionate performances and a pogo-ing fiddler who’d force Newton to have a rethink.

As ever with the Levellers, the politics are worth a mention. “Burn America Burn” T-shirts are available from a stand at the back. I decide not to purchase one on this occasion as my Uncle George and his wife Madeline are due to visit from California and I don’t want to come across as an unwelcoming host. Or a twat. Indeed, the last time they made a whistle-stop tour of the UK, they took time out to attend my father’s funeral when they could have been having a much better time at the Chester Races. As it was they were forced to watch as I wrestled with the pall bearers and attempted (unsuccessfully) to retrieve the coffin from the conveyor belt before pounding my fists against the cold, unforgiving floor of the chapel until they bled. Grief can affect people in various ways, apparently. Waving goodbye to them at the airport wasn’t easy with swollen eyes and heavily bandaged hands, looking like I’d gone five rounds with Christopher Ewbank on PCP, his rage compounded by having mislaid his golden-handled cane on public transport. That’s exactly how I looked. As it turned out, the pinpricks I had left for eye-slots were so badly obscured that I’d actually bid farewell to a couple of similar build from the Ukraine, who were becoming agitated by my constant attention to the point where they contacted airport security and had me forcibly removed from the concourse. There is indeed only one way of life and it’s best not conducted from the inside of a police cell.

Jerome would back me up on this.