CD Review: Levellers: Static on the Airwaves
Crusty rockers back with another offering
(On The Fiddle Recordings)
BORN out of the bile and fury of Thatcher’s Britain, Levellers (note the lack of a definitive article) created a fusion of punk and English traditional music characterised by its frantic fiddles and folk influences, “crusty rock” as it were, which echoed strong left-wing political beliefs and revolutionary sentiments.
Rumoured to have taken their name from a faction of Oliver Cromwell’s New Model Army, the band led a musical rebellion against the oppressive nature of the Tory administrations of the ‘eighties and early ‘nineties, with songs like Battle of the Beanfield raising awareness of police brutality against the “Peace Convoy” attempting to set up a free festival at Stonehenge, and Another Man’s Cause debating the British military presence in Northern Ireland.
The further decline of British society, the war in Afghanistan, and the dying days of the Bush administration provide contemporary inspirations for the songs found on Static On the Airwaves, Levellers’ 10th studio album, which continues a return to form for the band over recent years, fuelled perhaps by the new wave of Conservatism heralded by David Cameron and the coalition, drawing comparisons to the government in power at the time of their founding in 1988.
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The militarised nature of British foreign policy is reflected throughout the 12 tracks contained on this release, particularly in a bitter reworking of the Black Watch anthem Twa Recruitin’ Sergeants, updated to include the line “on a Hercules transporter to fight the Afghani”, and as resonate today as it ever was, but also in the likes of We Are All Gunmen and Mutiny.
Levellers’ lyrics frequently hark back to a golden era for this country, an idyll which perhaps never really existed outside of social mythology, but they remain focused on their fight for a better Britain than the one we currently share.
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There are also historical narratives in the form of Raft of the Medusa and the aforementioned Mutiny, telling the tales of the running aground of a French naval frigate and the survivors’ descent into madness and cannibalism, and the 1917 uprising by British troops, the latter incident inspiring the acclaimed novel and TV series The Monocled Mutineer.
Static On The Airwaves is not a faultless work, and some songs definitely pay from repeat listening to appreciate their intricacies, but it’s a very strong collection of material which proves Levellers have lost none of their satirical edge over the past 24 years. Highly recommended.