Quick quiz question: Which band is believed to have played to Glastonbury’s biggest-ever crowd when they headlined the Pyramid Stage on the Friday night in 1994? Oasis? Blur? Pulp? Red Hot Chilli Peppers? Nope. Try again.
The answer is in fact Brighton folk-punk group The Levellers, who after years of playing the festival circuit reached the peak of their powers that night when an estimated 300,000 people sang along to anthems such as One Way, Fifteen Years and The Riverflow.
Now, more than 20 years later, and just entering their 30th year as a band, The Levellers are back with a new acoustic album, We The Collective, alongside a UK tour which will see them playing these new acoustic arrangements of some of their biggest hits to audiences up and down the country.
“We kind of stumbled upon doing an acoustic album,” chuckles singer and guitarist Mark Chadwick.
“John Leckie [legendary producer behind The Stone Roses, Radiohead and many more] came to our festival, ‘Beautiful Days’ and we got chatting and told him we wanted to make another record but didn’t want to just churn out something we’d done before.
“He said, ‘Why don’t you come to Abbey Studios with me and make an acoustic album?’. And that’s pretty much what we did.
“The results were so good we thought we’d better tour it too.”
Far from being daunted by using such a famous place to record, Mark says he and the band took inspiration from their illustrious surroundings.
“It’s a great place,” he says.
“So much musical history has been made there and it hasn’t really changed at all.
“All the old microphones are there and you get a genuine sound that we’ve all grown up with really.
“Hearing the actual sound of the room you can actually hear the records that were made there and not just The Beatles records, but others too.”
While during the ‘90s their gigs were always known as riotous affairs, this tour will see them sprinkle the set with far gentler arrangements of their back catalogue.
“It won’t be completely like that and we won’t be strapping people to their chairs,” says Mark, denying the band will be settling into their rocking chairs quite yet.
“We want people to get up and dance and there will be parts of the show which are like that. It’s a mixed bag because we couldn’t do that to people – they’d just get annoyed!”
Always influenced by the likes of The Clash’s Joe Strummer, Mark’s lyrics spoke of topics like police brutality against the travelling movement and an oppressive Conservative government keen to stamp out alternative lifestyles.
“Playing acoustically has put more focus on the lyrics,” he says.
“People might hear a song they’ve heard 30 times before and suddenly realise what it is all about.
“We picked the songs that worked in that format rather than just picking the hits because some of the rowdier songs just didn’t work acoustically. We looked at more unusual songs and songs that might surprise people if they heard them in that way.”
With the band gearing up to celebrate their third decade making records and being on the road, Mark admits he still finds it incredible they’ve got this far.
“I didn’t even think I’d live 30 years let alone be in a band for 30 years,” he laughs. “It’s quite something to be in a band that lasts this long, but what’s been the best thing has been knowing you’ve made a difference to people’s lives.
“They’re not shy in telling us because we don’t avoid our audience and believe in talking and communicating freely with the public so we really hear the stories and sometimes they’re amazing.”
Now 51, Mark’s attitude to the same things that riled him and the band’s legion of student and traveler fans back in the ‘90s shows no sign of mellowing.
“If anything we’re more angry,” he says. “Nothing’s changed in those 30 years and if anything it’s got worse, but thankfully I think there’s a new breed of youngsters coming up who want to make a difference.
“I’ve been waiting for it to happen and thankfully at last I’m hearing some angry lyrics out there that have been missing for a while and that’s good.”
With Wrexham just the second date on their tour, Mark is looking forward to a trademark Levellers summer of festivals and gigs which would shame most bands half
“We never shortchange our audience and playing live is probably more exciting now,” he adds.
“It’s a strain but it’s the best type of strain there is because as you get older you’ve got to get it where you can – you know what I mean?”
l The Levellers play Wrexham William Aston Hall on Friday, February 2. Doors: 7.30pm. Tickets: 0844 888 9991 / www.glyndwr.ac.uk/en/Events