INTERVIEW: Jeremy Cunningham (The Levellers)

Michael Barron talks to Jeremy Cunningham about upcoming album ‘We The Collective’, released on March 9th. The album features a string section and the talents of legendary producer John Leckie (Radiohead, Stone Roses), the album contains new acoustic arrangements for eight of their previous singles including ‘Liberty’, ‘Hope Street’ and ‘One Way’ which they recorded straight to tape at the world-famous Abbey Road Studios.

As part of the band’s 30th-anniversary celebrations, Levellers will head out on a full Acoustic Tour in the Spring where they will be playing the new arrangements with guest musicians, in a number of theatres and concert halls around the country supported by Ginger Wildheart.


Hi Jeremy, how have you managed to stay together with virtually the same line up for 30 years?

We’re all friends and we’re all aware that the total is bigger than the sum of its parts. And we split everything equally

Why did you wait 6 years before you released We the Collective; the longest wait fans have had between Levellers album releases? 

We had been writing a new electric album but couldn’t decide on the songs so we thought we’d try an acoustic record to get us back into the flow. A couple of the band have had kids too, so with that and touring it’s taken us a while admittedly!

Why did you decide to include a cover of The Zounds, Subvert on the new studio album (the first time Levellers have included a cover since their eponymous third album released 25 years ago)? 

We just love that song. The lyrics say it all…

What is the band favourite song on this album and why? Also, what do you want fans to take away from your new album?

I think our fave song is prob ‘Elation’… it just sounds immense. Personally, I prefer the extras EP/CD but that’s just my opinion!


Why did you choose John Leckie to produce We the Collective

He was suggested by David our agent… we all love The Bends by Radiohead and the way John records everything live. It was a privilege to work with him

The Levellers have their own Metway Studio in Brighton; so why did you choose to record the new LP at Abbey Road studios in London?

We went to Abbey Road to fit us all in playing live… 10-11 musicians all with acoustic instruments! We arranged and rehearsed everything at Metway but it’s just not big enough for those many folks all on overhead mics

Last year The Telegraph included your 1994 performance in top 50 best Glastonbury performances ever. How did you draw the biggest crowd the Pyramid Stage ever saw back in 1994 (with as many as 300,000 people are thought to have seen the show)?

Cos we’re a [email protected]#~ing great live band and the time was right

How do you still draw in crowds to shows and festivals including your own Beautiful Days festival

Because we have great songs and integrity. Folks appreciate that

Congratulations on a fantastic Camden Roundhouse gig which XSNoize had the privilege of reviewing. You played two songs from your Hello Pig LP at the Camden Roundhouse, despite Hello Pig initially not receiving the expected positive fan reception, the Hello Pig tracks you played (61 minutes of Pleading and Edge of the World) were probably the best received by fans on the night; will the Levellers be playing more Hello Pig material in future?

Possibly… those two work especially well acoustically

After 30 years what do you want fans to take away from a Levellers live experience? 

Same as we’ve always wanted – to have a great time dancing whilst hearing some incisive lyrics. We let people know they’re not alone

You’ve worked with Billy Bragg, Frank Turner, Imelda May and the late Joe Strummer to name a few. How do you get to know and work with such great musicians?

It depends… some are friends of ours, others we just took a punt and asked. Billy and Frank are friends, Imelda and Joe we asked because we loved her voice and obviously The Clash was/are a huge influence on us. We like to record live and luckily all our guests are up for that too – they’re all amazing!

There has always been a political aspect to the Levellers. What are the causes closest to your hearts? 

Our politics I suppose could fairly be described as “radical”! We don’t trust politicians, we believe in everyone thinking for themselves and taking responsibility for their own actions.

How do you champion your causes?

We don’t really champion causes – everything is in our lyrics, that’s our platform. Though we have done benefits for non-political organisations… the most international being the Sea Shepherds. But we’ve raised money for lots of charities (local and national) via beautiful days…

You have done all the artwork for Levellers since you co-founded the band with Mark; how has the inspiration for your art changed? 

Yes, I do all the bands artwork. Sometimes I suggest an idea, sometimes one or all of the others will have something they want me to do. Our artwork is the other, and most visible, member of the band

You courageously revealed a lot of personal information on A Curious Life documentary back in 2015. Considering the large numbers of people who saw the documentary, do you feel your relationship with the fans and the rest of the band has changed?

Not really… if you make a documentary you gotta be honest – it’s kind of a historical record after all. Dunstan, the director, filmed us for 3+ yrs so he captured the essence for sure. I wanna see honesty if I’m watching a documentary so was only fair to fess up all! If anything I think it brought us closer to the audience

Do you intend to make another album of entirely new original material following We the Collective?

We’ve been working on the new album for a few years now… will be out next year

What else does the future hold for the Levellers?

Well, it holds a new album of original songs and lots of touring… Just the way we like it!

Acoustic Tour 2018
Support from Ginger Wildheart (all dates except Glasgow & London)

MARCH
Tue 13th – Buxton, Opera House SOLD OUT
Wed 14th – Cheltenham, Town Hall
Thurs 15th – Yeovil, Westlands
Fri 16th – York, Barbican
Sat 17th – Milton Keynes, The Stables SOLD OUT
Sun 18th – Liverpool, Philharmonic
Tue 20th – Basingstoke, The Anvil
Wed 21st – Cambridge, Corn Exchange
Thurs 22nd – Leicester, De Montfort Hall
Fri 23rd – Bexhill, De La Warr Pavilion
Sat 24th – Winchester, Cathedral SOLD OUT

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