Interview: Jeremy Cunningham (LEVELLERS) – August 2016

Jeremy Cunningham - Levellers

On a gloriously sunny Sunday afternoon at Watchet Live Music Festival, bass player for The Levellers, Jeremy Cunningham, was kind enough to interrupt his lunch for a quick chat with me.  Headliners at Watchet Live, this was the second date of their extensive world wide tour celebrating the 25th anniversary of Levelling The Land.
I was more than a tad nervous as the legend with the majestic mass of maroon dreadlocks took his seat at the picnic table I had commandeered in the hospitality area.  I had dreamed of this moment since sitting in my bedroom reading music magazines at age 14.  I was about to interview Jeremy Cunningham of The Levellers!  My bass guitar hero!  

After nervously stuttering hello’s and thank you’s, this is how it went down…

You’ve just started your latest tour, are there any of your songs that you particularly enjoy playing at gigs and festivals?

Most of them really, luckilly.  I mean this tour is Levelling the Land so we’re going to have to play all of them, obviously, our hands are tied as far as that goes.  I always quite like playing Three Friends, we’re not playing it at the minute, we haven’t played it for a while. Riverflow, I suppose, yeh, I’ve always kind of enjoyed that one.  I like England My Home as well, we’re starting off with that tonight, I think.

Fantastic, start with a bang.

Yeh, exactly.

Part of your tour is in Europe, are you experiencing any repercussions as a result of leaving the European Union?

Not yet, but we’ve only been there once since we left and the people are just laughing at us over there. The same as they did when Mrs Thatcher was in power, they were like, ‘How can you allow this?’, you know, so they were just laughing at us.  But no, we haven’t yet, but we will do I’m sure. We were big supporters of remaining.

Matt was quite vocal about that on Facebook, he lost a few friends.

We all did, yeh, the whole band did.

I really respect that you stood up for your principles, there are a lot of bands that would gloss over it.

Well most would, hahaha.

I totally respect that you took a stand.

Well, we usually try to.

Your lyrics, at the moment are particulary poignant, the lyrics from a lot of your songs are about social uprising…

Yeh, yeh, times kind of go in circles I suppose, don’t they.

There seems to be a bit of a lefty uprising at the moment.

Well yeh, that would be nice, hahaha.

Levellers - WATCHET FESTIVAL - 27-28 August 2016

Returning to the tour, have you got any favourite venues that are on this tour?

Yep, my favourite venue is Glasgow, Barrowlands.  Love that place.  Brixton Academy I like as well, those are my two favourite but Glasgow is my number one, always has been since we first played it.  It’s just one of those historical places, you know, it’s an old fifties dance hall, and it’s got a sprung dance floor as well, so people just go, boom boom boom.  (Gesticulates the whole audience and dance floor bouncing).  It’s quite big but it’s got a low ceiling and the crowd is right upon you, you know, so although you can get a lot of people in there it doesn’t seem like a big show, it still seems intimate enough.

Are those your favourite kind of gigs? The smaller, almost in with the crowd kind of gigs?

Yeh, I don’t mind if they’re big ones or small ones as long as we play alright and if the crowd are up for it then it’s gonna be good no matter what the size is.

Which leads me neatly on to Beautiful Days.  The majority of people are there because they’re huge Levellers fans and they look forward to seeing you twice over the weekend.  Is that something that you yourself look forward to each year?

Yeh, yeh it’s always nerve wracking as well, but yeh we do look forward to it yeh. I mean cos we’re there for a few days beforehand, you know, sorting stuff out, doing a bit of rehearsal sometimes as well.  But yeh, it’s a big deal for us being our festival.

How involved do you get organising the bands?

We have a guy that organises it for us but we basically give him a list of bands that we want to play, and then he usually ignores us, hahaha.  I had one person play this year that I wanted to play.

Who was that?

Avital Raz, who’s an Israeli singer songwriter and is really good.  But then I had a whole load of other bands that didn’t make the bill but I’m getting my list together now for next year.  You’ve actually just reminded me I’m gonna put another name on here. (Jeremy takes out his phone and makes notes).

Can I ask who that is?

Wolf People, they’re brilliant. They’ve got a new album coming out which is why I’m putting them on here. They’ve played  Beautiful Days before.

Do you get much chance to have a wander round and check out the bands at Beautiful Days?

Yeh I’m wandering about all the time.

I’ve seen you about at the festival I just wondered if that’s something you get much of a chance to do or if you’re busy back stage organising most of the time.

Yeh, I was doing a bit more backstage this year cos we had the big screen up and I had to do a couple of art works for that.

The screen at the main stage this year was absolutely brilliant, and I know a lot of the punters would agree with me…especially when that young lad got up and joined Terrorvision on stage.

Oh yeh? I didn’t see that.

Yeh a little lad who must have been about 9 or ten years old and he completely upstaged Terrorvision which was quite impressive.

Right, right, hahaha.  No, I missed them, I did see quite a few people but I missed them.  I saw The Coral cos they’re one of my favourite bands. Saw them yesterday, played with them yesterday again as well in Portsmouth, Victorious Festival.  We’re at Shrewsbury tomorrow.

Yeh, I was looking at a list of your tour dates, it’s quite an intensive tour. Dates in the UK, the US, Canada, Australia, Belgium, Germany and Netherlands, all in just four months.  Is that knackering?

Yeh. Hahaha.  Well it’s not that it’s the travelling.  It’s the going to America, Australia and all that.

Do you get much of a chance to explore while you’re there?

Yeh. Well it depends how much travelling we have to do. But America, yeh probably, cos we’re on a tour bus.  Australia we have to fly everywhere so there’ll be less chance to see things. But we have a couple of days off so, yeh it should be ok hopefully. Fingers crossed.

And with that I stuttered a few more thank you’s and allowed Jeremy to return to his cheese and biscuits in his dressing room.  What a total gent and all round thoroughly nice bloke.  They say you should never meet your heroes because they never live up to your expectations.  But I am happy to report that on this occasion they couldn’t be more wrong.  Good luck with the tour,  I’m certain you’ll smash it!  

Interview and photos by Hollie Latham
Festival review

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