Since the second re-opening of the Dreamland complex in Margate in 2017, the theme park has gone from strength to strength. While the big draw for many visitors has been the selection of nostalgic fairground rides, others have applauded the decision to use the Hall By The Sea as a legitimate venue for live gigs. Dreamland has played host to shows by Gorillaz (a sell out in minutes), Bat For Lashes, psych band Snapped Ankles (with some memorable visuals), Super Furry Animals and more besides. In February 2018, a double headliner between ska legends The Selecter and The Beat (featuring Ranking Roger) resulted in a classic night at the seaside. The Hall By The Sea has provided a brilliant and cool alternative to the frankly past-it Winter Gardens – a venue that still thinks that The Stylistics, the racism of Jim Davidson and a carpet from 1983 is what people really want.
Tonight, Brighton’s favourite sons, Levellers are the visiting dignitaries. They’d previously visited Margate in 2001 and 2004 for shows at the aforementioned Winter Gardens, but this is their first visit since the slow rejuvenation of the town slowly began not long after. The Hall By The Sea is, naturally, a far better fit for them – the spacious area is perfect for dancing, bouncing – and sweating – and the sound quality is amazing. The crowd are naturally well up for a good night and especially so considering this show has already been postponed. …But what will they play tonight? Since the setlists from Utrecht on June 15th and Boston on June 18th differed greatly, seemingly, the gloves are off…
Rather than the more popular ‘What A Beautiful Day’ or ‘Fifteen Years’, the band launch into a ferocious version of ‘The Game’ – a deeper cut from 1991’s ‘Levelling The Land’ as an opener. It’s uptempo jig provides a perfect backdrop for the crowd that bursts into life within seconds. At the back of the venue, a man and his girlfriend begin dancing and pogoing unreservedly – fully embracing the idea of dancing like nobody is watching – and they don’t stop for at least six more songs. This visual spectacle, unnoticed by most, provides the perfect snapshot of how much fun Levellers gigs can be. The band, meanwhile, tear through equally sharp takes of ‘Belarus’, ‘Fifteen Years’ and ‘Sell Out’. ‘Sell Out’ is particularly intensive tonight, with Jeremy’s bass leading the charge. At a lesser venue, the intensities of this performance could sound muddy, but with a perfect set up, the separation between the instruments is more than clear.
A few songs in, the air in the venue has all but disappeared. From our too typical place at the back, it’s already feeling like the hottest gig since Smash Mouth played the London LA2 in 1998, so those at the front must be positively melting. Taking a moment with the audience, Mark Chadwick comes across with his usual friend-in-the-pub appeal. “Have you melted yet? ‘Ot, isn’t it? Do you want an ice cream? Margate’s got ice creams…I’ve seen ’em!” …And with that, the mood changes – it’s sensibly time for a regroup and a breather. Time to recharge comes courtesy of a couple of great slower numbers, ‘The Road’ and ‘Julie’, the latter showing how Mark’s voice is as good as it’s ever been.
A little later, ‘This Garden’ introduces regular digeridoo player Stephen Boakes – replete with glow in the dark make up – and for some of the audience, it’s surely stirred memories of those now long gone student days. The performance is better than it had been at Folkestone Leas Cliff Hall on the ‘Greatest Hits’ tour, with the band tighter and visibly enjoying the seaside experience despite the still rising heat, before a dip back into ‘Levelling The Land’ brings a thoughtful ‘Another Man’s Cause’ and especially raucous ‘One Way’, with the venue really bouncing. Always one of the Levellers’ most enduring numbers, other bands would save such a song for a predictable encore…but not these guys; there’s always something unexpected and with a few of the classics already gone, tonight is no exception.
A genuine highlight, ‘Hope Street’ is by turns heavy and melodic and much like ‘Sell Out’ the power in tonight’s performance is helped no end by a sound man who’s truly on the ball. Another crowd pleaser ‘What A Beautiful Day’ brings back more of a frivolous edge to the performance, but it’s no match for a trio of jigs – ‘Cholora Well’, ‘Dirty Davey’ and ‘The Riverflow’ designed to bring any gig to life. Despite half of the audience now rapidly dissolving, everyone pushes through the heat. Along with an angry ‘Liberty Song’ the jigs have provided a fantastic climax.
The main set has been very heavy on selections from ‘Levelling The Land’, but as always, that album’s songs have been genuine crowd pleasers. It might be more interesting from time to time to hear some choice cuts from the opinion-splitting ‘Hello Pig‘ or too often overlooked ‘Green Blade Rising’, but the selections chosen from the band’s three biggest albums have provided an excellent overview of why the Levellers can still pull a crowd wherever they go. With lots of obvious encore choices already played, the band throw a curveball with ‘England My Home’ (the only nod to the ‘Weapon Called The Word’ debut), before inviting a massive singalong for the night’s closer ‘Just The One’ – a tale of wild nights out seeming so fitting for the town and location.
Leaving the venue, looking at the drenched figures ambling up the hill, you’d think it’d been raining. Everyone’s had a superb time…and possibly lost weight in a way that’s far more fun than going to the gym. On the basis of tonight, let’s hope Mark, Jeremy, Simon and the rest of the lads come back to Margate sometime down the road. Since they took time to visit back in the days when the town was struggling, there’s a more than reasonable chance of seeing them at Dreamland again… While Margate still isn’t as diverse as their own Brighton, in terms of great seaside towns with plenty of bars, micropubs and great eateries, it really is getting there. Just ask the patrons of the vegan-friendly bus cafe…