When the Levellers visited Margate on the ‘We The Collective’ tour in 2018, it coincided with one of the hottest days of the year. Dreamland’s Hall By The Sea was like an oven, but it didn’t stop the Saturday night crowd and the band giving their all. By comparison, their welcome return to the seaside town on a winter Wednesday couldn’t feel more different. Aside from the icy cold, inside and out, there’s not much in the way of obvious revelry. That’s understandable; most people are automatically more restrained on a “school night”, but its more than that. The global pandemic has given the slow return to gigs an uneasy atmosphere anyway, but this night has also been prefaced by Boris Johnson announcing another tightening up of restrictions, meaning that an already cagey mood is heightened by a nagging feeling that this big gathering might be the last for a while. Rather than using the night out cut loose in a carefree way, a lot of the assembled crowd seem rather tentative. It sort of makes sense. The world does feel like a powder keg. On the plus side, the unwelcome news – delivered in the Prime Minister’s usual bumbling fashion – has prompted someone on Twitter to liken him to a “sentient bag of custard”. The fact is, the world has changed since summer 2018. It might never be the same again. Nevertheless, Mark Chadwick, Jeremy Cunningham and company are here…and not before time.
This gig was supposed to take place in March 2020, so for many people it’s been a long wait. The delay has brought a couple of massive changes too. The planned ‘Peace’ tour – which would have showcased the then new album along with old favourites – has been replaced by the ‘Levelling The Land 30th Anniversary Tour’ and, due to unforeseen circumstances, guitarist/vocalist Simon Friend isn’t present. It could be argued that a full performance of the band’s career defining album will offer a superior set, but there’s no getting around the fact that Simon’s presence will be missed by many.
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…
The first half of 2018 has seen a few excellent gigs that have helped put the Ramsgate Music Hall on the map. The venue has played host to a warm up gig by Pulp legend Jarvis Cocker (a show that sold out in under a minute), energetic sets from Shonen Knife and Kolars as well as an evening of acoustic English whimsy from the legendary Robyn Hitchcock. The venue could now legitimately be considered a tiny giant. Tonight promises to join the list of legendary performances as the venue is host to a Throwing Muses double bill, with solo sets from ex-bassist Fred Abong and singer-songwriter Kristin Hersh.
2018 has been an important year for Fred. He’s made a long overdue, proper return to the music scene after many years. He’s also recorded new solo material, the ragged ‘Homeless’ EP, and he’s been giving it some hefty promotion throughout the summer whilst on the road with Hersh. This is the second of two appearances at Music Hall and even though it’s a school night for most tomorrow, it’s still a sell out.
Robyn Hitchcock is one of those artists whom, for many, will have a name that’s more familiar than the music he’s recorded. Often billed as the “musician’s musician”, the one time Soft Boys frontman has many famous fans, including R.E.M.’s Peter Buck. This evening, he’s appearing at the very intimate Ramsgate Music Hall on the Kent coast. He’s attracted a crowd ranging from devoted fans to the merely curious. We’ve arrived with no real expectations, but the opportunity to see such a cult figure up close isn’t one to be missed.
We live in an age where music feels ever more disposable. Bands no longer have the luxury of multi-album contracts to hone their style and with streaming services all the rage, “the album as an art form” is dying. The very idea that Shonen Knife have endured for decades is fascinating. Since the release of their debut album back in the 80s, countless bands have formed, recorded, toured, disbanded…but the Japanese pop-punk/bubblegum power pop band have genuinely gone the distance. They’ve had line up changes – aside from ZZ Top, who hasn’t? – but they’re still with us and on the basis of tonight’s show in Ramsgate, they’re better than ever.
Perhaps part of the appeal of tonight’s show lies with the venue itself. With a capacity of under 150, the Ramsgate Music Hall is the very definition of intimate and it allows an opportunity to witness bands up close. Really, really up close. When Shonen Knife take the stage, there’s immediately a feeling that tonight will be special.