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 The planned ‘Peace’ tour – which would have showcased the then new album along with old favourites – has been replaced by the ‘Levelling The Land 30th Anniversary Tour’ and, due to unforeseen circumstances, guitarist/vocalist Simon Friend isn’t present.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.
It’s a bank holiday weekend in Margate. The sun hasn’t shone properly for what feels like an age, but a huge crowd are still clinging on to a summer spirit and are clearly hoping The Specials will bring some extra good vibes to the seaside town on the first night of their ‘Protest Songs 1924-2012’ tour.
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…
If you grew up in the 1970s or 1980s in South East England, you’ll almost certainly have a fond memory of Margate. It probably involves a day trip to the beach, a bag of chips and a visit to the Dreamland Amusement Park. The town fell on hard times in the 90s, but with the opening of the Turner Contemporary art gallery and the arrival of small cafe’s and boutiques in the Old Town, things began to improve. The grand re-opening of Dreamland as a retro theme park was an essential part of the regeneration and has been great for the town. Its recently renovated facade in blue and yellow neon shines out over the sea and the seafront, once again, looks proud of itself. In addition to the theme park, the Dreamland complex includes a retro roller rink, a period restored ballroom and an upstairs area dubbed The Hall By The Sea for hosting live music. It’s almost certainly better than it ever was. Dreamland is brilliant and you shouldn’t let people try and convince you otherwise, especially those who haven’t actually been to Margate since 1996.