Interview with Jeremy Cunningham of The Levellers

Interview courtesy of

Photographs courtesy of Rich Etteridge


The Levellers are no strangers to Cambridge Folk Festival; and a few hours before the English folk-rock legends took to the main stage here again we caught up with bassist Jeremy Cunningham for a quick chat about folk, festivals and fans old and new.

Blimey, so you’ve been going for a 1/4 of a century this year, some achievement. How have things changed on the folk scene in your time?
That’s a difficult one as we’ve never really been part of the folk scene, per se. We consider ourselves to be part of the folk tradition, but we’re not the sort of band that plays old songs and keeps old songs alive, as there’s plenty of other bands who do that. We write new songs which are in the folk idiom and which we’d be really happy if other people were playing them in a couple of hundred years time. So in that respect, it’s changed as in now there’s a lot more new, young folk artists who are actually writing original material as well as playing the older stuff, whereas when we started people would very much play the old traditional folk songs and give them new arrangements, but if you were doing original material it was hard to find a place in that kind of scene. We never really even tried, we were always within the indie-rock thing from the very beginning – we just used acoustic instruments.

Those new bands you mention – it seems there’s an awful lot of bands these days who, if they have banjo or a fiddler in the band, will immediately get classed as folk.
Which is not entirely always true!

Well exactly, so I just wanted to see what you thought of the likes of Mumford & Sons and this wave of folk bands that seems to have spawned in recent years?
I’m not a great fan of theirs really, but it’s nothing to do with instrumentation or whatever, I’m just not really keen on the songs to be honest with you. There’s another much better band who play what you would call folk-rock I suppose, called Wolf People who sound like Fairport Convention meets Black Sabbath in 1971, they’re absolutely brilliant.

You’ve played here a few times before – have you got some fond memories of Cambridge Folk Festival?
Yeah, yeah – we do.

How does it compare with other festivals you’ve played, as you’ve obviously played a fair amount over the years – what’s it like in terms of atmosphere, the crowd and so on?
Usually rock festivals though! We do a couple (of folk festivals) in Europe and this is probably the only folk festival that we’re guaranteed to have a good time at, as some of the others, especially in Europe are really died in the wool, proper folk music ones and when we take to the stage with our electric guitars people are appalled!

You have your own Beautiful Days festival – how did that come about?

We were playing huge corporate festivals, but it came to a point where we did the V Festival and we just found it so awful – the backstage area was beautiful and it was just a place to be seen. The actual punters out front who had paid too much money to get in were being treated like absolute shit, drinking piss poor beer and they weren’t even allowed to stay on site overnight, they were all chased off site. We thought after that one, look, we’re known as a festival band, so thought fuck it, let’s put our money where our mouth is and try and do a festival like the ones we used to go to when we were young, and that’s the whole point of Beautiful Days. We do try and get the best bands we can but it’s as much about the other weird shit that goes on and that you can only see at festivals.

I once read a fantastic rumour that you once left the site of your own Beautiful Days festival, and then set about the challenge of jumping the fence and breaking back in! Is that true?
No! I’m not sure where that came from, although I’m sure plenty of our friends have done it!

You say you’re known as a festival band – how do you find playing to festival crowds in comparison to the crowds at your own gigs? There’s obviously a lot of people here today who know you and want to see you, but I’m sure there’s also an awful lot here who are not so familiar with you as well…how do the two compare?

It’s a good opportunity to reach people who haven’t seen you, for sure, but it’s pretty similar in terms of audience reaction. If people come to see you at an indoor gig you know they’re there to see you, and want to have a good time with you, but having said that when people come and see you at a festival they’re in a real party mood and also want to have a good time. So you’ll get the guys who want to see you anyway, but hopefully there’ll be a few other people there who going to have a good time who might have heard of The Levellers but wouldn’t shell out money to go and see us on our own. But from on stage it looks pretty similar to me, it’s just about having a party with us – we sing about serious stuff but we make our music so it’s jump up and down have a good time.

Are you hanging around for the weekend? Anyone else you’re looking forward to seeing?
We’re not unfortunately – we’re going to Europe so have to shoot straight off – I’d like to see The Waterboys but they’re not on until Sunday. They played Beautiful Days last year so we saw them at that but they’re one of my favourite bands so I always like seeing them.

You released a new album a couple of years back – any plans for any more new material at all?

Not yet, but we’re just starting to write again now actually

Marvellous, good to hear. Thanks for your time Jeremy.

No worries.


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