A Beautiful Day Out – Castlefield Bowl


The Levellers transported their own-curated festival North and to quote another band they brought the weather with them. The good sort that is. It was Beautiful Days meets Sounds of the City in the perfect surroundings of Manchester’s Castlefield Bowl.

The Irish folk band, Beoga get the day’s proceedings under way and they are followed by electro-dub-rockers Dreadzone. I have attended numerous festivals down the years and Dreadzone always seem to be occupying a position on the bill in the early evening. It’s perhaps the fact that they perform this duty so well that sees them rooted in that spot. They certainly know how to get the crowd up and ready for the main acts. It’s a role that they again do with aplomb. ‘Little Britain’ is as relevant today as it was when it was first released in 1996. They end with ‘Captain Dread’, another tune that those with a passing interest in the band will know.

Billy Bragg has always got something to say and in these heightened political times it goes without saying that he will try and deliver a message as well as entertain. He plays a predominantly solo set (with occasional pedal steel guitar as support) that dips into his extensive back catalogue.

He opens with a reworking of Dylan’s ‘The Times They Are a-Changin’’, with the lyrics updated to include potshots at Donald Trump. Bragg informs the crowd that it has just been announced that the US president will be coming to the UK. “Don’t boo. Get a fucking train ticket. He’s not coming to you,” he says, telling the jeering crowd to make their feelings known in person, when the not-so-great-Tangoed-one visits these shores.

It’s a greatest hits set that includes ‘Sexuality’. After it, he references local lad Johnny Marr’s contributions to the song. An airing of the riff from ‘Seven Nation Army’ provokes the “Oh, Jeremy Corbyn” chant that is now seemingly a prerequisite at festivals these days.

The sing-along continues with a run of classics from the Bard of Barking: ‘Levi Stubbs’ Tears’ and ‘Greetings to the New Brunette’ all pass by before he ends with a rousing ‘A New England’ and a touching mention of the much-missed Kirsty MacColl.

The Waterboys are the perfect festival band. They’ve got great tunes from across their career that they can call upon, plus a number of belters that everyone knows. They open with ‘Still a Freak’, which sets the tone and pace for what’s to follow. The opening frenzy of the set shows no sign of slowing down as Mike Scott hops between guitar and piano for the opening numbers. The Waterboys contain some impressively talented musicians (and dapper to boot), and the songs are brought to life by their contributions. The pace slows a little as Scott and long time associate Steve Wickham dispense with the band for ‘The Raggle Taggle Gypsy’, the traditional number played by many a bar room band, but not as good as the version heard tonight.

‘Rosalind (You Married the Wrong Guy)’, one of the stand out tracks on the band’s last album, gets a run out and shows that Scott’s ear for tune is in good working order. They have a new album promised for September – it will be well worth a listen.

‘The Whole of the Moon’ is the song that everyone knows and sings along with. For some reason the piano seems a little off key from the rest of the band. The audience singing along manages to cover this fault. This is the one misstep from The Waterboys in what was an almost prefect set. They end with a stunning version of ‘Fisherman Blues’, another of their undoubted classics.

Levellers @ Castlefield Bowl

It is up to the Levellers to close the day with a set that comprises the whole of their Levelling the Land album. For something that was released back in 1991, it still sits together as a coherent collection of tunes. This is something that they have toured over the last year and even so the band played it tonight with all the verve and vigor of a new release.

Given the number of Levelling the Land tour t-shirts knocking around today, there were many seeing them play this set on another time. They equally weren’t going through motions, as the pogoing going on around me highlighted.

They open with ‘One Way’, which is accompanied by cannons firing out streams of paper over the crowd. “Hope you’ve enjoyed a great afternoon, listening to some great musicians. That means there is only one band left to fuck this up,” Mark Chadwick says as he takes a breather between the opening songs. There was no danger of them doing that; they captured the mood and the spirit of the day just right.

‘The Game’ is followed by an equally frenetic ‘Fifteen Years’, which reminds you of the energy this album had. The more contemplative ‘The Boatman’ is needed for band and fans alike to gather their breath for the remainder of the set. By the time we reach ‘Battle of the Beanfield’, the end of the album set, it is worth noting how great the songs sound after all those years. Worryingly the message accompanying some of the songs has not dated in any way either.

If playing an album in full is a good way of highlighting how good one aspect of the band’s career, then the remainder of the set shows that the years that have followed have seen them add to that collection.

The crowd was forewarned that there would be some communal singing and on ‘Carry Me’, Mark Chadwick prompted the crowd as to where they should come in. “If you don’t know the words make it up.” He didn’t need to worry, as the crowd was more than adept at singing the words back to him.

There’s only one song that can end the day and that’s ‘What a Beautiful Day’. As ever it’s the perfect summation of a Levellers set, but today it was a perfect encapsulation of the day itself. Glitter this time was propelled into the summer sky and acted as a great backdrop for the fans below squeezing one last moment out of a great day.

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