Last month, DiS headed to rural Derbyshire for Bearded Theory festival. One of the headline acts playing that weekend was Mark Chadwick, perhaps better known as the vocalist and guitar player with The Levellers.
Having formed in Brighton towards the tail end of the 1980s, The Levellers have gone on to record ten studio albums, the most recent of which Static On The Airwaves came out in 2012. However, their most successful period came during the early to mid 1990s, with fourth long player Zeitgeist hitting the coveted number one spot in December 1995. Since then, they've maintained their reputation as one of the most hard-working and dedicated live bands in the country.
Meanwhile, Chadwick has been steadily plying his craft as a solo artist. Debut All The Pieces received a positive reception upon its release in 2010 with follow-up Moment set to come out in June of this year. DiS caught up with him prior to his set where the discussion turned from the saturated festival market to the evils of music streaming and Top Of The Pops.
DiS: How many festivals are you playing this summer?
Mark Chadwick: Myself, I'm playing this one and Beautiful Days which is our (The Levellers) festival. With The Levellers I think we're doing about eighteen in total. Which is not that many for us. Normally, we end up doing around thirty.
DiS: Do you prefer performing as a solo artist or with the band?
Mark Chadwick: It's a completely different experience. This will be the first time I've played a festival with this band.
DiS: What made you choose Bearded Theory as the festival for your band to make its debut?
Mark Chadwick: I know the people who run it very well. They're good friends of mine. And it's kind of a sister festival to our own one, Beautiful Days. They're both linked in that the people who run Bearded Theory came to our festival and thought, "That's how we'll do it!" So there's a good relationship there.
DiS: The Levellers are steeped in festival history having played a lot of free gatherings in the early nineties like Castlemorton before the implementation of the Criminal Justice Act. Do you see yourselves as being one of the last bands who've stuck rigidly to those kind of principles?
Mark Chadwick: Yeah, we're definitely outsiders as a result. That's the sort of mindset we have. The ideals we've maintained have served us well as a band. Even then, festival culture is quite broad and varied. There are an awful lot of festivals in this country.
DiS: Do you think the market is saturated?
Mark Chadwick: No, I don't think so. It suits the British mentality. I think people have been looking for music festivals for a long time. They like to go to a field and party. There's a whole range of stuff out there for them. They can go to a posh party if they want to and spend the weekend gulping champagne and glamping. Or have it real at a festival like this. It's such a broad church, so I can't really knock the idea of festivals at all. I'm not really a fan of the ones trying to sell you overpriced products and bands but then again, we do play them.
DiS: That corporate mentality has seeped into music right through to unsigned bands, many of whom have managers and booking agents before they've even released a record. Has it changed that much from when The Levellers first started out?
Mark Chadwick: I have to deal with agents as the booker of a festival and yeah, they're bastards! They're absolute cunts to be fair, they really are. They're bleeding the festival system dry. A festival payment is only a one-off per tour, and bands can play to a lot of people at a festival so the agents ask for a lot more money than they would for a normal show, which makes it very difficult for festivals to book decent acts for the money they actually deserve. You'd be shocked how much money some bands ask for. And unfortunately, these agents have the power. I'm struggling with it.
DiS: I think agents have to take their share of responsibility for so many small, independent venues closing too. It's easy to blame the internet and the way people access music as an excuse for the live circuit suffering a downturn in fortunes but the fact so many artists are unaffordable has played a major part as well.
Mark Chadwick: Yeah it's true. Agents have a lot to do with it. They take a lot of money because they're worried. They can see their cash cow shrinking. And therefore, the more it shrinks the more they try and squeeze money out of it. So it's a catch 22 situation that is not good.
DiS: Do you think it would be a lot more difficult for a band like The Levellers starting out nowadays than it was back in the late 1980s?
Mark Chadwick: Yes, absolutely. I think it would be fucking impossible! I know a lot of young musicians that are really struggling. They have to put a lot out on all the social networks and it doesn't bring a great deal of returns financially. And also people don't have hit singles any more. They might get one if they're lucky...
DiS: Do you think the internet has been a positive medium for artists and musicians in general?
Mark Chadwick: It's a double-edged sword isn't it? You get your music out there but you don't get paid for it. You get interviews everywhere but you don't necessarily get to read them because you don't know where they are. There's so much of it. But then if people get into it there's every chance they'll spread the word on your behalf and find more people. How do you know? The worst thing is streaming. Streaming is killing music. Pretty soon there won't be any new artists. It's really sad but for a lot of people it's all they know. It's all they've ever heard. It used to be that everybody liked music so they'd go out and buy their favourite records. Nowadays, everybody likes music again but they don't have to go out and buy it. That's the difference. There's the super music fan, who'll buy the records and CDs. But your average consumer also has access to it now without having to make a single purchase.
DiS: What do you think about Record Store Day?
Mark Chadwick: I released a single from this album ('Red Sky') for Record Store Day to promote that very idea that if you love music you should support your local record store and buy it.
DiS: But then the downside of that is when people buy exclusive Record Store day releases purely with the intention of putting them on Ebay at inflated prices.
Mark Chadwick: I won't make any money off it! That sort of shit's always happened. It's only money. There's two different businesses now. There's the pop business, and there's the music business. And the music business is the pop business now. And then there's the rest of it which is basically people doing it because they want to make music, but don't expect to live in a big house because it won't happen.
DiS: I know of bands who've recorded albums and been turned away by labels because they're not deemed to have enough radio friendly tracks on them. Do you think the classic album as we know it is also a dying breed?
Mark Chadwick: I don't know. I'd like to think I've just recorded a classic British album. I'll be playing it from beginning to end tonight. I like to fly in the face of fashion anyway. I always have done and so have The Levellers.
DiS: Were you surprised at how many records The Levellers sold during the early 1990s? You managed to gatecrash the mainstream and became arguably the most successful British independent band of that era.
Mark Chadwick: That's how it appeared and definitely how it felt to us. It certainly wasn't engineered by the music industry. It was engineered by itself as a phenomenon I suppose. A minor phenomenon not a major one but a phenomenon all the same.
DiS: Once we'd reached a certain level was there ever a point where you thought you'd become a part of the system you were rallying against?
Mark Chadwick: No we really didn't. We never were. We always stood outside of it. Every time it came close to us we felt dirty. That's true. It made us feel uncomfortable.
DiS: You eventually played Top Of The Pops in 1995 after previously turning them down. What preempted the change of heart?
Mark Chadwick: It took years of them talking to us, trying to persuade us to do it. We really didn't want to. Strangely enough once we did play for them, the only time we had a disagreement with Top Of The Pops was when they wanted us to play live and we wanted to mime. How weird is life?!?!
DiS: Why was that?
Mark Chadwick: Because we know they wouldn't be able to get the sound right, especially the vocals. And if it sounded shit then the record sales would go down so we told them we'd only do the show if we could mime. Chris Cowey who was the producer at the time was asked when he left Top Of The Pops for his best experience of the show and he said, "Having Madonna on the show." Then he was asked for his worst and he said, "The fucking Levellers!" You've got to be proud of that. We are actually very annoying! I never thought we'd ever be arguing to mime but there you go.
DiS: Your new album Moment comes out in June. What are your expectations for the record in terms of sales etc?
Mark Chadwick: Limited. I think it's a great record. Everyone that's heard it thinks it's a great record. But it's a mass market out there and I guess when all's said and done, who's really interested in a solo record from me? Apart from me! I hope people that know The Levellers check it out.
DiS: The Levellers have always had a love/hate relationship with the music press. Do you think that's hampered the band in some ways? And especially associated projects such as your solo record which has been largely ignored.
Mark Chadwick: I don't know. I'd like to think the music speaks for itself. Music is a passing moment and you either get it or you don't. What I'm doing isn't instantly danceable. It's actually songwriting. But with great musicians. And it's quite intellectual but not overly so. It's grown up.
DiS: What's the concept behind it?
Mark Chadwick: There's ten songs all about different things. I guess the common element is they're all discussions in a narrative sense. It's quite a personal record compared the ones I've made with The Levellers. I discuss alcohol misuse and abuse and how it's part of everybody's lives. I discuss other people in alcoholic situations. I discuss the First World War. Love, passion, just stories that are actually worth listening to. Something that's not just throwaway.
DiS: What can we expect from your live set? Will it be a mixture of new songs from the album and older classics from The Levellers back catalogue?
Mark Chadwick: No. It will be the new record with maybe one or two Levellers tunes in there and the odd song from my previous solo album but nothing really obvious. It's a perfect late night set as it's wind down, chill out music. It's folk music, totally acoustic, but it does get kicking.
DiS: Do you feel more at home with the folk scene or the punk scene which The Levellers became associated with?
Mark Chadwick: I love both. Equally. They're very similar to tell the truth.
DiS: Staying with The Levellers, a lot of your songs were social commentaries on what was happening at the time. Why do you think there aren't many artists protesting about the state of things as they are today?
Mark Chadwick: It's not what people do any more. I don't know why. When we first started out everyone was political, even some of the most naff chart acts. I don't understand why there's so much apathy today.
DiS: Do you think it's because many artists today grew up during the Thatcher years where capitalism and consumerism pretty much became the be all and end all?
Mark Chadwick: Quite possibly. It's been drummed out of them all now. Think about yourself and make money. Talk about your feelings instead. Fuck that!
DiS: Do you think the influence of reality television shows such as The X Factor and The Voice has also had a detrimental effect on music and songwriting?
Mark Chadwick: Definitely. They put the cart before the horse.
DiS: Do you think the media has much influence any more?
Mark Chadwick: Which kind? There's no music on telly any more for starters...
DiS: When I was a kid I'd go out and buy Melody Maker, Sounds and the NME mainly for the reviews, and even now with sites like Drowned In Sound and Pitchfork they're still a prominent feature.
Mark Chadwick: No, the internet doesn't give bad reviews.
DiS: We do if we don't like something!
Mark Chadwick: No so often though? Whereas the NME seemed to pride themselves on slagging us off every week. Love them or hate them it definitely put fire in our bellies. I miss that actually. I never thought I'd say it but I do.
DiS: I guess it did generate a lot of interest in The Levellers at the time?
Mark Chadwick: It did, and that's why it's a shame they're not as relevant these days.
DiS: Finally, are there any new artists you'd recommend Drowned In Sound and its readers should check out?
For more information on Mark Chadwick and The Levellers visit their official website.
For information on Beautiful Days festival click here.