Jordan Interviews Jeremy from
The Levellers
22/02/05, Cambridge Junction

Jordan Evans met up with Jeremy Cunningham, bassist with folk-punk band The Levellers, backstage before their gig at the Junction Cambridge.

Jordan and Jeremy

When did you start playing guitar?
First started playing guitar at about 14, my sister used to have a little acoustic guitar which she was having lessons on at school but she wasn't really bothered about it and used to leave it lying around at home. So I just picked it up and started playing on it. Basically I saw a band called The Clash on a TV program and I saw them and I went I want to that. My sister had this acoustic guitar laying around so learnt how to play and taught myself how to play it took me about 3 or 4 years to play it properly. If you have a teacher it would properly take you about a year but I had none of that and had to make all of my own mistakes.
What was the first band you were in?
In this band or any band?
First band
The first band I was in was just after I left school at Art College. Before that I was in punk rock group at school "one string type of punk band", never got it together to play any gigs.
The first gig was at about 17 in a pub called the Swan in Kingston, behind Kingston Art College in London. The band was called The Lowlife, which were all my friends from Art College. We were into punk- rock and also The Stones and The Jam. Actually if we had done it in Brit-Pop times we would have gone down a storm because it sounded exactly like that.
Ahead of your times?
Yeah the singer Phil, my best mate at the time was a great songwriter, pity it didn't work out.

I play guitar and want to form a band, any advice?
Best advice is get people who you get along with, you don't have to like the same music, but as long as you can live in the same space and get along with each other. That's the most important thing because you will be spending a lot of time with each other, it's like getting married. You have to get the right people; you have to have the right chemistry.
Say if you sit down and play guitar with someone and you get loads of ideas and things you'd never done on your own, then that's the person to form a band with. If you both sit there getting bored then that's not the person to start a band with basically!

You obviously have been successful, as you have been going for 15 years now.
17 years actually, 1988, yeah that's 17 years now.

Do you ever fall out?
We have the odd falling out, but not really. Jeremy's words of wisdom, the two things that split up bands are Money and Women. So what we do is split all the money equally and keep our hands off each other's wives and girlfriends, well we try to!

Do your Mum and Dad support you?
Not really, no, my Mum and Dad were not really into Art and Music and when I was doing my exams at school they used to hide my guitar away, forcing me to revise for my exams. I said to them 5 years later that they should have hidden the exam papers as I got more money out of the guitar than exam papers.
Anyway I didn't get much support until the Levellers had their first record out, then my Mum and Dad were like hay material/proper things and then they came to see us a few times and I can't stop them now. My Mum and Dad come and see us every time we are playing near them.
All of us come from quite different places and none of us have any particular music background other than Jon our fiddle player who is classically trained.

Tell me about the new CD.
We are about three-quarters way through doing it. Its difficult to describe really, its fast, it's more of a live sound, we are going to play a couple of songs off it tonight.
It's a lot more technically musically difficult to what we have done in the past. We have sat down and broken everything down pushed ourselves musically. I listen to some of the recordings and listen to the bass and think who's that doing that. It's different but still very Levellers, faster and bit like the early stuff. More Fiddle and tunes without being too folky!

Do you ever argue about songs?
Yeah we argue but don't fight about it, mostly about words/lyrics really. I usually pull Mark up is I think he has used lazy words and he either gets me to rewrite it or writes it himself.
We don't really argue but we do have a lot of heated discussion, which I guess means arguing really.

How do you decide who sings?
Well usually Mark sings, sometimes Simon will sing if it's a song he wrote. Sometimes Mark will sing a song that Simon wrote, but I don't think that Simon has ever sung a song that Mark wrote.
Then they all do the backing vocals.
It is usually determined by who wrote the lyrics and it is Mark who usually writes them.

Has your success changed you?
At the moment we are at the place where we like to be.
We had a lot of obvious success 10 years ago in the early 90's when we were on Top of the Pops and on the front of the NME, all that high profile stuff. It did get a bit strange because were not used to that sort of stuff, but nowadays we can still go out and play good sized gigs and have decent record releases and don't get much of the fame thing.
So being successful without being that famous is nice, as we still live in Brighton where we come from. We still get people coming up to us, asking questions and asking for autographs and stuff but that's all right.
It hasn't changed us that much as we are still living in the same place with the same friends and its your friends that wont take any rubbish of you, they wont let you get away with any rock star pre-Madonna stuff.

Do you have any children?
I don't, I am the only member of the band who hasn't got any, all the members of the band have got children, apart from Matt our keyboard player. Him and me are the only bachelor boys!

Jordan gets a bunk up during the gig

What has been your most embarrassing moment?
There have been a few really, but I think the most embarrassing moment has to be when we had a single out called 'One Way'. Over here it wasn't that big but in Europe the single and 'Levelling the Land' were both huge. We used to do these big festivals in Europe, Germany and Sweden. We did this massive festival in Sweden, which was on live TV and radio with a 100,000 crowd. We get through the whole set and play really well, but when it came to the encore we played 'One Way', the song everyone knew, and I completely forgot how to play it. So I was there trying to play the chorus
and Mark's there going "there's only one 'A' way 'B'" [Sounds like my guitar lessons - Ed]. So I was always a beat behind and all over the place, on live TV and radio in front of 100,000 people. I just ended jumping up and down, pretending everything was alright.

What is your favourite Levellers song?
Probably 'My Home' from the first album.

Just because it says everything we had to say at the time The writing for a song of that time captures everything going on, the end of the 80's, Thatcher was in power and a lot of political strife. It's just a great song, It says what it says exactly right.

At this point the tour manager comes in, time for Jeremy to get ready for tonight's gig.

What can we expect from tonight's gig?
Some new ones, some old ones, Fast and furious all the way through.

Thanks to Jeremy for his time, and to James Sherry, Jo and Richard Brown for helping us fix the interview up.

The new album Truth and Lies is reviewed here.

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