Mark Chadwick has spent over two decades writing and performing with the Levellers, coupling vitriolic punk with stunning folk melodies and ethics and now it’s time for him to tell the story of his life through his solo album “All the pieces” which pares the punk brutality of his day job down to almost nothing and, with an assorted cast of folk music regulars, sees Mark crafting an album that maintains the pop sensibilities of the Levellers and adds a wistful edge that comes from chronicling personal issues rather than attacks on the establishment while staying resolutely upbeat.
Opening with the Pearl-Jam-gone-folk strum of ‘Elephant Fayre’, a hymn to the power of music, the stripped down approach lets you appreciate the power of Mark’s voice set amidst the warm vocal harmonies of his backing band. ‘All the pieces’ is probably the closest to a Leveller’s tune, echoing the folk/indie approach of ‘Green Blade Rising’ with a beautifully warm chorus and gentle shuffle that keeps the whole thing moving gently forward. It’s a lovely track that highlight’s Mark’s unique ability to craft memorable tunes without all kinds of studio trickery backing him up. ‘Haven’ moves into darker folk territory, reminiscent of the Oysterband’s Big Session moments and there’s a power in the throbbing bass of the chorus that brings out the lyrical theme of “a place where you could do anything”.
‘Satellite’ has a violin-powered country drawl to it which will undoubtedly light up in the live environment and which nicely changes the pace of the record while Mark explores his vocal range from folky growl to the upper-elements of his register to great effect. ‘Seasons’ meanwhile is a pure folk number with a wonderful vocal part backing up the gently picked acoustic guitar and the question of “how do you maintain love relationships when you’re doing the craziest job in the world?” Obliquely exploring these personal issues is undoubtedly a brave step for Mark and it’s rewarding that he does it in such an intelligent and beautiful fashion that it never slips into pathos with even the trickiest of issues sounding warm and upbeat. ‘Seasons’ is a stunning song that is one of the many highlights on offer here. Just to make sure you don’t get too settled in ‘say you’re gonna be my girl’ is what would happen if the Ramones had been a folk band instead of a punk band – a relentlessly poppy, upbeat tune with a simple, hooky chorus and a wealth of unusual instrumentation making sure that it’s never too easy to follow. “Indians” is a more unusual entry – a folk-influenced piece that opens with a bare vocal piece that once again emphasises the extraordinary power in Mark’s voice before edging into acoustic guitar territory but with the addition of brass instruments and a strong, brass band rhythm augmenting the more traditional sounding verse.
‘The great and the dead’ is an introspective piece that is more reminiscent of mid-90s indie music with its single lyrical lament and gently memorable chorus that instils itself in your brain without you even realising it. The same can be said of the gorgeous pop of ‘Paramount’ that, like ‘all the pieces’ is a closer fit to the Leveller’s sound with its stunning chorus and throbbing bass. ‘Empty now’ is a wonderful song, different from anything else on the album and with a truly beautiful vocal harmony that catches you unaware and you realise that it’s on songs such as this, where Mark attempts something that is entirely different from his day job that he really shines both musically and lyrically. ‘Inevitable’ is a simple acoustic lament that is stunningly poignant in its stripped down, aching honesty. ‘Whispers’ closes this remarkable album on an emotional high with the music reaching a crescendo and Mark’s voice cracked and breaking before leaving you on the refrain “will you ever come back down to earth with us again?”
‘All the pieces’ is a stunning work that details the rise of one of the great musicians of our time. Often undervalued, the Levellers have captured the hearts of folk fans, punks and alternative lovers alike and to hear Mark tell the story of his life in such a beloved band in his own words provides a wonderful ride that takes in a variety of genres and emotions over the course of its thirty-seven minutes. While such an album may not be as instant as the Leveller’s greatest moments, it is an album that bears repeated listens and offers a great deal to those with patience and an ear for a great tune. This is a beautiful album, then, that showcases just what a phenomenal talent Mark is.