Level 42 live @ Westcliffe Pavilion, 27.11.12: Lessons in Cool

“King of Cool.”
Photo by G. Craig

I blame my current musical fetish on my three year old nephew. This summer he dug out Level 42’s “Running in the Family,” album from the murky depths of my sister’s CD cupboard and played it so much, she was forced to hide it. Back at home, I found I’d quite a few of their albums squirrelled away in my collection which quite frankly, sounded awesome and I thought it might be good to go and see them live this autumn, though I wasn’t entirely convinced. I’m quite sceptical of the current craze for nostalgia. I’m not a fan of living in the past; things you were mad about when young – and I was remarkably zealous about Level 42 for a while when I was a kid – tend to lose their magic when you’re all sensible and grown up.

Anyway, my sister and I made the journey to Southend; I cushioned myself against disappointment by telling myself, if nothing else I’d get inside Westcliffe Pavilion, the concert hall that was built on the land one of my ancestors donated to the town. We arrived, in a flurry of bitter wind and with some apprehension. Some of the people there were quite a few years older than us; there was also a fair  smattering of teenage kids. Dan Clews, the support act, was good but didn’t exactly set the audience alight. Then “Lessons in Love” sounded over the speakers and they sort of exploded onto the stage.

“Gorgeous Acoustic.”
Photo by Ru

A couple of songs in, I turned to my brother in law  behind me, and shouted, “Am- azing!” at the top of my voice.

They’re a different band since I used to like them, having lost and gained several members along the way. Individually they’re fantastic musicians; more importantly they gel. They play together as if they’ve been a band all their life. As my sister was pleased to note, Mike was still an incredibly vital/ necessary part of the band, also Mark’s bass playing was typically, exemplary and his voice stronger than ever – he’s a very underrated singer, I think. We happened to be standing right in front of Nathan, Sean and in the acoustic set, Pete, who apart from whipping up a musical storm, were very obviously, having a ball. Level 42 are uncommon in that they sound even better live; I’ve seen few bands play with this amount of verve and passion.

“Magic Mike.”
Photo by G. Craig

For the next two hours they ran through an enormous twenty song set, which included their entire “Running in the Family” album – it was its twenty fifth birthday – plus songs spanning their career.  To my surprise, I realised I knew practically all the words to the songs. There was one I didn’t know, “All I Want.” For its duration, I held my breath. It was extraordinarily beautiful and melancholy, one of the finest they’ve done, I reckon.  It was surprisingly, the slow songs that really got my attention: “It’s Over”, “Two Solitudes”; the whole stripped down acoustic section was a revelation. The harmonies, delivery and arrangement were exceptional; it also revealed just how fantastic these songs are. “Out of Sight, Out of Mind,” and “Guaranteed” had completely altered, taking on other an other worldly, mystical quality.

The last part of the show was completely different, and proved they still can strike up a rare groove. Somewhere between “Heathrow” and “Hot Water” I lost my head. It was rather like being at a party where all the best songs are playing, but performed live right in front of you, by your favourite band. Being there didn’t feel like looking back, one bit. The best music, is after all, very much part of the now, always bang up to date. Level 42 songs have a rare quality; they’ve power and complexity enough to transcend the ordinary, they give you space just to be and more importantly, to dream.

Thanks very much guys not just for an unforgettable night, but also for reminding me what’s important about music!

Set List:

  • Lessons in Love
  • Children Say
  • Running in the Family
  • It’s Over
  • To be With You Again
  • Two Solitudes
  • Fashion Fever
  • The Sleepwalkers
  • Freedom Someday
  • All I Need
  • Out of Sight Out of Mind
  • Guaranteed
  • Heathrow
  • The Sun Goes Down (Livin’ it Up)
  • Starchild
  • Something About You
  • Hot Water


  • Love Games
  • The Chinese Way


  1. Wow…definitely also one of my favourite bands – introduced to me by my brother. Mark King is a top legend bassist. I often wonder why whenever someone discusses funk – they never make any mention of Level 42 or Mark King. Anyway my girlfriend bought me a paper lantern the other day and I instinctively started singing…”…From the mountains to Peking, where the paper lanterns gently swing.” – The Chinese Way, what a classic groover! Mark’s bass playing on that song reminds me of something Jaco Pastorius would do. Great post!

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