Leveret – The Priddy interview

Priddy are proud to welcome Leveret to this year’s Folk Festival. Leveret are Sam Sweeney, fiddle, Rob Harbron, concertina and Andy Cutting, melodeon. They formed Leveret last year and their first album New Anything, was recorded in a day and has garnered rave reviews.

Earlier this year Sam, a leading member of Bellowhead, was named 2015 BBC Radio Folk Musician of the year in March.

Andy, a past winner of the same award in 2008 and 2011, is one of the most sought-after musicians on the British folk scene, having played with the likes of Chris Wood, Martin Simpson and June Tabor.

Rob is one of the most respected players on the English scene, having accompanied the likes of Fay Heild, Nancy Kerr and Chris Wood as well as being a member of the band Dr Faustus.

Ahead of their gig at Priddy, Neville Hadsley spoke to Sam and Rob about the band.

Sam, it’s been a great year for you so far: what was it like winning the BBC Radio 2 Folk Musician of the year award?

Sam: Completely overwhelming! I was nominated in 2013 and 2014, so be nominated again in 2015 was pretty cool. I thought I might be in with a chance this time, simply because it was the third year in a row, but then I was against Martin Green who is a genius, so I wasn’t expecting it at all. I genuinely had no idea I had won, and I was so nervous in the run up to the awards I couldn’t eat all day. The idea of public speaking really terrified me, but I hope I didn’t mess up the speech too much. It’s a huge honour to be the Musician Of The Year and I’ll never forget how it felt when John Kirkpatrick read out my name – one of the best evenings of my life!

Leveret is a relatively new project – but it seems to be going well. The album is getting great reviews so you must be pleased.

Sam: We’re all massively chuffed. We weren’t sure how an entirely instrumental act would go down with the public. It turns out people love it. The album has had rave reviews and has sold more than believed it would! It’s also great to be doing something that is completely genuine and not contrived in any way, and people still like it. There is nothing about the band that’s designed to be crowd pleasing – I don’t mean that to sound like a bad thing, but Leveret is just three musicians playing music to the best of our abilities, totally in the moment.

Rob: Yes, we’re really pleased at how well it’s been going and we really love the music we’re getting to play. We’ve had several great tours so far but we haven’t done that many festivals yet so we’re really looking forward to playing our music for festival audiences this summer.

I know you both worked together with Fay Hield but how did you get Andy Cutting involved?

Sam: We got to play two tune sets per night in Fay’s band The Hurricane Party (of which Andy was also a member). After a while, we realised that the three of us just really want to play with more tunes, so Leveret formed after a long time of thinking about it. Since then, everything has happened really quickly. We made an album in a day, we’ve just recorded a live gig for possible release, and we’re touring twice a year. It’s very exciting for us.

Rob: Sam and I were in Fay’s trio (and also Jon Boden’s Remnant Kings) for a few years and we really enjoyed making music together. When Fay formed The Hurricane Party she asked Andy to join, and it was a great chance for the three of us to start trying some things out properly. But individually Sam and I had both done things with Andy before so it felt very natural to start collaborating properly.

The three of you are like some kind of folk supergroup – did you have an immediate understanding when you first played together?

Sam: Absolutely. Rob and Andy have been heroes of mine since I was a kid, so to play with them for a living is a bit of a dream. Sometimes when we’re on stage, I look up and think “Crikey! I’m in a band with the two best musicians in the country – this is mental.”

Rob: It did feel very natural, and I think we all understood straight away that this wasn’t ever going to be about making arrangements, it’s about listening and responding to each other in real time. However it took a while for us to get really tuned in to each other, to get a feel for how we could each play our own thing without clashing with the other two.

The album was recorded live with no retakes – is that right? Why was that important?

Sam: It’s really important to us as a band. The ethos of Leveret is that we never play the same thing twice. We have a list of repertoire, but we have no arrangements and we don’t work from a set list. We just get on stage and play the tunes how we feel like playing them in the moment, in the order that we fancy. So someone could come and see us every night of a tour (if they were a little crazy!) and every night would be a different gig. It’s a very exciting way of working and means that we have to totally on the case at all times. You can’t nod off in the middle of gig in this band!

Rob: Essentially, yes – we were in one room playing live. Each take was completely different and there was no separation, click tracks or arrangements and consequently very few edits so although we didn’t set out to make a live record, that’s pretty much how it turned out!

And how did you choose the tunes?

Sam: We send each other tunes on our phones. Most of the tunes come from old English manuscripts like Playford’s Dancing Master or John Of The Green. I tend to find the majority of the old tunes, record them on my phone and send them to the other two. We then get together every so often and play them for hours on end. We might play each tune for an hour or more before we decide if it’s good or not. Andy and Rob also contribute a load of their own tunes.

Rob: There are some original compositions from each of us, but a lot of the tunes are things Sam and I have dug out of old tune books over the last few years. There are masses of great tunes sitting in manuscripts, fiddlers’ tunebooks and archives that aren’t in common circulation and are just waiting for someone to brush the dust off a bit.

Sam, many people will be sad to hear that Bellowhead have called it a day but the band has had amazing run and created some fantastic music live and on record so you must be very proud of that.

Sam: I will always be very proud of Bellowhead. I am extremely sad that it’s ending, but all good things must end at some point. It feels good to be ending it whilst we are absolutely at the top of our game. We have never had bigger crowds and the shows are bigger and more impressive than ever.

You two are no strangers to Priddy are you? Have you good memories of the place?

Sam: I always loved playing at Priddy. The crowd is unlike any other folk festival and I can’t wait to come back. We played Priddy with Kerfuffle three times and they were all very memorable gigs.

Rob: I’ve been to Priddy several times – my first visit was with a band called Dr Faustus years ago and I’ve been back several times since. I’ve really looking forward to going this year, it’s a great festival in a lovely location.

And finally what are you hoping to see in the green room? Do you have a rock‘n’roll rider? Whisky? Chips? Tea?

Sam: We are all driving home that night, so probably not whisky! Our rider normally includes beer, wine and water, but how about we exchange all the booze for chips this time round?

Rob: I guess the rider culture is growing in the folk world these days, but to be honest, we tend to take what we’re offered rather than making any big demands ahead of time. If we get a hot meal and maybe a beer or two we’ll be happy!

Leveret will be appearing on Sunday afternoon.

12 – 14 July, 2024