It’s about 19 years since Meanwhile Gardens was recorded, which means it’s about 19 years since I started writing about music. I still remember Tom leaning over the back of the classroom chair, his eyes shining with mischievous glee: “Levitation have split up. Are you going to cry?”
I grabbed the issue of Melody Maker out of his extended hand. Terry Bickers had quit live on stage, leaving the crowd – and the band – stunned by his departure. I didn’t cry, of course, but I was bewildered enough to want to find out more. Once home, I grabbed my copy of Even When Your Eyes Are Open, flipped the sleeve over to get the details and called directory enquiries. I was quickly put through to Dave Francolini, who had fortuitously dropped into the office that day. After we’d been talking for a few moments, I said, “Do you mind if I write all this down?”
Almost 19 years after what would become my first interview, Meanwhile Gardens remains unreleased. It would have been Levitation’s second full-length album and it was absolutely magnificent. At the time, a friend who was working for the band mailed me a cassette of the album with “I did not give this to you” scrawled on a post-it note. After several years of repeated playing, the tape wore out, but a replacement could be found via various bulletin boards, on the proviso – of course – that each recipient swore to buy the album if it was ever released.
Wikipedia charts the sorry saga:
In the aftermath of Bickers’ abrupt departure the Meanwhile Gardens LP was temporarily shelved, and scheduled appearances, including the Phoenix Festival (headlining the Powerhaus stage), and a support slot at The Cure’s Great Expectations Finsbury Park concert, were cancelled.
Plans were announced in winter 1995 to mix the second half of Meanwhile Gardens and release it with the first half as originally planned. These never came to fruition. A nine-track version of the album (featuring Ludwin on lead vocals, but with plenty of Terry Bickers’ vocals and guitar parts retained in the mix) was eventually released through Festival Records in Australia and was followed by two EPs. However, much of the band’s material has remained unreleased.
In 2007, David Francolini mentioned the possibility of a Levitation re-issue program on Rough Trade (including the original, never released, version of Meanwhile Gardens). However in 2009, David explained that Rough Trade was bought by Beggars Banquet who weren’t interested in doing the re-release.
To anyone who has heard the album, it seems absolutely criminal that the album remains unreleased after all this time. (Even the Ludwin version is practically impossible to get hold of, though – much as I’ll love Steve Ludwin till my dying day – I still regard the Bickers version as the “real” one.)
The Quietus seems to share my opinions, since the website is running a series of articles on Levitation. Today’s includes interviews with the band and people working with them at the time of Bickers’ departure. It brought back a lot of memories, and it was interesting to have some questions answered that I had always wondered about.
It’s good that they’re running a series like that, because I’ve always felt that Levitation were very underrated. It feels like belated recognition for what was, very briefly, the most exciting band in Britain. It’s just a shame that the band never got to realise their full potential, and that I’m still one of only a handful of people who will ever even know what their second album sounded like.
I’ve put together some clips for illustrative purposes, but obviously I’ll have to nix this if anyone objects. This, dear reader, is what you missed.