Towards the end of 1993, I became interested in the idea
of recording a set of songs, which, over the duration, would
tell the story of a life. I wanted to use the voices of real
and imagined witnesses to perform the songs and tell the story.
I knew I needed a heroic and dramatic main character, somewhere
between Robin Hood and the England 1966 World Cup squad. A
friend introduced me to the story of John Lilburne and I was
Here was a truly dramatic and colourful character, the leader
of the Levellers movement, the radical reformers of the seventeenth
century. Known by the people as "Freeborn John",
his whole life was spent in unflagging opposition to authority
through a life-long struggle for liberty. His story is set
against the backdrop of the English Civil War but has remained
largely unknown and untold. Here indeed was a hero of the
My idea was to explore an essentially political story from
the personal side. For here was a man whose political ideas
shook the very fabric of his society, who also fathered ten
children, many conceived on conjugal visits whilst in prison.
Here was a man whose scant regard for his own safety and liberty
damaged those he loved the most. Here was a man of huge integrity
but no little contradiction.
After six months researching in all our major libraries,
I started recording in the summer of 1994 in a studio in South
Devon. A further two and a half years saw the completion of
the recordings. Using up favours and begging others the cast
was made up from a wide variety of musicians and vocalists.
I modestly took the part of Lilburne while Maddy Prior (Steeleye
Span) became Elizabeth, my wife. The Levellers, naturally,
played the Levellers mutineers, while Justin Sullivan (New
Model Army) took the part of a parliamentary soldier. In a
similar vein Rory McLeod became Vox Populi, the folk singing
narrator, and producer and musical director Phil Johnstone
became the executioner, Will O' The People. Eddy Reader played
the radical Mary Overton, while the role of a drunken cavalier
was ably interpreted by Simon Friend (The Levellers). Finally,
saxophonist Harry S. Fulcher took the part of Cromwell himself.
It will become clear that many of the ideas we freely discuss
today were first discussed by John Lilburne and the Levellers
350 years ago: A written bill of rights and the future of
the monarchy. Freedom of worship and rights of employment.
These ideas have all been passed down to us, so it is only
fitting that the last word should come from Freeborn John
"And posterity, we doubt not, shall reap the benefit
of our endeavours, whatever shall become of us."