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Billy Bragg

Billy Bragg

Fresh from touring the world with Joe Henry and galvanized by events, not least the worrying rise of popularism, Billy Bragg is dealing with it in the best way he knows how, by strapping on his electric guitar and heading out on tour across the US in October, under the title Bridges Not Walls. Billy, in one-man Clash mode, will perform songs from his 30+ year career, some pertinent covers by his heroes and mentors and some freshly minted songs about the state of the world. Billy Bragg has been a fearless recording artist, tireless live performer and peerless political campaigner for over 30 years. Among the former Saturday boys albums are his punk-charged debut Lifes a Riot With Spy Vs Spy, the more love-infused Workers Playtime, pop classic Dont Try This At Home, the Queens Golden Jubilee-timed treatise on national identity England, Half-English, and his stripped-down tenth, Tooth & Nail, his most successful since the early 90s. The intervening three decades have been marked by a number one hit single, having a street named after him, being the subject of a South Bank Show, appearing onstage at Wembley Stadium, curating Left Field at Glastonbury, sharing spotted dick with a Cabinet minister in the House of Commons cafeteria, being mentioned in Bob Dylans memoir and meeting the Queen. At their best, Billys songs present the perfect Venn diagram between the political and the personal (the Guardian).Politicised by a Tory government operating without love or justice, this previously adrift young man from Barking, whose failure at the eleven-plus had reduced his career opportunities to two, bought himself out of the British Army in 1981 ('the best 175 I ever spent'), determined to make a living out of song. After Life's A Riot, he blazed a modest trail with similarly utilitarian follow-up Brewing Up With (pay no more than 3.99), and 'difficult third album' Talking With The Taxman About Poetry (4.49), on which Billy succumbed to the possibility of accompaniment, with additional guitar, piano and flugelhorn. Despite his above-parapet activism around the miners' strike and the efforts of the Labour-supporting Red Wedge best summed up by 1985's classic Between The Wars EP his next album, Workers Playtime, positively jangled, with the highest ratio of love songs to protest songs yet. He played the full pop card with Don't Try This At Home, even making a jaunty video for the Aids-related 'Sexuality', but went back to basics for William Bloke, reflecting a world where Margaret Thatcher was gone, the Berlin Wall was down, but the world still seemed to be on the brink. In 1998, Nora Guthrie, daughter of the late folk legend Woody, invited Billy to set a treasure trove of his unsung lyrics to music, which he did in collaboration with US alt-rock stars Wilco. The resulting Mermaid Avenue albums, Grammy-nominated, repositioned Billy in the United States. His next solo album, recorded with his regular band the Blokes, brought it all back home, to these multicultural shores: England, Half-English. On the eve of release of his self-financed tenth solo album, Tooth and Nail, recorded in five days in acclaimed songwriter/producer Joe Henry's basement studio in Pasadena, Billy Bragg can confidently state: 'I did it my way.' The intervening three decades have been marked by numerous milestones, political and personal, including going to number one, having a street named after him, being the subject of a South Bank Show, appearing onstage at Wembley Stadium, curating Leftfield at Glastonbury, sharing spotted dick with a Cabinet minister in the House of Commons cafeteria, being mentioned in Bob Dylan's memoir, meeting the Queen, and getting royally upstaged by his son's guitar solo at a gig in the East End with his proud Mum in the audience.Just as the young Billy cut a unique figure in the image-conscious 80s one firebrand and his guitar, available for weddings, parties and benefits, occasionally seen busking under his own, shoulder-mounted PA (the fabled 'Portastack'), all the while, in the words of Melvyn Bragg, 'making a virtue of simplicity' so, the elder statesman of today, bearded and 'ruggedly handsome' (according to one fan on his Facebook page), refuses to slip into the dotage of self-parody. In his fifties, neither the fight nor the fight songs have left Billy Bragg. In 2013, the year the 30th Anniversary Edition of Life's A Riot With Spy Vs Spy was released with exclusive live tracks, Billy signed a worldwide deal with Cooking Vinyl, allowing him to retain copyright for his recordings, a rare clause in the modern record industry. In 2014, the label released Live At The Union Chapel, a 19-track concert album and DVD recorded at the fabled London venue in June 2013. Expanding his natural instinct for spoken-word. Billy launched his own series of monthly 'radio shows' on Spotify; in his words, 'talking playlists', where he discusses the music and artists that mean a lot to him. He continues to find new ways of connecting with his fans. What's seen him through 12 studio albums, seven compilations, two box sets, and countless tours across countless international borders, has been a driving sense of compassion what he himself christened 'socialism of the heart'. For every protest song ('Between The Wars', 'There Is Power In A Union', 'Never Buy The Sun'), there is a declaration of love ('Must I Paint You A Picture', 'Brickbat' or, from Tooth and Nail, 'Chasing Rainbows'). At their best, Billy's songs present 'the perfect Venn diagram between the political and the personal (the Guardian). These are what Billy considers the songs you'd stake your life on. Countless fans around the globe feel the same way.'Mixing pop and politics' is a tall order, but where there's a starting block, there's a great leap forward. To smuggle a song called 'Take Down The Union Jack' into the charts and onto Top of the Pops in the year of the Queen's Golden Jubilee, takes a certain amount of cheek, and some clever promotion; but it also takes a tune you can whistle. (Without that, it's a pamphlet.)Governments rise and fall, fashions come and go, pop stars are built up and knocked down by a fickle press, and Billy Bragg adapts to survive: the one-time Luddite and failed handyman has embraced New Media and engages with fans directly via Facebook and Twitter, uploading songs when a headline strikes. His enemies remain essentially the same: craven politicians, inhumane corporations, plus assorted racists, fascists, bullies, reactionaries and people with floppy fringes. Orator, entertainer, rabble-rouser, negotiator, leafletter, the fabled 'big-nosed bard from Barking', Billy Bragg is many things. A regular contributor to the national debate as TV pundit and newspaper columnist, he continues to sharpen his pen as a writer, and his first book, the considered, wide-ranging treatise on English identity The Progressive Patriot, opened up a whole new vista of possibility for a man who never stops engaging with all the trouble in the world. Whether it's the miners' strike, House of Lords reform, bankers' bonuses, illegal wars, the justice system, copyright in the age of downloading, running the BNP out of Barking, the rehabilitation of prisoners through music, or the undemocratic commandeering of a Portaloo backstage at a festival, Billy Bragg will help fight your corner. To quote his enduring live favourite 'Levi Stubbs' Tears': the world falls apart, but some things stay in place. The pessimism of the former observation has never be so true. The optimism of the latter is encompassed by 'Tomorrow's Going To Be A Better Day' from Tooth and Nail:"Take it from someone who knows the glass is half-full, tomorrow's going to be a better day, no matter what the siren voices say we're going to make it that way."

at Crest Theatre
1013 K Street
Sacramento, United States

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