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Billy Bragg – Leamington Spa, Assembly

Billy Bragg gigs are part-concert/part evangelical political rally and tonight the Bard of Barking is on top form, inspired by the student protests. He immediately lights a fire under our complacent middle-English arse, kicking off with two decades old songs ‘World Turned Upside Down’ and “To Have and To Have Not”.

By doing so we are vividly reminded not only that Billy knows his roots, but that once again we’re caught up in one of capitalism’s regular grand mal seizures.

There are words aplenty in Billy’s eloquent, coherent rants with all the usual targets hit; the Tories, Blair, the right wing media, Nick Clegg, the blogger Guido Fawkes, bankers, royalty….even Mick Hucknall doesn’t escape the acid bath, dismissed as a ‘priapic, ginger haired, Charlie Drake lookalike’,

But in between there are the songs, which make Billy Bragg unique: the 21st Century folk singer, the Clash-inspired old skool punk who’s still mad and wants to get even; a national treasure. Standing there with nothing more than guitar and wit, Bragg has 500 punters hanging on every word and singing along like a football crowd for almost 2 hours. A Lover Sings, Tank Park Salute, Levi Stubbs’ Tears…..only Billy Bragg could write songs which are grounded, yet aching with a poignant, resonant beauty.

Billy Bragg is well aware of his own limitations and the self-detracting asides about his ‘boring rants’ helps to underline the message when he wants to make a point. Tonight that point comes before the penultimate “I Keep Faith”, and it is that the enemy is not casino capitalism, the Tory Party or a right-wing media: the enemy for all those trying to make a better world is cynicism.

Three brand new songs germinating from Bragg’s involvement in the ‘Pressure Drop’ play, where the underbelly of Barking and Dagenham was examined and dissected, tell the story not only of how the BNP’s 12 councillors werer sent packing this year, but of Billy Bragg’s enduring optimism and faith in the human spirit. ‘The Battle of Barking’, ‘There will be a reckoning’ and ‘Tomorrow’s going to be a better day’. We leave uplifted and enthused.

No Pasaran , Billy, Venceremos!

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