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Billy Bragg vs the BNP in the Battle of Burton Bradstock

It’s not easy being the foremost socialist in rock these days, as Billy Bragg could tell you. His idyllic West Dorset existence was shattered – well, mildly disturbed – when his neighbours received hate mail calling on them to force him out their village because of his socialist beliefs. There’s a battle outside and it’s raging, as someone once said.

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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.

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From the vault – Billy Bragg

One thing I love about Billy Bragg is that he is genuinely timeless. That’s not because his music has the forever classicism that, say, the Beatles do, but because he’s constantly updating from where he was to where he actually is.  Therefore, 50 year old Billy doesn’t write about early 20s angst any more, because he doesn’t suffer from it. Unlike many other lefty 80s icons, he’s not still railing against Thatcher. Here’s his 2006 update on the classic ‘Waiting for the Great Leap Forwards’. The other bloke, incdentally, is Ian McLagen of the Faces. Quality.


The Gigs of Your Life

In a new feature, ELM writers look back at some of the shows which changed their lives. Kicking us off, Tom Joad shares with us some of his favourite gigs down the years…

Look, everybody does this. Sitting in front of a VDU, bored, distracted, worried about their mortgage, headache, hangover, partner, car, basic professional prevarication. Then a lightbulb appears: so here are reminiscences about three gigs, from the 70s, 80s and the noughties, which meant something to me or were particularly memorable.

Introducing…Lonely Joe Parker

Music is a fast-moving beast. Everything changes at a rapid old pace. This isn’t always bad – goodbye and good luck with your future endeavours to Acid Brass, Alan McGhee and the Bravery, amongst others – but inevitably the baby sometimes goes with the bathwater. Such is the case with the great rock’n’roll nickname. So kudos to Lonely Joe Parker for bringing it back. Unless his given name really is Lonely Joe. That would be cool.

His new single ‘Shanty’ is released next week and will find favour with those of you who’ve ever wondered what it would be like if Billy Bragg covered something from The Boatman Calls. He should get that haircut finished, mind.

‘Shanty is released 8th March on Sotones Records.

The Artists Union?

Following on from last week’s news, NME.com reports that Radiohead’s Ed O’Brien is at the forefront of a new ‘Musician’s Union’.

Here is the news on the Featured Artists’ Coalition (FAC).

The FAC, which aims to look after the needs of musicians and fans, held its first meeting last week (March 11), at London club Heaven. It was attended by stars including Robbie Williams, Mick Jones and Travis’ Fran Healy.

O’Brien, who alongside Blur’s Dave Rowntree, Kate Nash and Billy Bragg is one of the FAC’s directors, blogged about the meeting on Radiohead’s Dead Air Space site.

“Two days ago a historic meeting took place in Heaven (!) under Charing Cross railway station in London,” he wrote, before stating that he wasn’t sure how readily the FAC would be received by the music industry.

“I’m going to post up stuff about this because it’s an exciting time and also because there is going to be some seriously heavy PR aimed at us by the interested parties who might deem the FAC a threat…there’s a lot of fear out there in the biz.”

In the blog, the guitarist outlined the FAC’s mission status, saying the group wants to give both musicians and fans a voice.

“Traditionally in the music industry two groups have been shut out of any negotiations and rights/revenue carve ups…and that’s the artists and the fans. The formation of the FAC is all about changing this state of affairs…hopefully we can not only do artists justice but also the people who listen to our music.

“After all, in order to be a musician you have to be a music fan. And first and foremost this is about trying to ensure that young bands and artists get a fair deal and are able to make a living in the digital era.”

Billy Bragg – Nottingham Rock City

by E Streeter


“I’m the Marmite artist” says Billy Bragg, “you either love me or hate me”. That’s a fairly typical comment from the Bard of Barking, at once self-deprecating, funny and shrewdly observed. Billy is sporting a new t-shirt this evening: Marmite logo on the front and tour dates on the back, in a vain attempt to get his favourite spread to sponsor him.

The Nottingham Rock City gig is the opener for the second leg of Bragg’s UK tour, interrupted by a few months in the USA where he picked up his support act, Billy Otis. The best way to describe American Billy is to think ZZ top refugee with a baseball cap and much better politics. Billy tried a bit too hard to put across an “I’m an American, please don’t hate me” message, obviously not briefed that a Billy Bragg audience is as progressive and politically switched on as it gets. Mr Bragg himself ventured into potentially risky territory with a couple of references to the upcoming 25th anniversary of the Miners’ Strike in an area which didn’t support the NUM, but he, unlike the mining industry of Nottingham, got away with it.

Hardcore Bragg fans prefer things when it’s just Billy, his guitar and the crowd and this is one of those gigs which left you feeling uplifted and smiley. The set list I saw bore almost no relation to what BB played, but three highlights for me were ‘A Lover Sings’, ‘Greetings To the New Brunette’ and a highly contemporary ‘Waiting For The Great Leap Forwards’ which managed to reference Hugo Chavez, John Sergeant, the endurance of the Cuban Revolution, Strictly Come Dancing and parasitic bankers. Genius.

The verbal riffing ensures time whizzes by and that the songs are given context and emphasis. Clearly fired up by witnessing first hand Barack Obama’s epoch making victory (I was going to say ‘historic’ but if ever a word were overused it’s that), Billy reminds us again and again that positive changes are possible and that we, not he, can bring them about. The most interesting part of the evening was discovering that seeing The Clash play Victoria Park in the inaugural Rock Against Racism gig was the event that changed the course of BB’s life and took him on that 30 year plus journey, which led to Nottingham in November 2008. Bragg’s ‘Johnny Clash’ song got an airing as a result, an homage to Strummer and the can-do spirit which eventually coughed up one of England’s finest song writers. I mean, anyone who can write a line like ‘and if you haven’t noticed yet, I’m more impressionable when my cement is wet’ deserves to be front and centre when British songsmiths are ranked.

Three cover versions give a good idea of what makes Billy tick – ‘I Ain’ t Got No Home’, a 70 year old Woody Guthrie song about dispossession which could have been written the day before, a surprisingly strong ‘A Change Is Gonna Come’ originally by the wonderful, wonderful Sam Cooke and a half-arsed ‘Jeanne’ by The Smiths. Eclectic doesn’t begin to describe it.

He slapped it into the BNP, George Bush, Tony Blair and the usual targets. He also stitched together a closing sequence of songs to bring even the most jaded leftie to life: ‘Waiting For The Great Leap Forwards’, ‘There Is Power In A Union’,  ‘A Change Is Gonna Come’, ‘I Have Faith’, and  – despite losing his voice two thirds of the way in  – gave us ‘A New England’ to send us home happy. Billy Bragg may well be a Marmite artist but seeing him this evening was as enjoyable as it was the first night I saw him play, a mere 21 years ago at a Labour Party Conference in Blackpool. Plus ca change……………..