Just got back from seeing Billy Bragg at The Barbican – what an amazing gig!!
For those that don’t know (can there really be people in the world who don’t know about Billy Bragg???), he’s a singer songwriter, but not in the fey acoustic guitar, wannabe James Taylor way. More Woody Guthrie meets Joe Strummer. Very political, very literate, very stauchly working class leftie stuff. Did benefit gigs for the miners (added extra gravity to the gig that we’ve just gone past the 20th anniversary of the beginning of the miner’s strike…) and for the labour party back in the 80s (can anyone imaging Red Wedge existing now? I think not…)
Anyway, he was brilliant. Inspiring, refreshing, funny, moving, challenging, entertaining. Simply marvellous. his latest album is a double best of, which is a pretty good place to start with his stuff.
The sad thing about it is thinking that there’s no way that a new Billy Bragg could get anywhere near the mainstream today. Back in the early 80s, bands with something to say were all over the place, whether it was UB40, Billy Bragg, The Clash, Steel Pulse, The Specials – there were loads of them, and political songs were topping the charts and changing the hearts and minds of the country. I’m trying to think of the last time a really political song got anywhere. Not ‘We Are The World’ style bollocks. I mean something that really meant something. These days you get a lot of nu metal bands ranting on about the evils of corporate music – the machine within which they dwell and who pays their bills – and there’s still a healthy protest music scene underground (Show Of Hands, the folky duo I blogged about a while ago are doing very political stuff, as is welsh songwriting genius Martyn Joseph and God’s favourite singer, Bruce Cockburn) but those that are doing anything have either been doing well for years (hence Billy selling out the Barbican) or are playing the folk circuit.
I guess it’s healthy that they are still there. It’s just a shame that they don’t get the exposure. I mean, even the early hip-hop stuff got exposure – the first couple of Public Enemy and NWA albums were all over the place back in the late 80s, and made some fairly big changes on the political scene (NWA arguably helped trigger the LA Riots… good thing or bad thing?) these days, very little seems to get past the blandness filter. The new idea of being ‘risky’ is wearing ever more revealing clothes, or swearing on your records… yeah, really dangerous…
Anyway, three cheers for Billy Bragg. The man’s a genius and an inspiration.
Oh, and I mustn’t forget Jill Sobule who was supporting him. We got there late and only caught the second half of her set, but she was marvellous, and I bought the CD – will report back, cos if it’s as good as her set, it’ll be excellent. She was an added treat (and she came out and did a duet with Billy on ‘All The Young Dudes’ as part of the encore!)
Soundtrack – Toupe, ‘Alopecia'; Peter Gabriel, ‘Hits'; Zakir Hussein, ‘Making Music’.by