Billy Bragg, an inspiration

I have been meaning to write something about Billy Bragg for a while. Then some fascists leafleted the area where he lives, slagging him off, and the unfortunate business became a national press story and it’s spurred me on to set something down. That’s all you need in that situation, a few digs from the tabloids. I’m not going to link to the stories, you can google them if you must, but this spoof article pretty much sums it up.

I never was a Billy Bragg fan. I like folk music, I’m a lefty, you’d think I would be. But Billy was a Labour man, you know, Red Wedge and all that. Us Commies had Dick Gaughan and anyway, just to ensure that Billy was beyond the ideological canon, I knew some Liberals who liked Billy so much that they even went to his concerts. That was enough to put me off. I joke, but it isn’t far off the truth.

Maybe I am fickle, I used to like Bob Dylan until I discovered Woody Guthrie. And it was via Guthrie’s music that I came into contact with Billy. Billy had just released the Mermaid Avenue album, recording previously unrecorded Guthrie material when we were doing a big pull out feature on Woody Guthrie’s anti-fascism at Searchlight Magazine. Even though he has been a life-long anti-fascist, that was when we first made contact with Billy. I think if I remember rightly because we wanted to use the feature to promote our work at his concerts.

After that, Billy came out on the streets with us in Barking and Dagenham, visiting his mum and then joining us as we leafleted door-to-door. When we had finished a big session and returned to the Labour hall for some lunch Billy went to his car, got his guitar, and performed an impromptu concert, singing anti-fascist songs. Just like Woody Guthrie might have done. It was very moving and a real treat for everyone who had been involved in a thankless task. Billy was to become a tireless supporter of what became the Hope not Hate campaign.

In between a career that takes him on the road across the world, Billy plays a major role in numerous campaigns. Of course there was the Miners’ Strike and Red Wedge but these were long ago. Today he campaigns for electoral reform. He has set up the Jail Guitar Doors campaign, helping prisoners who the rest of the left have forgotten about. He writes about a proud English identity when most on the left just avoid the issue. This time last year he was the face of the much needed protests against the banks obscene bonus culture.

I am sure he must have second thoughts on calling on people to vote Liberal Democrat in the elections and I am sure we will never agree on the European Union, which he seems to think is a good thing. And I’m not sure I would have such nice things to say about the Queen as he has. But then he has met her, and I haven’t.

But I have met Billy and he is a great guy. Billy Bragg is a British institution, however English he might like to be. While the left doesn’t seem to know whether it is coming or going half the time, Billy does. I don’t think he is the type to let a few fascist scumbags and tabloid hacks get him down. He is an inspiration. Oh, and his music is pretty good too.

This entry was posted in Blog and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Billy Bragg, an inspiration

  1. beryl the peril (aka redsonj) says:

    This sums up Billy very well for me 🙂 Thank you for writing and sharing.

  2. Paul Heaton says:

    Billy Bragg and I go back a long way. In many ways he was the one responsible for getting me my first recording contract, rooting back then, as he still does today, for young and upcoming artists. Reading yesterdays news, that not only had he become the target of a hate mail campaign but also accusations of hypocrisy over where he chose to live, had me scrambling for my pencil case. Yes he does live in a house like that. Both he and his wife Juliet have worked for over 30 years in an overpaid, over-bloated industry. But in my recollection there has only ever been one artist that campaigned for consumer’s rights and cheap record prices- Billy, and only one record label that attempted to implement them- Juliet’s Go! Discs. The last time I met Billy and Juliet they were working tirelessly on the running of the Leftfield Stage at Glastonbury. To be honest I was amazed at the sheer energy and dedication they put into making sure everyone was looked after and happy. And that was what I was left with that day at Glastonbury. I may live in a terraced house with no garden and just a backyard, but work-wise I’m just a middle class slacker next to Billy and what he does for the folk of this world. Yet here we are discussing the house size and not the value of contribution to society. Maybe we should ask elsewhere? Maybe we should ask some of the poorest inmates at Armley Jail who have benefited from Bragg’s Jail Guitar Doors Charity? Or Reprieve, the legal action charity that Bragg has consistently supported? Maybe the shopkeepers and residents of Barking and Dagenham, who now feel free to walk their streets in safety, after Bragg’s Hope not Hate group smashed the BNP at last springs local elections? Or maybe Kirsty Maccoll’s family, after the fantastic work Billy has done trying to bring justice to her killer? I’m sure they would all say one thing. Billy Bragg is priceless. So as we bring to close the debate over house, mansion, castle or council estate, let us be safe in the knowledge. The knowledge that looking over the channel to Europe tonight, from our beautiful Southern coast, is not the ugly jack-booted face of the extremist that sent these letters but someone who has made so many of us proud to be both Socialist and English.

  3. michael says:

    Says nice things about the Queen, does he? Right, that’s him off my list! Hypocrite!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *