'Mixing Pop and Politics' with Billy Bragg
Billy Bragg - Credit Michael Barbour
Billy Bragg once wrote about ”mixing pop and politics” in the song ‘the Great Leap Forward’ from his 1980s ‘Workers’ Playtime’ album that for many sums up the work of the man who burst onto the scene in that decade as a singer-songwriter.
Bragg's appearance at the opening weekend of the Edinburgh International Book Festival was titled “The Milkman of Human Kindness” – again a reference to his 1980s back catalogue.
It’s probably the case that a fair chunk of the sell-out crowd in Edinburgh last night have been fans of Bragg since that period, when his lyrics contained heartfelt criticisms of the Thatcher governments and when the singer was part of the pro-Labour collective of musicians Red Wedge that also included the likes of Paul Weller and Kirsty MacColl.
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But there were also plenty of those in the audience of a more recent vintage, perhaps those attracted by Bragg's current work and his backing for Scottish independence, which he has argued would be a boost for the left north and south of the Border.
Bragg’s festival event was billed as a chat about his recently published book ‘A Lover Sings’ – a collection of the lyrics of some of the most popular songs written by the Essex born-singer sometimes affectionately referred to be many as the ‘Barking bard’.
Bragg’s discussion that was chaired by broadcaster and presenter Vic Galloway was interspersed with the artist singing some of these numbers, including the ‘Fourteenth of February’, which the artist revealed was inspired by him meeting his partner Juliet, and includes the line “Remember something of the moment that we met”.
Bragg has at times been compared to American politically minded singers such as Bruce Springsteen and the late Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie, as well as those closer to home such as the 1970s formed punk band The Clash.
But during last night’s book festival set, Bragg revealed one of his inspirations was actually the music of Tamla Motown and its stars such as the Diana Ross and the Supremes and Smokey Robinson, saying that the songs of such icons were hugely influenced by the 1960s struggles of the US civil rights movement and the murder of Martin Luther King.
Unsurprisingly there was talk of Bragg’s reaction to Brexit and the ongoing leadership battle within the Labour Party, which the singer has recently rejoined having left in 1991 when Neil Kinnock backed the first United States-led invasion of Iraq.
It was the chat around these topics that triggered a rendition of ‘I Keep faith’ – a tune from Bragg’s 2008 album Mr Love and Justice – that the singer said was an appropriate anthem for those who feel that they “are no longer part of” their own country and feel disillusioned after the Brexit vote and ongoing Tory rule.
There was talk from Bragg about the remaking of British politics and what he said for example had been the “taking for granted” by the Liberal Democrat leadership that voters would accept them being part of the Tory-Lib Dem coalition from 2010 to 2015.
Labour’s “taking for granted“ of voters in Scotland was also partly to blame for its demise north of the Border and the rise of the independence movement, according to Bragg, which like the pro-Jeremy Corbyn campaign he praised as being genuinely grass roots-based.
Bragg's belting out a song called ‘Don’t buy the Sun’ and him talking about how the idea for it came following allegations surrounding the involvement of a Rupert Murdoch-owned news title in hacking the phone of murdered child Milly Dowler all added to a politically charged atmosphere.
Although only scheduled to last an hour, Bragg’s talk and mini-concert was almost pushing 90 minutes, with a lively chat with the audience that touched on independence, Corbyn and Brexit.
But politics aside, the artist’s book featuring Love Songs seemed to go down well, with people queuing after the event for well over an hour to get an autographed copy and have a chat about’ Pop and Politics’ with Billy Bragg,
A Lover Sings - The Selected Lyrics of Billy Bragg – published by Faber & Faber
The Edinburgh International Book festival runs until 29th August
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