Friday 21 June 2024

The Past Is Another Blog #4: Billy's Back

Below is another post stolen from my old blog, this one dated...


It's a review of a Billy Bragg gig at Holmfirth Picturedrome the previous Saturday (2/12/06). I might not have run it again but for the fact that Billy returned to that very venue this Saturday just gone (18/6/24), so I figured it would make for an interesting comparison...

"It's Saturday night in Holmfirth - yeah!"

Hardly a rock ‘n’ roll capital, even of West Yorkshire, but it’s Saturday night in Holmfirth and Billy Bragg is rocking the mid-renovation rafters of the Picturedrome, not a venue at which I ever expected to see one of my musical idols perform. Still, it’s a rare pleasure that after the gig, I’ve only got a ten-minute drive home.

Five minutes these days: I've moved closer! I think they completed the renovations of the Picturedrome some time in the past 18 years too.

Billy Bragg - The Warmest Room

There’s a certain irony to watching the definitive working class hero (move over, Mr. L.) play a little Yorkshire town where the Green Welly Brigade rules; where – thanks to Compo and co. - locals are being forced out by wealthy comers-in; and where the average house price is now comfortably past £200k, far higher than anywhere else in the surrounding area. Just the weekend before, Bill Wyman came here to turn on the Christmas lights - and a multi-millionaire ex-Rolling Stone seems a much better fit in Holmfirth than a BNP-baiting Bard of Barking.

£200k would probably buy you a garden shed round here these days. 

Billy Bragg - Levi Stubbs' Tears

This is the second leg of the Hope Not Hate Tour, and Billy is more aggressive than ever in his anti-fascist stance, particularly since the BNP recently took seats in his hometown. 

Billy told the same story about the BNP this time, with the update that they're no longer around. These days, his biggest threat comes from Nigel Farage. Although he was also gleefully anticipating the kicking the Tories are about to get in a few weeks time... and talking about his resignation from the Labour Party over Kier Starmer's stance on Israel. 

Billy Bragg - Handyman Blues

I’ve never been all that politically driven myself, but I’d be more than willing to vote for any candidate who displayed half as much intelligence (his lyrics include words like ‘recidivists’ – I have to dictionary it when I get home), wit (“People said to me, Bill, you’ve got to go to Holmfirth - do you know what they filmed there? Most of the new James Bond film…”), and passion, as Councillor Stephen William Bragg. Some might say he’s preaching to the converted, and yes, it’s true that the few skinheads in the audience probably chose their haircuts through necessity rather than right wing statement, but that’s missing the point. As a performer, Billy both entertains and educates, yet not once do I feel lectured to. Inspired? Definitely. It’s the kind of gig you wish everyone could experience, because it recharges your batteries. I truly wish I had half his passion, his conviction, his commitment to social equality… but for a couple of hours on Saturday night, I do… and I’ll try to carry that with me into the weeks ahead.

Towards the end of last Saturday's gig, Billy spoke bluntly about the inspirational quality of his gigs (which he puts down to the passion of the audience as much as anything he does). He also spoke about the apathy and cynicism many of his generation now feel towards politics, and how us oldies should look to the youth to recharge our batteries. I'm afraid to say that apathy and cynicism may be all I have left - the inspiration I described above is not something I felt this time round.

Billy Bragg - Walk Away, Renee (Version)

Though famous for his outspoken political activism, a Billy Bragg gig never gets heavy. It’s an enviable trick, best summed up after an amusing monologue regarding his last American tour. “I’d just like to apologise to anyone who brought a friend along tonight to hear a trenchant critique of the Marxist dialectic… and here I am discussing the merits of watching talking cats on Youtube.” I suppose it must be a similar experience at a Mark Thomas gig… only Billy’s funnier.

I've seen Billy play live a fair few times over the years, and he often speaks at gigs about how there are two types of Billy Bragg fans - those who connect with the politics first, and those who are more fired up by his clever, witty relationship songs. I've always belonged to the latter camp, and this time round I felt a bit short-changed. Serves me right for going to see Billy three weeks before a General Election, I guess. 

Billy Bragg - Way Over Yonder In A Minor Key

As for the music…? Spot on. “Levi Stubbs’ Tears” will always bring a lump to my throat, and his briefly adopted “Johnny Clash” persona – singing ‘Pinball Wizard’ to the tune of ‘Folsom Prison Blues’ - is a stroke of genius. Ending the night with a sing-along ‘New England’ – “let’s do a verse for Kirsty!” – sends everyone home with a smile. On losing all but the lowest register of his voice whilst touring the US, his manager allegedly consoled him, “Don’t worry, Bill – no-one comes to hear you sing.” We do though, of course we do – we just get so much more besides.

Maybe I've reached the age where I do just want to hear Billy Bragg sing. I had a half-baked notion after the gig on Saturday that he should do two gigs in future - one for the politicos and one for all the sad-sacks like me who just want to hear him sing The Warmest Room, Tank Park Salute and Handyman Blues. Sadly, we only got one of those this time... though it still brought me to tears.

1 comment:

  1. This is a great (couple of) post(s). I've seen Uncle Bill live more times than I care to remember, and probably now also count amongst the sad sacks. And this post makes me want to see if he's coming to my neck of the woods any time soon.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...