Posts Tagged ‘protest’

Billy Bragg Sage Gateshead 21 October 2021

BILLY TIXIt was a strange and winding road that took me to the Sage last Thursday to see Billy Bragg. Let me reminisce a little first (after all I am an old man largely revisiting and reliving my past). The first time I encountered Billy Bragg was as part of the Red Wedge Tour, a left-wing conglomeration of bands that travelled around the country in the 1980s. Billy Bragg, along with Paul Weller, was one of the instigators of the movement in reaction to Margaret Thatcher and the Tory values of the time. I have never been greatly political, but was interested in seeing the bands which included the aforementioned Bragg, Paul Weller with Style Council, the Communards and one or two others. The big surprise of the night was an unannounced appearance by the Smiths who blew the place apart and, according to Johnny Marr, this was their best live performance ever. So thanks to Billy for bringing the Smiths along that evening. It was the last time I was to see that magnificent band.

I saw Billy Bragg once more, headlining at Newcastle City Hall, and remember enjoying the concert. My memories of him otherwise are few and lost over the years. So when I saw he was coming to the Sage I suggested to the kids (who are both grown-up and too old to be called kids anymore) that we go along. They both agreed so we purchased tickets. But to be honest I was BILLY 1going more out of interest, and for my two children, rather than as a true fan. For two very different reasons, on the evening, the aforementioned kids were unable to come along so I decided to go, with my carer Jackie, to experience Billy “on my own”(although I am never totally on my own, as like the naughty child I am, I’m not allowed out by myself).

It’s strange how things turn out and how you can enjoy events that you are unsure about. The show was in two segments with a short interval. Billy Bragg was on great form, mixing new songs with old and, as he always did, talking a lot. This was the first night of the tour and also Billy’s first night on stage since the lockdown. The tour had been postponed for one year, as many others have been. Billy explained how he had spent the lockdown year writing a new album and reflecting on things.

“It was always my intention to record a new album in 2021. I’d planned to spend most of 2020 on the road, where I could crank out ideas for new songs in soundchecks and maybe even try a few in the live set. Things didn’t quite work out that way, of course. In the past, it has been purely personal issues that have kept me off the road and I’ve sought to come to terms with those events by writing songs that draw the listener’s attention to my individual experience….. The Million Things That Never Happened isn’t about the pandemic per se, but the highs and lows of what we’ve been through provide the backdrop for the album, as they have done for all our lives over these past two years.” (Billy Bragg official site)

BILLY 3He treated us to many songs from the new album which are more about his reflections on life than his normal political songs. He also talked a lot about his experience of the pandemic and how it has given him time to focus on recording and reading books. Like me he admitted to buying many books, reading a quote or two, and then storing them away. He alluded to his acoustic Gibson guitar smelling of old books and how wonderful that smell was; a sentiment which I wholly agree with. He looked very dapper with a new hairstyle and in smart jeans (something which I still possess but can never wear). He was accompanied by a keyboard player who kept him in check about the tuning of his guitars.

In many ways Bragg reminds me of a modern day Roy Harper, or even Pete Seeger. Like Roy or the late Seeger, he is left-wing and tell stories along with singing songs. I like artists who talk to the audience and give us something of themselves. It makes them more interesting, more authentic and more “real”. So I enjoyed my latest Billy Bragg experience, much more than I expected. I also ran into an old friend who came to see me during the interval. We used to work together some 20 or so years ago; it was great to connect again and we promised to keep in touch. I also treated myself to a couple of gin and tonics, which adds to the evening.

The annoying thing about having to book taxis is that I have to give then a time to collect me. Based on the published stage timings, which to be fair are always stated as approximate, I had booked the taxi quite early and Billy Bragg was still playing as we left. Never mind, I enjoyed the evening, which was one of re-connections: meeting an old friend again and reconnecting with Billy Bragg and his music. 

BILLY BOOKI also treated myself (and my friend John) to a copy of Billy Bragg’s book “The Three Dimensions of Freedom”, as there was no programme on sale: “At a time when opinion trumps facts and truth is treated as nothing more than another perspective, free speech has become a battleground. While authoritarians and algorithms threaten democracy, we argue over who has the right to speak. To protect ourselves from encroaching tyranny, we must look beyond this one-dimensional notion of what it means to be free and, by reconnecting liberty to equality and accountability, restore the individual agency engendered by the three dimensions of freedom.”

Many thanks to Jackie for accompanying me, taking the photographs, and making sure I don’t misbehave too much and drink too many gin and tonics, and to Chris for coming along later and helping me into bed.