Utterly beautiful


I’ll never forget the day when, as a 15-year old Billy Bragg superfan, I was selling my fanzine outside his Hackney Empire gig and the big-nosed bard of Barking himself wandered up and bought a copy. Later that night, during Waiting For The Great Leap Forwards, when he sang the line about “the 15 fame-filled minutes of the fanzine writer”, he gave me and my mate a nod. Magical, unforgettable memories.

Another highlight among the many fond Billy Bragg-related memories I have was the show he headlined at the Dominion in 1988, with Michelle Shocked and The Beatnigs supporting. The performances that night blew my teenage mind.

Since those days he’s remained a permanent fixture in my life, a reassuring beacon of passion and integrity in a world of hypocrisy and compromise. From angry polemics to soulful melancholia and folky Americana his music’s always singular and inspiring. “Some people sing about love, some people sing about war, some people sing about a better world to come…well I sing about all three,” he says.

And from taking down the right wing press to supporting trade unions and fearless jousting with arseholes like the BNP, he’s always had his finger on the political pulse and walked it like he’s talked it. “The only antidote to cynicism is activism”, he once said.

Some of his songs about friendship and relationships are truly beautiful. And his latest album includes one that might go down as the most poignant and moving Billy Bragg song of them all. There’d be a few contenders – St Swithin’s Day, Must I Paint You Picture?, Tank Park Salute and Red To Blue spring to mind, and Goodbye Goodbye is similarly powerful stuff. Written back in 2008, it somehow didn’t make it onto his last album. Included at the end here, it manages to be both resigned and celebratory at the same time. Casting a misty eye back over the long and winding road that’s been travelled…while simultaneously wondering how the decades somehow slipped away in the blink of an eye. Gorgeous, lump-in-the-throat-inducing stuff. I just hope he isn’t handing in his notice and retiring.


About antmelder
Executive Creative Director at Host/Havas Sydney; passionate vegetarian; lover of books, boxing and Bruce Springsteen.

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