The first time I saw the “Bard of Barking” was way back in 1984 at the Hammersmith Odeon where he was supporting Pink Floyd’s Dave Gilmour. One man with his guitar and practice amp in the middle of an enormous stage presenting a rather Floydian vision. Roll on 29 years and Billy Bragg is playing in the hall town just round the corner from my holiday hotel in New York; so I thought it was about time to see him again.
The tour was to promote his new album “Tooth and Nail” which seems to be gaining excellent reviews across the board. The set was a mixture of old classics, the new album and Woody Guthrie covers. Bragg was adequately supported by his highly professional four piece band who added depth and texture to his compositions.
The set got off to a great start with “Ideology” followed by a track from the new album “No One Knows Nothing Anymore”. Further new tracks where interspersed with Woody Guthrie numbers all of which were appreciated by the warm NY audience. A solo spot sent us back to the classic 80’s material including “The Milkman of Human Kindness”, “Between The Wars” and “Levi Stubbs Tears”. On the band returning the new material continued with “Goodbye, Goodbye” and “Over You” before a finale of further classics “Valentine’s Day is Over” and “Sexuality”. The extended encore included “Waiting for the Great Leap Forwards” and to finish it had to be “Help Save the Youth of America”.
Obviously it wouldn’t be a Billy Bragg gig without a few rants on the key subjects of the day this included the death of Margaret Thatcher, USA health system, Paolo Di Canio (prior to playing “All You Fascists Are Bound To Lose”), same sex marriage and the battle for Barking.
A great performance which highlighted the depth and range of his back catalogue together with the strength of his new material. It also emphasised for me what a brilliant lyricist Billy Bragg is.
Well it’s “Back to Basics” for me.