Friday, December 03, 2010

Live Music Review: Thursday 2 December 2010 - Bill Bragg, Rock City Nottingham

Swiss Toni got in ahead of me with a great review of Billy Bragg from last night (hello! sorry I was not confident enough to say hi!)

Good job that I read ST's first, or I would have been spitting even more feathers for reading the miserable f***ing review from This is Nottingham. Thanks for nothing Mr Belbin.

I mean, come on: we walk in as Billy Bragg takes the stage and he does 'The World Turned Upside Down' (a song which always brings a tear to my eye) and he ends on the mass Rock City choral version of 'A New England' (the guy never has to sing the words to that ever again: it is truly a modern standard, sung with passion and verve by every Bragg audience I have ever been in).

Because to criticise Bragg for talking is to miss the point: he's a political and social raconteur as much as a musician/songwriter. Those who go expecting 'only the songs' have probably largely missed the point OF those songs. Bragg teased us for being "softies", for responding so fondly to his more romantic balladeering (and he is indeed a fine balladeer), but Bragg is what he is in all his guises because of his politics, his opinions, his talking --- and that means that his love songs reflect the anguish of trying to reconcile social realities with ideals.

Of course, there are always people who go to any gig expecting to simply hear albums/songs - bizarrely, there are also people who seem to want to talk all the time, AND complain about Bragg talking.* I'm a bit baffled by such people: why are they at a gig? Why not play your selected tracks/preferences at home? Talking is part of the Bragg package: love it or loath it, he ain't going to do it differently. He's notorious for it, and as he noted last night, he can't help himself - especially when he's enjoying a gig so much. And frankly, you do have to wonder about people attending who are not only anti-Bragg talking, but especially about WHAT he talks about: how have they missed noticing/appreciating Bragg's political standpoint. Again, as noted, they're integral to him as a performer. But it is important to note that any complainants appeared to be a very small number last night.

And Bragg can stir a crowd so effectively: on topics as connected as the Nottingham University sit-in to campaign against student fee rises, to the problems of cynicism on challenging social problems (and on that note: all hail the dense pedantry of Belbin for sticking to the ancient Greek - and now scarcely comprehended - definition of Cynicism rather than the widely accepted and understood modern definition. We get you can wiki google the original concept: very impressive. Not.)

Members of the audience may have worried about getting buses home due to the weather, and may have urged Bragg to "talk less, sing more!" but I never got the sense that this was delivered with anger: Bragg instead acknowledged it was a reasonable request in light of the context (after all, he started at 8.20pm - and not just because there was a disco immediately afterwards) and then Bragg moved on. There was still talking from the Braggmeister, but I didn't get the sense of a rising tide of anger at him still talking. He was taken to task for his own errors - to which he freely admitted ("I supported Tony Blair in 1997 and voted Lib-Dem in the last election to keep the Conservatives out: if anyone has a right to be cynical..."). But this was an audience that sang with gusto to 'There is a Power in a Union' - for surely in the current climate it has never been more vital to support collective action and challenges to rampant Conservative cuts. It wasn't just about the love songs and wearied reactions to Bragg's polemic exhortations: 'To have and have not' was equally rapturously received.

Anyway, it was as ever a delightful and uplifting gig and I was personally delighted that Bragg performed several of the songs from Pressure Drop, the performance event that ran in London (but which we unfortunately missed). I'm looking forward to playing that CD soon.

It's always worth seeing Bragg: and given how much he likes Nottingham, he's sure to be back soon. We need him more than ever.

* I did my bit to challenge the 'coming to gigs to talk' mentality and kindly asked a couple of guys who had failed to read all our intensive disapproving glaring to please be quiet so we could hear what Bragg was singing/talking about. They at least didn't get worse or throw beer at me... A small triumph.

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