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December 12, 2013

Billy Bragg gas been and gone… 12-12-13

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It’s now a couple of weeks since we saw Billy Bragg in Birmingham, which is more about my sense of urgency than any implied lukewarm response.
And… it’s Billy Bragg. Is there anything left to write about Billy Bragg? There isn’t. And Billy Bragg is the world champion at explaining what Billy Bragg’s about.
His audience has aged with him. One bit of tuning-up patter vis.his new grey beard is a tale of the decisions involved in embarking on facial hair as a permanent day-to-day feature and its virtues as a recognition of Older Manhood. This is me, ladies and gentlemen, and this is My Beard. There was ripple of recognition amongst the male audience, not so much laughter as a general murmur of “Yeah… what he said…”. In the auditorium the motion was carried.
A recent tour of The States has found its way into the band – his pedal-steel player C J Hillman’s really got the ol’ steel-player’s craftsman’s bug though he looks eerily like the Peter Tork in a Monkees tribute band, with his untucked stonewashed denim shirt.
Billy did a Grumpy Old Bloke hrrumph! at some article saying that Bragg had ‘gone country’. I couldn’t see the problem. Country has always been the Working Man’s 1001 Nights, the wired-up chamber-music for the weekend hop.
…This is now December 12th and the only reason to return to this draft is that I’d hoped to pick up motivation for writing but have revised the plan to the more modest: finish this before it becomes another of those unfinished bits the litter the Blog Drafts folder.
So in summary: it was a Bragg gig, part Music Hall, part revivalist Mission-tent, part Union rally – a lot to enjoy; a seasoned performer comfortable with large crowds; an audience that doesn’t pin him down to a catalogue of Greatest Hits.
It may not be part of a balanced appraisal but somewhere in the back of my mind I was reminded of Nigel Tufnell in Spinal Tap musing about The Tap’s Mission to keep the band on the road, the audiences turning up to Preserve The Moose, keeping the endangered species of Hard Rock alive despite cultural climate-change.
Herself had been looking forward to the gig for ages and had there been a BB Advent calendar she’d have marked the approaching day. She knows all the words and welcomed the opportunity to get to her feet, chant them and prod the Purposeful Finger in the air for the choruses.
Support for the evening was Kim Churchill, who apparently blagged a lift in the Bragg tour bus and ended up on the tour as a protegé. From an open-tuned guitar, harmonica and bass-drum, through an array of FX pedals, he whips up a sonic storm in which his voice is a trebly keen. I took the opportunity to use The Gents – prudence rather than criticism – and found the mix fed into the rest-room relay actually better-balanced and easier to listen to than the howl in the auditorium.
Well, good luck to Kim. He has youth and energy on his side and some very convincing affirmation in performing with Big Names. There were moments when I was reminded of John Martyn in his prime on stage with an Echoplex and Danny Thompson on bass, launching into extended slaloms through I’d Rather Be The Devil or Glistening Glyndebourne.

http://www.kimchurchill.com/