Billy Bragg – Looking for another New England

Posted on November 11, 2021

About 20 years ago, I was having a debate with an elder friend of mine and I ended up quoting Clash frontman, Joe Strummer. He replied by saying, “That’s all and well Bob, but life isn’t the gospel according to Joe Strummer”.

I can’t remember what the argument was about, but I did feel a bit of a twat. He was right of course and from that day onwards, I have refused to live a life with rules set by Joe Strummer, Paul Weller, or anyone else. The same applies to politicians. As soon as they become a messiah with a cult following, I run away. Jeremy Corbyn is a classic example. When I heard that White Stripes song perpetually chanted by the converted (Whoa Jeremy Corbyn!) I was off.

An Open Mind

So, I went to watch Billy Bragg last night, with an open mind. Bragg, if you didn’t know, is a veteran folk/punk, left-wing protest singer. Anyone who goes to watch him play, should know what he is about. He has been singing protest songs since the early 1980’s.

Bragg’s set is an eclectic mix of songs about love, oppression, unions, protest, and establishment corruption.  He mixes it with anecdotes, expression, and opinion about where we have ended up after Brexit and Covid-19 and how he believes we got here. I didn’t feel at any point he was forcing an opinion on me. It felt like an opened end argument where you could map out your own conclusions.

It was when Bragg sang and spoke of a ‘War on Empathy’ my antennae really pricked up. I have noticed this more and more in recent years, especially with our current government. Whenever there is a crisis, they pick a fight elsewhere. It’s normally the French, the EU, or refugees clinging to dinghies in the English Channel. Someone else always gets it in the neck when there are Tory hands in the till.

Shifting Prejudices

Bragg can get you thinking about inherent prejudices. I have spent the last decade or so, trying to rid myself of the nonsense I picked up in the era I was brought up in. With every prejudice I lose, the weight on my shoulders lessens that bit more. It’s like a form of personal liberation realising that prejudices against nationality, race, or gender, are utterly preposterous.

Bragg has always tried to push the ludicrous nature of prejudices whilst ridding himself of his own. For that, he has suffered enough abuse in the media to cut through a pebble dashed rhino. Despite that, he has never been knocked off his own path to righteousness. It takes a brave bloke to do that. Particularly during tense and highly emotive periods such as the miners strike, Brexit, and fights for human justice such as Hillsborough (Never buy the Sun).

Media Bully Boys

Bully boys like Richard Littlejohn and Calvin McKenzie went after Bragg, calling him a commie and a traitor, who loved queers and dirty foreigners. A fierce patriot and lover of West Ham and England, he always made fools of them and never got cowered by their insane and racist ramblings. Bragg has endured a lot but still has the fire, humour, and gusto, to keep going.

Life isn’t the gospel according to Billy Bragg and he knows it. However, an evening of music and commentary is enough to get one thinking and checking if we could be better and keep moving forward. Bragg has not taught me anything specific, but he has confirmed my belief that holding onto historical and childish prejudices, is the stuff of cowards.

It was a pleasure to be there.

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