Every bullied teenager thinks they’re alone. But then they hear a song that tells them about their lives. Billy Bragg talks about the writing of The Saturday Boy, and the boy he was when he was sitting in double history twice a week. By Michael Hann.
“But I never made the first team
I just made the first team laugh
And she never came to the phone
She was always in the bath.”
I don’t recall whose was the first boot in my mouth, or who kicked me afterwards, or how many times. All I remember — all I’ve ever been able to remember, since the day it happened — was being followed around the playground by a group of boys who, like me, were in their first term at grammar school in autumn 1980. Then I was on the ground. Then I was being kicked in the face, over and over again. Then I was making my way back to my classroom — the nearest classroom, thankfully — for afternoon registration, my mouth bleeding, my teeth chipped, my eyes swollen from the kicking and the tears that followed. Mick Whelan — the only person I can be sure was among the group that attacked me, and only because we later became an uneasy sort of friends — said everyone took their shoes off before they started on my face. That sounded both unusually considerate, and extremely unlikely. Continue reading →
Billy Bragg travels back through the primeval swamps of skiffle and beyond. TV review by James Woodall
If you were a fan of “Rock Island Line” when it became a pop hit, you’d have to be at least in your mid-70s now. In 1956, Paul McCartney heard Lonnie Donegan perform it live in Liverpool, and Paul’s rising 77. How many below that age know it is moot, though that doesn’t necessarily disqualify it from the hour-long documentary treatment. For blues lovers, it’s a benchmark. “Rock Island Line” dates from the late 1920s and was first recorded in 1934.
Billy Bragg dependably and articulately fronted up this BBC Four history of the song, a protest paean to, or (as it might once have been called) a Negro spiritual about, a railroad network begun in the mid-19th century. Trains eventually steamed to many points west, south and north of Chicago – Rock Island sits west of Chicago, on the east bank of the Mississippi.
Those first recorded voices of the song belonged to black prisoners in Arkansas, way to the south. Key here was that another erstwhile convict, Huddie William Ledbetter – aka Lead Belly, who was violent but musically hugely influential on the 1950s and 1960s: Dylan references him on his first album – was present at the recording, clocked the performance and made the song his own. He died in 1949. Continue reading →
Singer/songwriter Billy Bragg gained fame as a punk rock and folk musician in the 1980s. Now nearing 60, he’s still singing songs of protest and passion, but also singing the gospel of skiffle, a folk and blues-inspired genre that helped propel a generation of British rockers. Jeffrey Brown sits down with Bragg to discuss his new book, “Roots, Radicals and Rockers.”
I don’t think that Trump understands the role that he is about to take on. I think that he is going to be baffled.Imagine what is going to happen when he has to sit down and talk to Angela Merkel about issues. I have to say that I already miss President Obama because of the quality of service that he bought, never mind what he achieved, just the dignity that he bought to the role. Now it’s like, I don’t know, it couldn’t have happened at a worse time with everything else that is going on around the world. So yes, I think that there is some turbulence up ahead and that we should all fasten our seatbelts, belt ourselves in and get ready to do what we can to mitigate the circumstances that we find ourselves in. [ . . . ]