There’s a female Conservative in at number 10, austerity measures everywhere you look, and a scandal in Westminster and despite the fact it’s 30 years since the 1980’s Billy Bragg is also still commanding attention at sold out shows.
As he opens with the unmistakable chords of ‘Sexuality’ it becomes clear that tonight is going to be filled with equal measures of greatest hits and political protests, recognising where Bragg is concerned the two often go hand in hand. From the heartfelt encapsulation of lost love in ‘Must I Paint You a Picture’ to the rousing sing-a-long ‘Power in a Union’ Bragg ensures the crowd are attentive to every word.
Nevertheless for me the magic happens in the newer numbers. Bragg tell us that ‘in the new year [he] made a resolution to stop ranting on Facebook and start writing songs’ and the offerings from Bridges Not Walls seem to perfectly encapsulate Bragg’s feelings about the current climate. Whether it’s his cover of Anais Mitchell’s ‘The Wall’ which feels pointed toward the US Administration, or ‘The Sleep of Reason’ which nods to the events of 2016, each number is laden with a sense of politic, and perhaps more importantly protest.
For others in the crowd the highlights come in other places, be that ‘Accident Waiting to Happen’ or ‘The Milkman of Human Kindness’. Perhaps then what’s most impressive is Bragg’s ability to select songs from a catalogue spanning more than 30 years and deliver them with a vibrancy and passion that you could be forgiven for believing each and every one of them was a new release.
Yet more impressive still is his ability to continually examine, explore, and create songs about the views of the disenfranchised. The fact that the audience tonight spans a similar number of generations simply serves to confirm that the world needs Bragg just as much now as it did in the 80s.