[sic] Magazine

Billy Bragg: Liverpool Philharmonic

Reviewer: Gary Stanton

It’s the night following ‘Brown Thursday’ which saw the massacre of New Labour at the local elections. Cameron’s star is burning bright, his benign hamster radiance reaching out to the floating voters and those shafted by the abolition of the ten pence tax band. (namely people with shit, low-paid jobs.) With such a backdrop, Billy Bragg takes to the stage armed with his guitar and material from his new album ‘Mr Love & Justice’. Oh – and a microphone. Despite the new political mood in the country, he doesn’t seem too downhearted. “Let’s have a good old sing-song and warm the cockles of our hearts as the rising blue tide sweeps around our country” he says, presumably having checked the times of high water around Liverpool Bay. It’s this sort of attention to detail which will win him new armies of fans, regardless of where people are slapping the X on their ballot papers.

Bragg’s last gig in Liverpool was in Walton jail, where he taught a course in songwriting to inmates. When you’re banged up in a cell for twenty-three hours a day and your “free” hour is spent being sodomised without lubricant or affection by a hairy-armed con with the name “Julie” tattooed to the base of his penis and you’re focusing on shower room’s dodgy plumbing in an effort to convince yourself that you are somewhere else, at least you can console yourself with the fact that it’s cracking songwriting material. Tonight Bragg performs a tune written by an inmate called ‘April Fool’s Day’ about a recent directive stating that prisoners are no longer allowed to have home-made CD compilations brought into them by relatives. This new ruling fits snugly alongside the one which states “inmates are not permitted to receive bags of heroin stuffed up someone’s arse and passed to them orally during visits” As the directive was issued on the first day of April the lag naturally assumed it must be some kind of wind-up. A joke played on them by the screws. It wasn’t. The message that “Home Taping is Killing Music” has obviously worked its way up to the higher echelons of government, and not before time. The tune gets the warmest round of applause of the night and holds it’s own against the stuff from the Bragg’s new album.

Bragg goes on to recall the time when he became radicalised. Years ago, as an Office Junior, he worked with people he describes as casual racists, believing himself complicit in their racism because he failed to challenge it. It was when he saw The Clash playing a Rock Against Racism gig that he felt his perspective on the world had changed forever. It was a place that could be made better. Bragg hopes that we will all have our “Clash Moment”. I’m still waiting for mine. For Terry from Admin, also at the gig, a pseudo-Clash Moment arrived when he saw Gary Numan landing his private jet erratically on the evening news. I point out to him that this is more a Numan moment, in itself probably not an unpleasant thing. Terry’s Weltanschauung (look it up) had, hopefully like Gary’s plane, undergone a significant overhaul. Not overly concerned with social justice, he voted for Thatcher and made it his life’s aim to own a twin-engined Cessna before the age of forty. In the prevailing spirit of opportunism, he bought his council house with money from an armed robbery (relax – he drove the car and the guns were fakes) and expected it’s value to rise in line with the bullish property market. However, due to an injudicious installation of stone-cladding, he watched its value plummet relative to other houses in the street. First-time buyers would tour the property with air of scepticism before mumbling something about the water pressure. Undeterred, he pressed on. When the Utilities were privatised he invested in shares. As instructed by the adverts of the time, he “saw Sid and told him”, although what he actually told Sid was to trim back his Leylandii conifers or face legal action; Sid in this instance being his long-suffering next-door neighbour of eighteen months. Terry never did get his mits on that plane, but as early as last year he made his first down payment on a Mini Cooper. Whoever said the entrepreneurial spirit was dead didn’t reckon on Terry’s self-suffciency and determination, and the fact that his wealthy and now deceased Aunt was prone to Deep-Vein Thrombosis – Terry being the chief benefactor, in spite of not visiting her in hospital.

There’s a moral in all of this but I’m fucked if I know what it is.

Among the highlights of tonight’s show is a new track called ‘O’ Freedom what liberties are taken in thy name’. They are still haggling over that one in Westminster. Other favourites are ‘Tank Park Salute’, an acoustic version of ‘Sexuality’, a sing-a-long to ‘New England’ and ‘Great Leap Forward’ ( 40 million dead ) which isn’t about salmon, Jonathan Edwards or absent-mindedly leaving your car in gear, although I like to think that’s it’s about all three in no particular order but maybe the salmon edging it. Bragg describes himself as a Marmite artist: you either love him or you hate him. Whilst not being particularly nostalgic for the days when the Unions had a hand cupped firmly around the nation’s testicles, I’m generally with the “Ayes” on this one.