(Another gig that suffered from the South Bank Centre’s policy of clamping down on recording. So here’s Billy Bragg at the Union Chapel in June singing the whole of Life’s a Riot)
Why this gig?
I’ve been a big fan of Billy Bragg for over thirty years. I first saw him supporting the Flying Pickets in Stoke Newington in about 1982. And since then I’ve never turned down an opportunity to see him play. I’ve already seen this tour as they played the Union Chapel in June. Usually I don’t bother to see the same tour twice, but for Billy Bragg I’m happy to make an exception.
Support came from an Australian called Kim Churchill who I was really impressed by. Looks like he rarely plays the UK, but I’ll definitely be looking out for him in the future.
I saw Billy Bragg at the Royal Festival a couple of years. On that occasion he played on his own. This is a different proposition as he plays with a full backing band which makes a big difference to the sound.
He opens with “Ideology”, which is a relatively obscure album track from the mid-80s, but it also happens to be one of my favourite of his songs. It’s about how the public are always disappointed with politicians. They lyrics sound even more relevant today than they did almost thirty years ago.
The set is an interesting trawl through Bragg’s back catalogue. Songs from his new album, Tooth & Nail, stand up pretty well against older and better known songs. And, of course, there’s his famous banter between the songs. Today we get stories about how he bought a new guitar in California, his reaction on hearing that Thatcher had died and many, many more. He could fit four more songs into the set if he just cut back on the chat – but then it wouldn’t be a Billy Bragg show.
Two thirds of the way through the show, the band leave the stage (musicians under thirty aren’t allowed to be kept away from Facebook for more than an hour, Bragg jokes) leaving just Bragg and a guitar. This section contains some of the best performances – “Never Buy the Sun”, “Between the Wars” and “Levi Stubbs Tears”.
As the band return, the show is obviously reaching its climax. The set finishes with great versions of “New England” (including, as it always does since her death, the verse for Kirsty MacColl) and “Accident Waiting to Happen”. After a brief break, they return for “Power in a Union”, “Tank Park Salute” and a storming “Waiting For the Great Leap Forward”.
And then, after a set that lasted well over two hours, and with our socialist batteries well and truly recharged, we’re sent back out into the world to spread the good word.
The set list is on Setlist.fm.