BILLY BRAGG – BRIGHTON DOME 23.11.21
(Warning: This review may contain traces of politics)…..Mentioning Billy Bragg and not politics is akin to talking about Boris Johnson nowadays and not mentioning Peppa Pig. It cannot be done.
Billy Bragg even mentioned at the Brighton Dome tonight at one point that his lockdown hair had taken on a life of it’s own and now even his parting falls to the left. That’s dedication for you. Brighton was experiencing it’s first proper taste of Winter this Tuesday evening, and my thermal underwear was well and truly tucked in ready for tonight’s festivities. What I didn’t expect when I approached ‘The Dome’ was my first taste of the ‘Anti Vax’ brigade who informed me via placard that “Billy Bragg was taking away my freedom”. To be honest, the only thing that Billy was taking away from me was my Tuesday night, but I couldn’t grumble about that as it was a very entertaining evening.
Billy Bragg has had a very eventful career over the years, travelling the world playing his unique style and blend of Punk and Folk protest music. He was initially in a Punk band (Riff Raff & Wiggy) in 1977 who had a couple of singles released on Chiswick Records. He was briefly in the Army (for 3 months) and then busked his way across London under the moniker of ‘Spy Vs Spy’. He famously heard the legendary John Peel one night saying on air that he was feeling peckish, Mr Bragg promptly ordered a mushroom biryani and had it delivered to him by hand. Peel repaid the kind gesture by playing a track from Bragg’s debut EP ‘Life’s A Riot’ albeit at the wrong speed. Since then, he has had hit records and travelled the globe. He curates a stage at Glastonbury festival and in 2016 he won the Trailblazer award at the Americana Music Association Awards (UK). He has also written various books and is a left wing activist so you could say he’s kept himself busy.
The Dome was fully seated tonight and very busy. Billy Bragg was playing two separate sets so there was no need for a support band and before you knew it, he was onstage at 8.15pm with Sussex keyboardist, Thomas Collison in tow. A backing tape of the Chi-Lites ‘Power To The People’ briefly rang out and he began his first set with the tender ‘A Lover Sings’. He swiftly followed that with ‘Should Have Seen it Coming’ (from his new album ‘The Million Things That Never Happened’) which he said was a song he wrote during lockdown whilst trying to process all the madness going on in the world. Shortly afterwards, he played the title track to his new album which was warmly received amongst the audience. A guy sitting at the end of our row promptly vanished in a puff of smoke and before we knew it, reappeared on stage in the form of Brighton local Nick Pynn who accompanied Billy on violin during an enjoyable Woody Guthrie cover (‘Way Over Yonder In The Minor Key’). Billy’s next special guest was in fact his son who played guitar along with his dad to new song, ‘10 Mysterious Photos That Can’t Be Explained’ (he even wrote the middle eight section of the song!). Then, this set was satisfyingly book ended by the classic ‘Levi Stubbs’ Tears’ which is one of my personal favourites.
A short interval was had and people rushed to the bar and queued for the toilets. My wife Mel, was on covert cigarette duty again and overheard a disappointed gig-goer moaning that the protesters had gone home at this point and done him out of an argument.
Before you knew it, it was showtime again with Billy launching into his hit single ‘Sexuality’ which has had a lyrical overhaul recently to include a reference to the trans and non binary communities to show them solidarity, which went down a storm with the crowd. His next song was a new one (‘Mid-Century Modern’) which had a similar message. He also played ‘Freedom Doesn’t Come For Free’ and talked at length about the protest going on outside earlier in the evening and how they need to take responsibility for their standpoint on these matters. One of the stand out songs for me was another new one by the name of ‘I Will Be Your Shield’ which is as good as anything Bragg has written in the past. The crowd pleaser, ‘The Milkman Of Human Kindness’ was next followed by the rabble rousing ‘There Is Power In A Union’ which saw many fists in the air and the crowd singing along. By this time, the beers had loosened a few people up in the audience and at one point I had stereo heckling going on. It culminated in a couple of people on my right hand side telling each other to shut up. Probably a good time to walk off and do an encore I reckon.
The first encore song was ‘Scousers Never Buy The Sun’ (which is self explanatory) followed by ‘Walk Away Renee’. He ended the night with ‘Waiting For The Great Leap Forwards’ and left the stage to rapturous applause. Billy’s music and delivery has mellowed over the years but his sentiment and attitude have not. There was good banter throughout and at times it was downright funny. It’s good to see the Bard of Barking back again, shining his beacon of light through the dark times of the present. Now to tuck my thermals in and head home with a glide in my stride and a smile on my boat race.
Billy Bragg’s setlist:
‘A Lover Sings’
‘Should Have Seen It Coming’
‘The Price I Pay’
‘The Million Things That Never Happened’
‘Way Over Yonder in the Minor Key’ (Woody Guthrie cover)
‘10 Mysterious Photos That Can’t Be Explained’
‘Levi Stubbs’ Tears’
‘Valentine’s Day Is Over’
‘Freedom Doesn’t Come For Free’
‘Greetings To The New Brunette’
‘Tank Park Salute’
‘I Will Be Your Shield’
‘The Milkman Of Human Kindness’
‘There Is Power In A Union’
‘Scousers Never Buy The Sun’
‘Walk Away Renee’
‘Waiting For The Great Leap Forwards’
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