Billy Bragg

Penny Broadhurst 24/04/2006

Bragg packs up his guitar and gets on the road again for another "cause". This time the local council elections in England and apathy towards the rise of right wing extremists have got him out of his comfortable Devon retreat. It's a noble aim, to persuade people to vote and to vote against the BNP in particular, but the 15 ticket price and seated venue ensure that City Hall is packed with the core Bragg constituency - middle-aged, politicised, left-wing, social conscience. Preaching to the converted therefore. At least he hasn't brought his band with him, bar ex-Small Faces/Faces organist Ian MacLagan. Some of the full band arrangements on previous tours have been less than welcome, and lacked the stark force of voice and electric guitar with minimal augmentation. Here the pair work well, with Mac dropping in odd bits of organ and backing vocals where needed and no more.

Billy's strength has always been in his love songs and songs of social observation, rather than his sometimes ham-fisted political music. The newer political stuff fares worst, with the likes of Bourgeois Blues obviously slammed together in the back of a van. It's lazy, especially as he knows the crowd will cheer every anti-Bush and anti-Blair remark as though they were in a particularly evangelical church. "Do you feeel the power of the Leftie?!" "Hell yeah!" Hurrah for the likes of Levi Stubbs' Tears, Valentine's Day Is Over and Tank Park Salute - perfectly observed tales with heartbreaking tunes, brilliant narratives and lyrics than turn on the head of a pin. He'll do well to top this...and he doesn't, but redeems the dodgy bits by both playing those songs and playing the Kirsty MacColl version of A New England - Bragg wrote an extra verse for her cover, and he sings it tonight in tribute to another underrated singer-songwriter.