Music Review: Billy Bragg Volume II

Billy Bragg Volume II
Cooking Vinyl


The first Billy Bragg album I bought had a sticker on it stating, “Capitalism is killing music – pay no more than £4.99”; so it was 1988 and records were cheaper then, and Margaret Thatcher was in No 10, writes Les Bright.

Since then it’s become more likely that this ex-soldier will pop up on current affairs programmes talking about the value of tactical voting, reasons for reforming the House of Lords, or maybe simply lamenting “lost” Labour.

It’s a long way from Barking, where he grew up and developed the voice that is the very epitome of Estuary English, to Burton Bradstock, his Dorset home where he promoted “vote swapping”, to encourage Labour voters to back the Liberal Democrat candidate to knock out the Tory. But like his push for Kinnock 15 years ago this failed too, though it hasn’t dimmed his energy or commitment.

This box set contains eight CDs and a DVD of two concerts, and demonstrates that Billy can “do” love and feelings as well as pop and politics, explaining why a US fan said, “He’s kinda cute for a communist”.

Bragg defies labelling – political or musical – leading me to commend this collection in the belief that most readers will find something that deals with a topic they care about. “Safe sex doesn’t mean no sex, it just means use your imaginationÉ” as he wrote in 1991, or his more recent reflections on Englishness, tell us that he’s into social work and social policy.

And for those who don’t “do” music, there’s an elegant postcard flier inside for his new book, The Progressive Patriot – described as a radical autobiographical journey to discover the meaning of being English.

Les Bright is an independent consultant

What do you think? The review of Chumbawamba in concert (27 October) sparked the largest reader response we have ever had to a published review. Should we do more music reviews? – Contact Graham Hopkins, with your thoughts.

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