Billy Bragg, with support from Duke Special, plays Eden Court, Inverness on the 27th of November 2015. A review.
Support for this evening is Duke Special
and he makes an immediate impact with piano-led and emotive songs. Much like the headliner he likes a bit of a chat between songs, giving us the background of each and like the main act, he manages to do so without sounding like he’s lecturing or us or straying into self indulgence.
‘Rita De Acosta’ is based on a photo he saw that piqued his interest. Who was that woman gazing out of the old black and white print? Turns out that she had a string of failed marriages to wealthy old men before dying in relative poverty in the Gotham Hotel in New York. What could potentially be a tawdry tale is respectfully told by Duke who describes her as a ‘living work of art who never gave her heart away’. He finishes with a quietly powerful version of Neil Young’s Harvest Moon that tugs at the heartstrings.
is unlikely to appeal to anyone whose politics are of a more Conservative nature and having seen him three times in the past I was pretty familiar with the format by now. A Bragg gig feels like part political rally and part concert with a liberal dose of anecdotes and gentle piss-taking of his hush-puppy wearing guitarist CJ.
The usual favourites are here, including ‘the hit’ Sexuality which resonates as much now as it did during its original release. Possibly more so now that equal marriage rights have finally been afforded to gay couples. Never far from his thoughts (and I suspect many of those in the audience) were the tragic events in Paris that happened almost two weeks ago to the hour. Indeed a collection over at the merch stand where money was being raised for Eagle of Death Metal’s merch manager Nick Alexander was looking very healthy when I left for home after the gig.
‘No-one Knows Nothing Anymore’ is dedicated to the various polls out there at the moment that give conflicting views on whether we should send warplanes over to bomb ISIS. On that and the attacks in Paris, Bragg had more to say and, if my editor will indulge me, I will repeat that here. “Imagine if you can, the horror inflicted on Paris, imagine if that happened every month, every week, every day, as you tried to go to work, as you took the kids school, as you tried to go out to the shops, imagine that happening to you… and maybe you’d be the one getting on a boat and escaping to the nearest safe country”.
He takes a pop at The Sun and their frankly loathsome headline where they quite deliberately misinterpreted a survey in an attempt to stir up more anti-muslim feeling. This of course leads nicely to ‘Never Buy the Sun’ a sentiment that I would hope most of us share.
Musing on Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership and the potential issues he faces if he expects to continue as leader he asks rhetorically, ‘(if he gets fired) who would they replace him with’ to which a voice from the stalls calls out ‘You!’This is met with a huge cheer and you can’t help but think he wouldn’t do half a bad job of it either. A flattered Bragg responds with, ‘two things mate, I think there’s enough white middle-aged men in Parliament already and secondly, politics is too important to be left solely to politicians, we all need to do our bit and this me doing mine’.
On a lighter note he alerts us all that there is a crisis in masculinity, bemoaning the modern man’s inability to do all those things our dads used to do. You know… building sheds, making nails go in straight when you hit them with a hammer, putting up shelves… And for that he wrote ‘Handyman Blues’, dedicated to those of us who are better off ‘getting a man in’.
He has a long association with the songs of Woodie Guthrie and he covers ‘The Unwelcome Guest’ this evening. He has previously recorded a double album worth of music set to previously unheard Guthrie lyrics with the American band Wilco. ‘Madison Avenue’ is definitely worth checking out of you’re a fan of either artist.
Another cover and this time its Anais Mitchell’s ‘Why We Build The Wall’ . This originally featured on Mitchell’s folk concept album (seriously!) ‘Hadestown’ which had rave reviews back when it was released in 2010. It’s based on a conversation between Orpheus and Hades and again resonates with the current mindset amongst some to keep ‘others’ out because they want what we have.
Finishing with ‘Waiting For The Great Leap Forwards’ he leaves the stage to an audience who have had their political and social consciences tweaked. Bragg’s charisma and wit is such that you leave feeling invigorated rather than hectored. He might grumble that his beard has too much grey in it, but he’s lost none of his edge and he continues to be one of the few remaining protest singers left out there pushing political boundaries with his music.
You can buy Billy’s recent book “A Lover Sings: Selected Lyrics”
and read our review of his Belladrum 2014 performance