The start of the English Originals weekend saw, for the early arrivers at least, one of England's true gems, Billy Bragg, take to the stage for a one to one with The Stirrer's Adrian Goldberg to discuss English patriotism. It should've been videoed and shown to every single person in the country. If anyone can make sense of what it is to be English in 2008 it's Billy and I've never heard my country so beautifully and powerfully described. I'd never dream of trying to sum up Billy's point of view, it's too complex and personal, but one of the key things he said was 'it's space, not race' that unites us all. How true. It saddens him nearly as much as it saddens me that my flag, my country, my home has been hijacked by those who'd like to portray England as being an evil, Empire building monster that's pretty much responsible for every atrocity under the sun. Like all great nations we've done our fair share of bad stuff, but more than any other nation we've done incredible things too. It's about time every single English person, whatever their faith, colour or historical heritage, realised and celebrated this. If you're interested in this subject (and if you live in England you bloody well should be) read Billy's St George's Day article and, just as importantly, the many comments it provoked. Then make your own mind up.
Right, that was all very serious wasn't it? Good. On with the music and, first off, Chris Wood. Never heard of him before, but he's lept into my top 10 folk artists. Why? Well just listen to The Cottagers Reply, it's folk for the 21st Century without ignoring the last few (centuries that is). A protest song against the wholesale destruction of rural communities by 'holiday home' buyers. I don't live in the countryside, I keep in real in da 'wood, but if I did I'd be mighty pissed off with people coming in from that there London and buying up every little cottage just to use on the odd weekend while my kids were forced out. So there. Chris ain't too precious about it all though. He's a real geezer. When he fucked up One in a Million he dealt with it brilliantly and, when one 'heckler' (for heckler read 'twat' or whatever word you want to use to sum up someone who should be minced up and fed to cattle) called for 'something faster' he cut him down better than any Stand Up I've ever seen (memo to this person...if you can read...we're there to listen to the artist, it ain't Karaoke...you can't vote for your favourite...stay at home and watch 'Britain's Got Talent' next time). Anyway, have a listen to Chris if you have even a passing interest in folk. It's beautiful, beautiful stuff.
Beautiful, but in a different way...a way that probably encapsulates much of what Billy believes in...were Kitty, Daisy & Lewis. Three teenagers with a thing for 50's rockabilly...sounds odd...works brilliantly. The rather sombre setting of the Town Hall wasn't the best place to see them (the last time I saw the band was in Brighton...at 3am...in some under the arches place...much more appropriate) but they put on a fine showing which seemed to win over the crowd. They've been doing this stuff since Kitty was 8, Lewis was 10 and Daisy was an ancient 12 years old. It's great to watch, especially as the three of them chop and change between each others instruments with every song. Have a listen to Son of a Gun and you'll be gelling your hair into a quiff before you can say awopbopaloolawapbambo...or something like that.
Finally, the man himself. Lord Billy of Barking. The voice is still as marmite as ever (you either love it or hate it), the guitar playing as raw as an eye full of onion and the between song banter almost as important as the songs...but I wouldn't change a thing. He played a lot of the classic stuff, including a beautiful version of Levi Subbs Tears, a singalong Sexuality and, one of my personal favourites, Greetings to the New Brunette. There was some new stuff too, including an emotional I Keep Faith (dedicated to his audience) from the recently released album Mr Love & Justice. Possibly the set highlight though, the one track that summed up what this whole weekend is about, was a reworked version of Hard Times Of Old England with Chris Wood. Proof, if it were needed, that folk isn't just about sticking your finger in your ear and singing about 'a nadgers tadwhistle', it can be as much about the world we live in today as any other form of music.
To sum up then...Billy is a national treasure. He is England. At his best his lyrics deserve to be studied alongside Shakespeare (no, I've not gone mad). English culture is alive and well and, in Billy, we have a spokesperson we can ALL be proud of.
By the way, I was listening to your new version of Waiting For The Great Leap Forward Billy, consider your website added...
PS: Memo to the Town Hall. £7 for two small glasses of wine? I heard one chap behind me refer to 'sub prime' beers and there were many similar mutterings. Please, please don't take the piss. Cut your prices or we'll all do what I did and jog up to Weatherspoons for a cheeky pint instead! Ha!