Billy Bragg will be keeping the faith for the common good at Blackpool's R-Fest this summer

You might think that socialist bard Billy Bragg might be despondent about the state of the nation, with populist right winger Boris in charge and the internet fuelling individualism and doubt.

By Tim Gavell
Thursday, 24th March 2022, 7:31 am

But the singer songwriter says that, while many things just now are dispiriting, he will always keep the faith and never fall into the trap of cynicism.

The bloke from Barking is set to remain faithful to his ideals when he appears at the Rebellion punk festival this August in Blackpool, a town he can only recall visiting twice in his 64 years.

He is due to play on the Sunday night at the new outdoor version of the festival, R-Fest, on the Tower Headland with Blackpool Tower as its backdrop, along with the likes of Squeeze, the Buzzcocks, Tom Robinson, Altered Images and Hollie Cook.

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Billy Bragg, is looking forward to playing in Blackpool at the R-Fest, part of the annual punk music festival Rebellion. Photo by Gary Welford.

Billy, whose latest, mellow album, The Million Things That Never Happened, has a theme of finding the common ground in a world of division, will be celebrating his punk roots with a bit of “chop and clang” guitar, the raw early sound that made his name.

And Billy said the world we live in now has many parallels with the world of Margaret Thatcher in1983 when he released his first album Life’s a Riot with Spy Versus Spy, real hardship for some, plenty for others and the shadow of global unrest and cold war in the background.

He says: “I have been saying to people, one of the key tracks on the new album, I Will be Your Shield, is expressing the same sense of empathy that The Milkman of Human Kindness did on the first album Spy versus Spy.

“I don’t feel the need to be cutting edge any more. When I did my first album Spy Versus Spy, I was really trying to zig when everyone else was zagging! Rather than going for floppy hair and a synthesiser, I went for Doc Martins and a chop and clang guitar.

Billy Bragg has a new album out

“I write more love songs than I write political songs. The ideal song is a bit of both, personal and a bit political. For example I will be Your shield, in the context of the pandemic, it has a personal and strong meaning.

“Take I keep Faith, off the Love and Justice album. It is also about my faith in the audience’s ability to change the world.

“I try to write songs that are deeply emotional, but have weight to them too, emotional and political. It’s those where the two overlap are the best Billy Bragg songs.”

Billy describes his politics as more “common good” than left wing and no matter what goes on in this increasingly divided world where truth is constantly questioned on the internet, he said it was important not to give up and just get cynical.

That theme is echoed on the new album in the songs in Pass it On, a song about families and roots and the stomping Ten Mysterious Photos That Can’t Be Explained with its witty one-liners.

He says: “It’s about the ubiquity of information on the internet and the rabbit-holes you can drop through. It’s a real time machine the internet, the hours just disappear. I’m not complaining too much about it, in lockdown it has been a Godsend.

“But it’s a reflection of human nature and the terrible stuff you see on there is us reflected back at ourselves. But the song is about how we can you access it without falling down those rabbit holes.”

Billy’s “common good” belief was strengthened he said by the way people came together in the pandemic lockdowns.

“With regard to taking precautions during the pandemic, it was not just ourselves we were thinking about it was others, particularly those with compromised immune systems who have been prisoners in their own homes for the past two years. I don’t think wearing masks and taking lateral flow tests is such a terrible impediment to people. That’s the common good.”

He says for the real problems the world faces, the economy and the environment, we are really going to rely on people working for the common good and being just out for yourself was foolish.

“There’s a strong libertarian strain in what Johnson’s government does. They just decided to stop all the pandemic protocols, that’s it, it’s all over. It’s not that the disease has not gone, its just they’ve had enough of it.

“At least the thing about Margaret Thatcher was that those people had a sense of shame. They knew they were making it hard for people, this lot are like a dodgy Tribute act, Priti Patel and Liz Truss are kind of like cosplay Thatcher, but that sense of shame is not there.

“For all those former punks of a certain age now, people who have been through a lot in recent years, the song I Keep Faith is about not giving in to the cynicism and, after we’ve been through everything we have been through with coronavirus and austerity, people need that kind of encouragement.”

Billy, who has not played often in the county, apart from a couple of gigs in Preston, including one at Preston’s Charter Theatre in the early 2000s where he enjoyed a curry in a restaurant near the bus station which mightily impressed him and an appearance at independent music shop Action Records.

“I think I have only done one gig in Blackpool and that was either during the miners strike or at a Labour Party Conference. But I am really looking forward to it. I had an obscure relative, I think a cousin of my dad’s, ran a pub in Blackburn, but had a holiday place in Blackpool so we visited on holiday once.

“The whole northern experience was brought home to me by the fact the police cars were white, like they were on Z-cars, that’s how long ago it was!"

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