aka The Vinyl Villain incorporating Sexy Loser
006 – BILLY BRAGG – ‚The World Turned Upside Down’ (Go! Discs, ’85)
before I started writing this, I was wondering whether there are many bands or artists which I have seen live more often than I saw Billy Bragg. The answer is: a handful, if at all. The Ramones come to mind, so do The Jesus & Mary Chain and New Order.
But today it is Billy Bragg and there are many reasons why I enjoyed his performances so much back in the mid/late eighties and early 90’s. I think that he, a bit like The Clash, more or less managed to express exactly my views. Views of politics and also views of unreturned love. His records included lyric sheets, which, with English not being my first language, should be made a compulsive thing to do for every artist worldwide! I hung on every word he sang and felt entirely what he felt. Even today I know every single word as well from ‘Life’s A Riot With Spy vs Spy’ as from ‘Brewing Up With Billy Bragg’, his first two albums from ’83 and ’84.
So when I first had the chance to see him live, I went of course. This was before he was accompanied by The Blokes or any other backing combo, I should add – just Billy and his guitar in a small Cologne club. And he blew me away, there is no other way of describing it! God knows, Billy Bragg is not the most talented singer on earth, but sure enough he is one of the funniest persons you have ever witnessed:
In between his numbers, he always had some anecdote to tell to the audience, some political stuff, but mostly little funny things which made you laugh out loud. If memory serves correctly, there weren’t two songs which he would have segued into another – there was always his little speech: I thought it was awesome!
Years later I saw him performing a big open air festival in Belgium along with The Cramps, The Buzzcocks, Nick Cave and others. It was held on an abandoned aero field. Just rectangular concrete with no shade whatsoever, and it was a thousand degrees there in the sun. Billy entered the stage in the late afternoon and played his heart out. And still, after five or six years, he had this habit of telling his little stories, which I hadn’t expected, but I thought was great … perhaps even better than some of the songs he wrote at that time. One poor guy, most probably no longer entirely sober, was spotted by Billy from stage when pissing against a fence at the very back of the audience. So Billy yelled at him at the top of his lungs and made everyone in the audience turn around to watch this poor fellow putting his dick back to where it belongs in sheer desperation …. priceless!
By and large I lost interest though after ‘William Bloke’ … the album had its moments, but I wasn’t totally convinced. But Billy Bragg meant so much to me, it would not have been possible not to have one of his singles included in the box with the 111 best singles in the world. I chose the ‘Between The Wars’ – EP, his second single, which comes with four tunes, in fact: the title track, ‘Between The Wars’, ‘Which Side Are You On’, (a version of) ‘It Says Here’ and the one I went for, which is a cover of a Leon Rosselson song. If you didn’t know that though, you wouldn’t detect he is covering the tune – I always thought he sings it as if it was his own composition.
mp3: Billy Bragg – World Turned Upside Down
Which song would you have chosen?!
As usual, enjoy!
7 thoughts on “ONE HUNDRED AND ELEVEN SINGLES : #006”
Enjoying this write up. What sticks with me is that people I go and watch again and again are storytellers – Robyn Hitchcock and Martin Stephenson come to mind. Like Billy I’m not that bothered what they have recorded in the 21st century but it’s the raconteur element that brings me back…
Only time I saw him was in Minneapolis at the 9:30 Club in the 80’s. I’m not the kind of guy who heckles artists, but he went on some rant about Arthur Scargill and the coal miners. I’m a college student in the middle of the US at the time and had no idea what he was talking about. I finally yelled “shut the f**k up and play some music” and he got rather agitated. In retrospect, not my finest moment. Billy-please accept my official apology.
I saw BB twice, about 30 years apart. First time he opened for the Smiths at the Beacon in NYC, circa 1983. Just himself and a Les Paul. He didn’t say much, but totally won over the crowd with his earnest delivery and great tunes. Next time was at UCLA’s Royce Hall about 10 years ago. He didn’t tell amusing stories. Rather, he spent half the show preaching about civil inequities and government crimes. That was totally unnecessary since everyone in the audience was a die hard liberal, myself included. If I wanted a lecture I could have found it somewhere else on campus. Not the most enjoyable show. Would have picked Greetings to the New Brunette, btw.
Saw the man back in the late 80s, Liverpool Royal Court, top stuff. Not seen him since which seems odd. Cracking song, one of his best.
We could do with a few more Billy Bragg’s right now.
The four tracks on that single/EP are faultless.
A great EP and I would be happy with any of the four songs as I believe they are all strong.
I too have seen BB more times than I can count. In every phase of his career, which whatever size band (or lack thereof) the shows are always entertaining. I for one love the stories and I always leave inspired.