ACTIVE WITH THE ACTIVIST (2)

The second in this occasional series in which Jacques the Kipper and my good self will offer some observations on Billy Bragg‘s LPs.  If you need a reminder, or indeed missed it when it appeared some four months ago, here’s what we said about the debut.

Jacques is going to get things going this time around……

I’ll start by clarifying any misunderstanding from my assessment of the first album. I have been an avid purchaser of and attender at all things Bragg since way back when he was shouty. I love the first album. I am a fan. (Although I am struggling with his new single. Love the politics, not so keen on the tune.)

With that, I move on to album number two in this occasional series, Brewing Up With… First, a HUGE admission. This may be the Bill album that, in its entirety, I’ve listened to least. Possibly surpassed, or underpassed, by Mr Love and Justice in recent times, but that’s about it. JC won’t be happy but I had to look back at what tracks were actually on it. This album harks back to being on the dole with no money and thus buying power. I did buy it at the time – I had after all plenty time to hunt round the many (sigh) record shops to look for it at the cheapest possible price. Truth is though, at that particular time, my friends and neighbours were not in the main listening to this particular pop-folk. Instead we were favouring men and women who banged on metal piping and the like. And Dead or Alive. (No worries though, I was about to see Buba and the Shop Assistants.)

Anyhow, on checking track listing, imagine my surprise to learn how many of my absolute favourite songs reside on this album. I must have listened to these as individual songs hundreds of time over the years and have heard most of them live tens of times. It seems therefore only fair to abandon, for 40 minutes or so, Breakfast Muff’s new release to revisit an album that I didn’t realise I loved so much.

It says here we start with It Says Here. As said above, I’ve heard this so many times that I’m finding it hard to critique. Simple but effective summary of everything that is distasteful about the Press. Prescient too given what was to happen in subsequent years with the exposure of various UK tabloid papers abhorrent practices.

Love Gets Dangerous definitely would not have gone down well with my mates of that time. Bit too conventional singalong pop. Never a favourite of mine either.

The Myth of Trust is a lyrical mini masterpiece though. JC will describe it better than I ever can.

Guitar frenzy From a Vauxhall Velox. It’s kinda over before you even knew it had properly begun. A metaphor for my love life at the time if ever there was one.

Pause. I’m about to say something that many, almost certainly most, of you will disagree with. The Saturday Boy is one of the finest songs ever written. In another Vinyl Villain piece I selected a different Bill tune as a favourite. However, this may well be THE favourite. I’d swap this for all that Bob Dylan or McCartney/Lennon have ever written. Perfect. In every way. That is all.

Then there was the one about Bill’s time in the army. The fact that he’d signed up rather than sign on used to be considered quite controversial by some in a highly political audience. There were a few spats. Oh to be so virtuous as to never have made a mistake, career or otherwise. For the record, this is an anti-war song. Nice guitar thrashing.

St Swithin’s Day soppy stuff. Lovely.

Like Soldiers Do. Nice metaphorical wordplay. Not one I often listen to. And I’d forgotten the Clash style ending.

This Guitar Says Sorry in which Bill hints at the Woody Guthrie obsession that would eventually surface.

Somewhere between the Clash and the Jam, Strange Things Happen.

As they say in that Friends thing that none of us have ever seen – this is the one about Adam and Steve. A Lover Sings is the anthem that Bill didn’t know he’d written. Still a live favourite and one we’ve all sung along to. What a fantastic way to end.

Okay, so that’s my conventional take on Brewing Up With… An album I didn’t remember I liked so much. Now, like you, I’m about to read what JC said. I’m sure he’s summarised things more eloquently and informatively. And there’s bound to be a moment (or three) where I think I should have said that…

(Addendum – there was.)

JC adds……………

Twelve months after the success of the debut album, it was time for Billy Bragg to test the waters with the follow-up. In some ways it was the same as before with left-wing politics mixed in with some incredibly personal observations on love and romance. But in other ways it was different as this record was more than just Billy thanks to some trumpet playing from Dave Woodhead and some keyboards from Kenny Craddock.

It wasn’t just the fact that he’d been getting good press that had raised his profile – the entire first half of 1984 was spent on the road most often as support for high-profile and chart acts. These included The Style Council on their first ever UK tour, and notwithstanding my brief glimpse in Edinburgh the previous August, that March 1984 gig at the Glasgow Apollo would have been the first time I saw and heard Billy Bragg in the live setting. There was also an increasing number of benefit gigs for a number of important causes that saw him on bills with the likes of The Smiths and The Redskins.

The second album was recorded in July 1984.  In the time between its completion but before its release, Billy would undertake his first tour of America as support to Echo & The Bunnymen, evidence again that he was having an impact on some of the most important and hip musicians of the era.  He, however, was determined to do things his way and not to fall for the trappings that often come with being a success in the music industry and where others sought six and drugs to accompany their rock’n’roll, our hero launched into even more benefit gigs, often to support the increasingly bitter Miners’ Strike.  These events saw him perform alongside some very fine exponents of folk and traditional music, and would go onto have a huge impact on his own songwriting and his stage manner.

Brewing Up With Billy Bragg was released in October 1984.  It contained many songs that had been written around the same time as those on Life’s A Riot but they benefit from a more confident sounding singer, a lot of which can be put down to how often and how well the songs had, literally, been road tested.

That he was seen increasingly as a political activist and agitator made it a sound and sensible decision to open the new album with one of his most obvious rabble-rousing songs.

mp3 : Billy Bragg – It Says Here

A scathing attack on the tabloid and gutter press that still resonates strongly today. It was however, one of only three outright political songs  with the other two were about life in the armed forces and the impact of the Falklands War.  The remaining eight songs on this new record were love songs; and were some of the best love songs that my then 21-year old ears had ever had the pleasure of listening to.

One of the songs really resonated with me.  And I’m sure it did similarly with any bloke who listened to it.

Everyone at some point during their school days suffered pain and misery with the opposite sex.  It was part of growing up.  Even if you were lucky enough to have the person you were besotted with pay you some attention, it was destined to end in tears and it was only years later that you realised you just hadn’t been grown-up or mature enough to really deal with it all.  But until now, nobody had ever really captured it so perfectly in words and music:-

mp3 : Billy Bragg – The Saturday Boy

Even if he’d have quit the music industry there and then, Billy Bragg would have left a legacy that we would still be talking about and praising to the high heavens thanks to the 18 songs on the first two LPs, but in particular The Saturday Boy with its story of a love that grew in double-history and its tune that incorporated the coolest trumpet solo since the days of Louis Armstrong .

The album proved also that love songs can be played at the speed and with the energy of punk:-

mp3 : Billy Bragg – Strange Things Happen

And Billy demonstrated that old punks can write the most stunning of break-up songs while owning up to being, literally, a wanker:-

mp3 : Billy Bragg – St Swithin’s Day

I really could very happily put all 11 songs up with this posting and make a case as to why they are essential listening for one reason or other.  It’s an amazing album that has more than stood the test of time – but what I do recall from 1984 were reviews that suggested Billy should stop with the love songs as he didn’t have the voice or technical ability to really do them justice.  Other writers said they admired his personal stuff but given there was a need for a highly motivated and talented political songwriter to fill a huge void then they’d rather he concentrated on the songs he that went down best at the benefit gigs for the miners, students or, CND or got the loudest cheers when he entertained tens of thousands who marched in protest at the Thatcher government’s proposal to abolish the democratically elected Greater London Council for the crime of it being a different political hue than that of Westminster.

Some even asked why, at a time of the most bitter industrial and class dispute in living memory, a song that Billy Bragg was performing to great ovations at the benefit gigs had been left off Brewing Up With.  This was the beginning of a hint at a backlash among some music writers, particularly on the hard-left, but events of 1985 and beyond would change all that.  That however, is for the next time round….

JC

PS : Today marks the beginning of my annual trip to Westport in County Mayo, Ireland.  If I’ve messed anything up in this or the next few days worth of postings then please let me know in the comments and I’ll rectify things on my return.  Just thinking that I’ve uses Billy’s songs over the years to help me through some really tough and emotional times……

ACTIVE WITH THE ACTIVIST (1)

JC writes

After all these years I now and again find myself struggling for something to write about. It’s one of the reasons I have deployed so many series looking at the singles from a particular group or singer as it provides a bit of discipline as well as taking care of a certain number of postings. They’ve also, for the most part, proved to be popular features with, amongst others, The Jam, The Style Council, James, Altered Images, The Clash, Buzzcocks, Morrissey and The Undertones all being given the treatment while of course I’ve recently started looking at XTC.

It seems natural to turn my attention to albums, especially when the singer or band in question has enjoyed a long career without ever really setting the singles charts on fire all that often or indeed in recent years releasing any 45s in physical or digital form. It won’t be a series that will appear on any given day….it will be sporadic and when the mood takes.

It’s going to kick off with Billy Bragg and I’m delighted to say that the series will benefit greatly thanks to some contributions from Jacques the Kipper. The love for the Bard of Barking was one of the things that really kick-started a friendship that is now heading towards the best part of 30 years and we’ve been lucky enough to enjoy one another’s company at a few of his live gigs in Glasgow and Edinburgh over that time. Some of the pieces in this series may be solo but others will likely involve a joint contribution. I can’t promise it will live up to the quality of Echorich and JTFL’s efforts on NYC but we will give it our best shot.

This journey into sound will begin with Life’s A Riot With Spy vs Spy (1983) and end at last year’s release in tandem with Joe Henry, the well-received Shine a Light: Field Recordings from the Great American Railroad. There will be many stops en route, occasionally including some officially sanctioned live releases, box sets and compilations. I’ll be upfront about it – there might be some stuff missing as I don’t claim to have everything he’s ever released, but I reckon looking at the shelf of vinyl, CDs and the bit of the floor where I keep the box sets, it’s on for something like 23 separate postings, although it might be a couple of these will be amalgamated.

Hope you’re up for it. So here’s part one of ACTIVE WITH THE ACTIVIST.

1983. The year during which I took leave of my teens. A time when, thanks to what was proving to be a highly educational course at University, both in terms of the lectures and the extended social mix of people I now mingled with regularly, I was becoming more acutely aware of what was right and what was wrong with the world.  1983. The year I got active in student politics taking part in my first marches, demonstrations and sit-down protests.

I began it still living at home with my parents and sharing living space with my two young brothers but my sense of adventure was growing and I was feeling confined by immediate surroundings. Looking back now, I realise that I wanted so much to happen but couldn’t quite articulate what it was, why I wanted it and how I was going to achieve it.

In August I moved into my first student flat with two friends. It was the very first time in my life that I had an entire space to call my own. I spread out accordingly, buying more records, books and an increasing number of music papers given that I could now make as much mess as I wanted and never worry about being nagged at, or, even worse, one of my younger brothers chucking something out before I’d finished with it.

I was able to absorb so much more including the increasing number of mentions of a singer called Billy Bragg. I knew he had an album out as I’d seen a few copies of it in a handful of shops in Glasgow but I hadn’t been drawn to give it a listen. Strange as it may seem, the fact it had a budget price was off-putting; my brain associated that sort of offer with poor quality recordings. I was also aware that it was just him and his guitar and quite frankly, the punk wars had been fought to get rid of the likes of those.

One day I saw a photo of Billy Bragg in a music paper. I realised that I had seen him before a few weeks earlier, albeit briefly. He had been playing on the street in Edinburgh during the annual Festival and Fringe but I had hurried past thinking he was just another busker. Looking back, I realised that he actually had attracted a more than decent sized crowd around him on that Edinburgh street but I was too enamoured with trying to find an afternoon show where there was the off-chance of a young actress taking off her clothes as part of the production to have paid him any attention.

The increasing press coverage was always positive. There were mentions of him being the perfect sort of act for the era, an antidote to the increasingly slick production values being deployed. He was then interviewed for a more in-depth feature and right away I could tell that I liked the cut of his jib. He was saying what he wanted to happen, why he wanted it and how he was going to try and achieve it. He talked of a love of The Clash and an admiration of Paul Weller which were other big plusses as far as I was concerned.

It was revealed that he was moving to a new record label with one of the first outcomes being that his debut LP would be re-released and made more widely available. By this time, the first of what would turn out to be a series of Peel Sessions had been recorded; it had been taped by someone who came visiting our flat and he insisted we give it a listen.  It turned out thayt one man and his guitar wasn’t such a bad thing after all and so I ended up getting myself a copy of Life’s A Riot with Spy vs Spy in the months leading up to Xmas 1983.

Once I got over the mistake of playing the first ten seconds at the wrong speed (it was a 45 rpm album!) I found myself warming to it very quickly. It was fairly rough and raw (but not as much as I had thought beforehand it would be) and you certainly couldn’t imagine Billy Bragg being thought of as a talented vocalist. However, punk/ new wave had taught us that it wasn’t about the singing or the playing; the emotion, energy and the attitude were all much more important and it was clear from the outset that this new kid on the block had all of those in abundance.

I wasn’t alone in falling for the record. The music papers fawned over it, particularly the NME which made it #3 album of the year, behind Elvis Costello and Tom Waits and immediately ahead of Soft Cell and Michael Jackson. Billy was soon on TV, appearing on The Tube on Channel 4 , all of which led to this debut LP, recorded at minimal cost and which hadn’t taken off for six months until its re-release, going top 30 in the charts in early 1984.

It’s an album with just seven songs that, between them, come in at under 16 minutes. It contains some of the best things he would ever release and demonstrated that he was someone equally at home writing frank and honest love songs as the political anthems which many in the music press were increasingly saying was his forte and calling in life. It’s an album with probably his best-known and most famous song but that wouldn’t come to pass for a few years yet until it was given the cover treatment by a wonderfully talented and hugely under-appreciated female singer.

The really scary thing is that so little has changed in society since he penned these words:-

Up in the morning and out to school
Mother says there’ll be no work next year
Qualifications once the golden rule
Are now just pieces of paper

Just because you’re better than me
Doesn’t mean I’m lazy
Just because you’re going forwards
Doesn’t mean I’m going backwards

If you look the part you’ll get the job
In last year’s trousers and your old school shoes
The truth is, son, it’s a buyer’s market
They can afford to pick and choose

Just because you’re better than me
Doesn’t mean I’m lazy
Just because I dress like this
Doesn’t mean I’m a communist

The factories are closing and the army’s full
I don’t know what I’m going to do
But I’ve come to see in the Land of the Free
There’s only a future for the chosen few

Just because you’re better than me
Doesn’t mean I’m lazy
Just because you’re going forwards
Doesn’t mean I’m going backwards

At twenty one you’re on top of the scrapheap
At sixteen you were top of the class
All they taught you at school was how to be a good worker
The system has failed you, don’t fail yourself

Just because you’re better than me
Doesn’t mean I’m lazy
Just because you’re going forwards
Doesn’t mean I’m going backwards

mp3 : Billy Bragg – To Have and Have Not
mp3 : Billy Bragg – A New England
mp3 : Billy Bragg – The Busy Girl Buys Beauty

Jacques’ slightly different take:-

Okay, so I’ve read what JC has said. Clearly I’m much younger than him, always have been. At least in my own head. Anyhow I have a completely different perspective on the first Bragg album. Let’s cut to the chase – musically it is RUBBISH.  Lyrically up there with the best, of that I am sure. But musically, it would take him many years to master these songs and sing and play them the way that a better musician would have intended.

But, but, BUT. That is exactly what is so brilliant about this album – the counterpoint of lyrical beauty, anger, humour, love, not to mention the politics, floating above a badly played, not that well recorded, scratchy mess of (simple) chords. Did I mention the awful singing? For me back then the reality of Billy was better than my expectation. Here was a man that sang and played it as badly on record as he did live. And didn’t care.

Listen to the mature manner in which he has reinterpreted these songs over the years. Marvel at what damn fine, all round crooned tunes these now are. I love these reinterpretations. But thank whatever Deity takes your fancy that this was not the way back in 1983. Would he now be the nation’s favourite beardie leftie had he not grabbed us by those proverbial bollocks back then with that squall of noise? I think not.

Nuff said. None of your old man extended play JC article. That’s it. Cheers and goodnight.

JC adds….

If having read that you had this particular image of the two of us in your head….give yourself a pat on the back!!!!!

 

A LAZY STROLL DOWN MEMORY LANE : 45 45s at 45

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You can blame The Swede for this. The Belle & Sebastian posting a while back led him to leave this comment:-

“Your 45 45s at 45 sounds like fun, but was a bit before my time. Any chance of reposting the list one day?”

So I thought I’d delve into that archives for the entire series which more or less tells the story of the first 45 years of my life between 1963 and 2008. One per week for the forseeable future and with it being a cut’n’paste job it also in some ways gives me a bit of free time. Here’s the preamble to how it all began:-

“On June 18th 2008, I will turn 45 years of age. That’s in just under three months time.

One of my all time heroes, Bill Drummond, marked his 45th Birthday with the writing of a book that was partly biographical, partly philosophical but completely genius.

I’d love to have the talent to do something similar, but instead I’ve decided that I’ll make do by saying a few words on 45 of my all-time favourite 45rpm records.

Actually, that previous sentence is totally misleading. In fact it could even be regarded in the same light as Heather Mills’ evidence in her divorce case – ‘inconsistent, inaccurate and less than candid.’

Here’s why…..

(1) Not all of the songs on the list were released on bits of plastic that spun around your turntable at 45 revolutions per minute.

(2) The list is not my 45 all time favourite singles as I’ve decided to restrict each act/performer to one entry. Otherwise it would have been a chart dominated by a handful of bands such as The Jam, New Order, Orange Juice and The Smiths.

(3) What consists of a list at this particular moment in time could fluctuate on a daily basis. I reckon I’m firm on my all time Top 10…..but what one day might, for example, be sitting at #24, could the very next jump up to #13 or drop down to #33. And at the lower end of the list, some songs which bubbled under may find themselves sneaking in at the expense of something sitting proudly in the 40s or 30s.

(4) The 45 in question had to have been bought by me (or on the parent album as I was sometimes skint) at the time of release – this means that stuff that I grew to love years after it first came out are controversially disqualified.

So, over the coming weeks, I’m going to have a regular series counting down some great singles – and I’m going to also post the b-side as well (or Tracks, 2, 3 and 4 in the case of it being a CD single).

I’m in no doubt that what will gradually be revealed will irritate almost all of you as something you think should appear high up the chart suddenly makes an appearance in the high 30s. Or you’ll be hacked off when I choose a song that you’ll consider can never be regarded as the best 45 he/she/they ever released. Or worst of all, when a band or performer who you would have in your Top 5 doesn’t appear in the list at all…..

To give you an idea of how long this particular exercise took, I started off with a list of almost 300 names. For most of them, it was relatively simple enough to find my one favourite single that they had recorded. For others it was a really tough task. Over the course of a couple of weeks, I whittled it down. Once I was below 100 songs, it became almost impossible.

I hope that this will prove to be a series you find enjoyable enough, and please feel free to come on board with your comments, views and observations and savage attacks on my taste at any point in time. For now, in artistic alphabetical order, here are the songs which came in at Nos. 46-50…

mp3 : Billy Bragg – Levi Stubbs’ Tears
mp3 : Morrissey – November Spawned A Monster
mp3 : REM – Electrolite
mp3 : Stereolab – Ping Pong
mp3 : Violent Femmes – Blister In The Sun

See….I told you it wasn’t an easy task.”

AN IMAGINARY COMPILATION ALBUM : #37 : BILLY BRAGG (2)

Billy-Braggv2

As promised yesterday.

I feel I have to mention that there’s nothing featuring later than 1996 but want to stress that this is not a reflection on the songs and music that has been released since then. It’s simply down to the fact that there is so much to choose from in that initial thirteen-year burst of activity when Billy Bragg was without any question the foremost singer-songwriter in the UK. I’d never seen anyone quite like him before.

And then there’s the live experience…whether just him and his guitar, or with a band, he never fails to entertain. His songs are great, but quite often the monologues are even better.

SIDE A

1. Greetings To The New Brunette

There is just now way I can allow an imaginary compilation not to open with something that features the talents of Johnny Marr and Kirsty MacColl so prominently. I was tempted to go with an alt version that is basically just Billy and Johnny but Kirsty’s typically wonderful backing vocals won me over.

2. Which Side Are You On?

This track was synonymous with his live shows in the early-mid 80s when the UK was in the middle of what felt like an unprecedented and prolonged period of politically motivated civil unrest. I was astonished to learn that the song was already 50 years old when Billy started performing it – evidence indeed that some things never change.

3. The Space Race Is Over

From angry ideologist to caring, sharing and loving dad in the blink of an eye. It’s a story which resonates with many of my closest friends and this one is dedicated to all of them.

4. The Saturday Boy (live)

If anyone ever mentions that they don’t like Billy cos he is a one-trick pony only capable of singing protest songs then this is my way of coming back at them. A stunning tale of love and rejection. And a reminder of what exactly la la la la la la la la la la means when used in a song (most of the time anyway).

This live version is taken from an official bootleg Live at the Barbican recorded in March 2004. And given the imaginary LP has gone into a live setting for the moment I think it would be appropriate to include a typically funny and entertaining monologue before the next song….and so, lifted from the same bootleg…

4a. Morrissey’s Rubber Sheet

5. Levi Stubbs’ Tears

Walter quoted some wonderful lyrics yesterday. This contains one of my favourites

“The sort a war takes away
And when there wasn’t a war he left anyway”

Everyone accepts that Billy isn’t the greatest singer in the world, but its the very basic, fragile and uncertain nature of his delivery that makes this so effective a song. See also, in a similar theme, the very moving Valentine’s Day Is Over from Worker’s Playtime or the Peel Sessions album.

SIDE B

1. Love Gets Dangerous

The first time I saw Billy was on the street during the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in the days when he had the amp strapped to back so that he could set up when and where he liked busker style. He played four or five tunes and attracted a huge audience. This was one of the tunes that day and I’ve gone for the Peel version as it comes closest to catching that particuluar performance that day. Falling in love is indeed very very scary.

2. The Short Answer

And as if to prove the above point, here it is writ large in all its ugly and painful way when things fail to work out.

“Between Marx and Marzipan in the dictionary
There was Mary”

3. Everywhere

It’s not just the sad love songs that prove he has an uncanny ability to tug at the heartstrings and in this instance he is ably assisted by the poignant mandolin playing of Peter Buck.

4. Brickbat

From angry ideoligist to caring, sharing and loving dad in the blink of an eye. It’s a story which resonates with many of my closest friends and this one is again dedicated to all of them.

5. Waiting For The Great Leap Forwards

If I was ever asked if there was one song in the world that I wished I had ever written, it would be this.

And here’s a wee confession….without fail it activates my tear ducts despite the fact that it’s not a sad song whatsoever.  But it’s a song that makes me think about death for the simple fact is that I want it to be played at my funeral as the mourners depart the service…and I want them all to laugh out loud at the point Billy shouts ‘beam me up Scotty.” You’ll all be welcome to attend.

The best closing song to any album….ever.

mp3 : Billy Bragg – Greetings To The New Brunette
mp3 : Billy Bragg – Which Side Are You On?
mp3 : Billy Bragg – The Space Race Is Over
mp3 : Billy Bragg – The Saturday Boy (live)
mp3 : Billy Bragg – Morrissey’s Rubber Sheet
mp3 : Billy Bragg – Levi Stubbs’ Tears
mp3 : Billy Bragg – Love Gets Dangerous (Peel Session)
mp3 : Billy Bragg – The Short Answer
mp3 : Billy Bragg – Everywhere
mp3 : Billy Bragg – Brickbat
mp3 : Billy Bragg – Waiting For The Great Leap Forwards

Enjoy.

AN IMAGINARY COMPILATION ALBUM : #36 : BILLY BRAGG

billy bragg

Quick intro if you don’t mind.

I’m away for a short holiday this coming Friday….heading over to Toronto for 10 nights to meet up with old friends. I’ll be taking in a bit of baseball as the Blue Jays edge closer to a first divisional title since the heady days of grunge as well as some golf and hopefully maybe even a bit of live music if I get the time.

I’m having to plan the next few weeks worth of postings so what is going to happen this week is that the four Imaginary Albums I have in the can will appear back to back; this coming Saturday will see the ‘new’ feature kick off in my absence and then there will be a period of random stuff back-to-back including the return of SWC and the numbers pick. Apologies in advance if anyone sends over e-mails that aren’t acknowledged….I will get round to everything back to normal in due course. In the meantime, here’s a delightful contribution from Walter over in Germany whose own blog A Few Good Times In My Life provides much enjoyment.

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As spoken a few days ago and inspired by your fantastic series I made me up to compile 10 songs by Billy Bragg. Knowing that is a hard task as well I selected these songs first because they accompanied during the last decades and second because they show the facets of his musical output. On one side he made a lot of songs with a political background reflecting what’s going on in these days. On the other side he is one of the last poets making very personal songs about his life, love and family. So it’s nearby that this compilation is divided in a political and a personal side.

A. Political Side

1. Northern Industrial Town

This song appeared in 1996 on ‘William Bloke’ and not played very often. For me it’s a perfect description of a town and the people somewhere in England. And at the end you’re surprised that it’s Belfast – not far away as politics might think.

2. World Turned Upside Down

This is Billy’s version of a song by Leon Rosselson about a 17th century group known as the Diggers in Surrey. They simply wanted a share of the land. Unfortunately, Oliver Cromwell didn’t share their ideas and used the army to put down the Diggers, as he wanted to protect the ruling elites’ position within society.

3. Deportees

Woody Guthrie wrote this song in 1948 when he read about an airplane crash in Los Gatos. The crash resulted in the dead of 32 people, 4 Americans and 28 migrant farm workers who were being deported from California back to Mexico. It is a song that was very close to ‘Grapes of Wrath’ and is a standard interpreted by Billy Bragg on ‘Talking With the Taxman about Poetry`.

4. Take Down The Union Jack

This is his song where he protests against the British monarchy and it’s time for something different/new.

Take down the Union Jack, it clashes with the sunset
And pile all those history books, but don’t throw them away
They just might have some clues about what it really means
To be an Anglo hyphen Saxon in England. Co. Uk

5. Between The Wars

With no backing band but his own electric guitar, Billy Bragg sang ‘Between the Wars’ as a first-person narrative of a miner hoping his hard work would be rewarded by care from the government his efforts helped support. Another song about the miners in the 80s and maybe one of his most emotional ones.

B. Personal Side

6. A New England (Peel)

Maybe this is the song that made him famous. What I find really poignant about this song is how cold and brutally honest he is. “I don’t feel bad about letting you go I just feel sad about letting you know” – he knows it’s going to be painful but he feels no guilt. And also the “I’m just looking for another girl”. Imagine saying that to someone when you broke up!

7. St. Swithin’s Day

Another song about an engagement that couldn’t last longer. There are seldom songs that express so much what happened between two people like the ones by Billy Bragg.

The Polaroids that hold us together
Will surely fade away
Like the love that we spoke of forever
On St Swithin’s Day

8. Tank Park Salute

The Tank Park is the Bovington Tank Museum near Wareham in Dorset, UK, and I believe the title of the song refers to a visit Billy and his dad made there. It is a moving song, especially if you have lost your dad, and moves me to tears, But of course, Mr Bragg is near genius in touching home truths.

9. Cold And Bitter Tears

Not typical in instrumentation and arrangement but worth to listen often. Harmony singing on a little Caribbean rhythm he give us another song of love gone by.

10. Walk Away Renee

It’s a song about first unfulfilled love ever. Maybe lots of you know how this guy must feel when his love and dreams don’t come true. And probably the best last words in a song:

And then one day it happened
She cut her hair and I stopped loving her

So that’s it JC. I suppose there will be comments missing some songs. But if we limit this compilation I had to decide which one it will be.

WALTER

mp3 : Billy Bragg – Northern Industrial Town
mp3 : Billy Bragg – World Turned Upside Down
mp3 : Billy Bragg – Deportees
mp3 : Billy Bragg – Take Down The Union Jack
mp3 : Billy Bragg – Between The Wars
mp3 : Billy Bragg – A New England (Peel Session)
mp3 : Billy Bragg – St Swithin’s Day
mp3 : Billy Bragg – Tank Park Salute
mp3 : Billy Bragg – Cold and Bitter Tears
mp3 : Billy Bragg – Walk Away Renee

JC adds:-

I’ve been toying with the idea of a BB compilation for some time and indeed have had four prototype versions that in the end I felt didn’t quite work.  But, inspired by Walter, I’ve had another go with the proviso that none of his ten excellent choices appear in mine.  It’s coming your way tomorrow.

 

SEVEN GO MAD ON AN ISLAND

Jacques the Kipper had a significant birthday a few days ago….he’s celebrating in style with us….

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Some of us get to an age where we think how best might I mark this musically. Unlike JC, I decided not to work up a long list of singles or albums, thus avoiding not only having to settle on, say, 50 favourites, but having to decide whether more than one from the same artist was allowed and whether offshoot bands counted as the same, was it their best single/album or my favourite, or one that had special memories, etc etc. I reckon there’s also only so much time you’d want to spend reading me drone on about The Clash’s eponymous debut or Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On.

Instead, I’ve embarked on something relatively short and snappy that you can take or leave, love or hate. If this was a radio show it’d last about 40 minutes. It’s an entirely original idea and any resemblance to an idea alive or dead is purely coincidental.

Imagine if you will, that my ship, sailing in some random ocean, overloaded with all my music, is about to go down. I spot an island, clearly inhabited by no-one, and as I launch the lifeboat I resolve to save seven long-playing records. Which do I pick?

I very rarely listen to music outwith the current year as there’s so much good new stuff around, but even as the waters lap around my toes, I realise that picking seven current albums probably doesn’t make for such good material as looking deeper into my past. I resolve to grab seven of the albums that mean I can write a few words to explain my choice … and that I’m prepared to listen to again and again obviously. It won’t be my top seven of all time, it won’t be the best seven, but it will help me survive til the good ship Vinyl Villain tracks me down. I suppose also that I could pick one relatively random track from each album, just to give you a flavour and break up the monotony every so often.

And what to call this musical musing? I’m thinking Deserted Island Long Players might be a cool, succinct and snazzy moniker for this venture. But feel free to call it dross.

The first I’ve chosen to save is Marine GirlsBeach Party. There was plenty punk, metal, post-punk or pop that I could have selected to remind me of my youth in a small fishing community, but this probably sums it up as well as anything for me. When some around me were desperately seeking louder, thrashier stuff (although, let’s be honest, most were coveting the latest Billy Joel album), I found this gem. I don’t recall now why or how. Possibly Peel. Possibly just liked the look of the cover (how many albums have I bought over the years for that reason. And then loved).

Anyhow, when the needle hit the record (I’m not pretending I had the cassette), my jaw hit the floor. Bright, breezy and brilliant. This was DIY pop at its very best. Ramshackle recording in a garden shed. And let’s be thankful for that.

Be honest, had a studio been involved, then it would never have sounded this raw, this rough, this frankly shambolic. It is a wonderful thing and surely an inspiration for several bands that followed and feature in JC’s ramblings. Too twee (though I wouldn’t have known the meaning of the word then) and lo-fi for most of my mates of that time, for me it still conjures up memories of school, real life beach parties, cider and vodka ‘cocktails’, girls (who I wanted to impress but all hated this sort of music), and trying to avoid getting my head kicked in.

Happy days.

mp3 : Marine Girls – Times We Used To Spend

Next choice, I’ve selected a double album, Prince’s – Sign O’ The Times. Many who know me will be surprised that Prince slipped under the door into this seven. However, for me it’s a no brainer.

This album must be amongst my most played over the years. I know there’s a dip here and there – ain’t that always the way on a double album; but when it’s good it is astonishingly good. Yup, I have sung and shrieked along to this in the privacy of my home, and I would do much the same on a deserted island. Back in the day, I would play it to get the funk before heading out to see some indie miserables play locally. Indeed, those who shared those evenings in the Northern City’s sweaty pubs and clubs will testify to my wearing of a rather camp Prince t-shirt to the Go Betweens, Nervous Choir, Stump, or whoever, and consequent tutting from the indie cognoscenti.

It’s not all good memories though, this kinda reminds me also of my psycho girlfriend of the time, cos obviously she hated it (is there a pattern developing here?). Which may have explained setting fire to our flat, cutting our phone line, throwing glass tables… Or maybe not.

mp3 : Prince – The Ballad of Dorothy Parker

(I know that Prince won’t actually allow this**, so we’ll just have some Supermoon instead. And, to get into the mood, imagine Neil in purple with a wig.)

mp3 : Supermoon – The Mill (Toad Session)

Third from the wreckage is Public Enemy and Yo! Bum Rush The Show. Still making great music, it is unbelievable now in a world of Jihad and fundamentalism to look back on the headlines that surrounded this lot in their early days. Now Chuck D remains controversial but more in the role of old statesman.

Channel 4 recycled an old song for their London 2012 Paralympic Games coverage and catapulted them back into the charts. However, back in 1987, for those that aren’t old enough to remember, they really were seen as a threat to western society with their links to Nation of Islam and Louis Farrakhan. But then that was also a time, and not that long ago, when the election of a black President of the US was seen as inconceivable. And perhaps the Reverend Jesse Jackson’s association with Public Enemy and their alleged extremism was a factor in his failure to achieve just that. I’ll dodge the politics for now and revert to the album itself.

Honestly, when I played this for the first time, it was another jaw stretching moment. So much (black) power. Energy. Beats. And they meant it maan. Of course they’ve done better stuff since, of course listening now it doesn’t seem as powerful as it did then. But, in the modern world of social media, of (free) music at every turn, of sampler tracks, of rough recording releases, that moment of hearing an album this good and this (to me) different, for the first time, in full, will never be repeated. Hearing this, indirectly, took my musical direction down a whole new path. I’d always loved what little I knew then of rap and had the odd record from the likes of Schooly D, but this got me hook, line and sinker. To hear and dance to this sort of music locally at the time, the only real option was to go to dance club nights, where they played the odd rap tune. And I did. But, dance music was evolving too and that introduced me to acid house and other beats. And some late nights.

mp3 : Public Enemy – You’re Gonna Get Yours

No worries, I’ve thrown the pills back. And, instead, grabbed Never Got Hip by Foil. I was beyond youth when this came out but it will forever remind me of that period and beyond. The band themselves will despair as I reckon they’d demand I pick their first release. But they won’t be there. Hugh will be though, on lead vocals for much of the album, and there’s a friendly voice that’s followed me through my life. That in itself will remind me of so much, and much of that best not repeated. As well, both children were born by the time this came out and there’s several memories linked to them. It’s an album I still listen to regularly and still thoroughly enjoy.

This is not nepotism – it’s here on merit as well as for the memories. Looking through the tracks, I’m struggling to pick one that I don’t really, really like. I still think, with the right promotion or a bit more luck, this could have been a real success. Just before I leap in the lifeboat I’m chucking a note in a bottle to Vic Galloway reminding him to give them a play again sometime soon.

mp3 : Foil – Claremont Junction Optimist

Enough of the noise, I’ll need some peace and chilling. And who better than Beth Orton and Trailer Park. This is a gorgeous album. When I find myself in times of trouble…..I sit down and listen to this. Just one of the best voices ever. Again, I can listen to every track over and over, again and again.

I am though absolutely horrified to note that this is nearly 20 years old. When did that happen? Asked in the pub for my favourite artists, it’s unlikely that Beth Orton would spring to mind. Yet I own pretty much everything she has released. She’s Ms Reliability for me. There when I need some solace, there when I need to just relax and let the music wash over me. Rather appropriate in this contrived situation in which I’ve found myself. You’ll all think she’s mainstream maudlin. But it’s my sinking ship…

mp3 : Beth Orton – Someone’s Daughter

The sixth long player was a tough one. As JC knows, I do enjoy a bit of politics in my music, but then I picked one of the less obviously political albums by the Beard of Barking – Billy Bragg’s William Bloke. Billy’s music has accompanied so much of my life that I couldn’t not have him and I could have chosen any of his albums. I’ve seen him more times than I can recall with various friends, not all of whom are still here.

I could have dipped in anywhere in his career (except perhaps Mr Love and Justice) and been happy. But this has special memories linked to family, and JC, with whom I enjoyed a spectacularly good night, on a berthed ferry ironically enough, watching Bill tour this. Because it’s a bit soft overall on the old politics, it’s possibly not one that gets a huge amount of love and attention. Despite that it’s one that I return to time and time again. And the warmth of the album as a whole envelopes me whenever I do. Here’s an artist that the woman in my life does like.

mp3 : Billy Bragg – The Space Race Is Over

And then there was the shock of the new. No way was I climbing in that lifeboat without something a bit newer. I can’t conceive of a time when I won’t want to hear new music, even if it does sound “just like the old stuff”.

So I look down and there’s five albums I haven’t had the time to listen to yet – new releases by Sleaford Mods, Public Enemy, Rachel Sermanni and C Duncan, and an album from a couple of months back by Nocturnal Sunshine (Maya Jane Coles in disguise). I’ve seen the first three, own their previous work already, I know broadly how they’ll sound. That leaves the others.

As the waters reach my knees, am I dancing or am I chancing? I plump for C Duncan’s Architect. I know a wee bit about him, and his indie folktronica as I hope no-one’s calling it, but have managed to avoid knowingly hearing him over the last year. It’s a gamble, as I might hate it. But at least I’ll have a frisbee to play with if I do. It’s difficult to choose a track in the circumstances, albeit there’s a couple of potentially suitable punny titles. Instead I’ll leap into the unknown with the positive sounding…

mp3 : C Duncan – He Believes In Miracles

Apparently there’s a bit of other miscellany allowed too. The Bible would probably have to be The Great Indie Discography (albeit magically updated), which JC gifted me a few years back. Hours of fun plotting various groups lack of success.

It appears that everyone who lands on this island finds the near mythical Collected Works of Morrissey in book form. I’m still pondering what to do with it. It might be useful for lighting a fire. Or I could hollow it out into a seat. But I suppose that its greatest value will be that JC is going to do his damnedest to find me if he thinks there could be a limited edition Moz freebie as a reward.

I’m told there’s also some space for a music book of my own choice. For that ideally I’d like to go with Mr Song By Toad’s autobiography as I reckon that’d be a fascinating read with just the wrong amount of swearing. But that isn’t available. And likely never will be. I wouldn’t say no to a compiled version of Deadbeat fanzine either, but that’s cheating. Simon ReynoldsRip it Up and Start Again is tempting if nothing else because there’s a lot of it. But the book that still makes me laugh and cry just thinking about it is The Glamour Chase: The Maverick Life of Billy Mackenzie by Tom Doyle. So that’s the one.

And my luxury, as an alternative to music, is a football. I tell you what, by the time I’m saved, I’ll be practised and set for my Scotland debut.

If I could only have one album from the seven above, then that really is a tough choice as I could easily make a justification for any of them. But I’ll say Beth, on the basis of a female voice and the likely time I’ll end up chilling in the sun.

Anyone think I’ve overanalysed this……??

Jacques (Aged 50 years and 3 days)

JC adds……

All of the above words are true.  From the psycho girlfriend to the night on the Ferry with both us almost in tears watching and listening to Billy B talking about politics and how literally we should now be ‘doing it for the kids’ to the fact that JtK grew up with Hugh Duggie the main man in Foil and who really had the talent and charisma to have been a rock god but never quite got the breaks.

I got to know JtK some 25 years ago and within weeks of our first meeting he was having to defend me rigorously and vigorously when I was in danger becoming public enemy #1 in our workplace over the fact I had fallen in love with someone new…I’ve never really thanked him for that in public cos we’re blokes and blokes don’t do that sort of thing…

I’m lucky to have such a great mate and what a bonus that he has such great taste in music.

Oh and thanks for making me smile yet again with the Billy Joel reference (sorry dear readers, it’s a great wee private joke!)

Belated happy birthday amigo.

** re Prince – let’s see how long it lasts before a dmca notice forces it away………..