Billy Bragg : Glastonbury : live reviewBilly Bragg


Whilst all the media hoo hah is clogging up the arteries of the mainstream with its well intentioned warm fug of not very shaggable shagpile carpet indie there are so many great nooks and crannies of music at Glastonbury that is beyond the well kempt indie fringe.

Billy Bragg’s Leftfield stage is one of those places. Running under the banner of ‘recharge your activism’ – this is a place where pop and politics mix without ever being hectoring. In the afternoons there are political debates and tributes to the great Tony Benn who had been a regular fixture on this stage until his death last year and in the evening bands who still sing about something.

Billy Bragg has become the elder states-person of this scene that still has a heartbeat and where stuff still matters and his headline slot sees the Leftfield stage packed to overflowing with 2/3000 people plus flooding the stage at the heart of Glastonbury.

Armed with a supercharged Telecaster copy and on his tod this is Billy Bragg at his best, dealing out his lyrically incisive songs with a passion and humour that saw him breakthrough as the mini Strummer with heart of gold wrapped in the barbed wire of idealism in the post punk fallout.

Decades later there is no loss of edge or clarity and perhaps the only tragedy is that these songs still mean and have never become period pieces with so many of their targets still in power and sometimes even land-grabbing more of our rightful heritage from the NHS to wages to the very lives people lead.

The political content of the songs never becomes earnest and lecture like and are about hope and inspiration and laced with the poetry the real world. This is a place where Labour is not a dirty word and trying to change the world with three chords still resonates with a high decibel clarity.

In rock n roll terms Billy, though, could sing about anything and it would still sound great. There is something perfect about him playing on his own- rock n roll at its most pure and basic with all the rhythm and melody provided by two hands and a voice.

His guitar is like pure tension- that scratching chicken wire sound has never sounded better and the taut rhythmic slashes echo a soapbox Wilko or that Strummer style of his beloved Clash who inspired him to pick up the guitar years ago. The songs are built to sing along to and the audience mouth all the words in a communal, emotional celebration of music that still means something.

This a heady celebration of something that is sometimes lost in the desperate rush of survival of modern music and the curious case of the Tories who even like the music but ‘don’t listen to the lyrics’. The gig is proof of the power of folk music- a folk music tempered by punk rock which seems more and more like the last stand of folk before the corporate machine took over and stole everything – the money and the soul and the fire in the belly of all great rock n roll.

I say ‘seemed’ because the heartbeat is still there everywhere you look- the underground still throbs and there is a true alternative to the financial land grab in music and in life. Every political movement starts with someone saying ‘no’ and every great song starts with a sharp intake of breath- tonight Billy Bragg proved with humour, great songs and timeless lyrics that the ‘battle has come down’ as the late great Joe Strummer once snarled.


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Award winning journalist and boss of Louder Than War. In a 30 year music writing career, John was the first to write about bands such as Stone Roses and Nirvana and has several best selling music books to his name. He constantly tours the world with Goldblade and the Membranes playing gigs or doing spoken word and speaking at music conferences.


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