Billy Bragg

If you would like to sponser us please contact us
Billy Bragg

Billy Bragg

Posted: 02 Dec 2013

The Sage Gateshead

Thirty years on from visiting Newcastle to busk outside The Tube, Billy Bragg has thankfully made it indoors on the opposite side of the Tyne at a sold-out Sage.  In contrast to those early solo days with speakers and amp strapped to his back, he was backed by a four-piece band at least one of whom wasn’t born when Bragg’s debut (vinyl) album “Life’s A Riot With Spy vs Spy”appeared in 1983.

Sporting what he described as “a radical Kenny Rogers look”, the bearded bard played a two and a half hour set, unexpectedly opening with vintage album track “Ideology.”  Gone were the strident vocals and sparse guitar, replaced by a countrified feel more Laurel Canyon than Hackney Marshes.

Suspicions that Bragg’s latest backing band was apeing the sound of the late 1990’s “Mermaid Avenue” collaboration with Wilco deepened as both pedal steel guitar and dobro appeared.

Both were expertly picked by CJ Hillman, whose dobro work illuminated the standout track on 2013 album “Tooth and Nail”, “Handyman Blues” - despite Billy’s claim his instrument was comprised of a hubcap from a Vauxhall Viva!  Byrds fancier Hillman later strapped on a 12 string Rickenbacker as the band marked his 26th birthday by playing sound check favourite, “I’ll Feel a Whole Lot Better.”

Far from a new fad, Bragg’s country influence extends beyond the Wilco era back to early ‘B’ sides and a liaison with Cockney C&W king Hank Wangford. The influence of Guthrie evidently remains strong quarter of a century on;  two tracks from “Mermaid Avenue” plus a barnstorming cover of “All You Fascists” and a rather more melodic and newly-recorded “I Ain’t Got No Home.”

A mid-set solo segment including “Between the Wars” and “Levi Stubbs Tears”was a reminder of Bragg’s political leanings and punk roots:  a bit like when alleged comedian Mike Yarwood used to say “and this is me”.   

Of course it’s not just the songs: Bragg is a past master and mixing pop and politics with piss-taking and polemic. With the backdrop of a Fire Brigades Union banner (motto: we save people not banks), everything from Emerson, Lake and Palmer to Boris Johnson got a mention, while he offered support to Nigella Lawson (“she gave us sticky toffee pudding, her husband gave us Mrs Thatcher”).

Admitting that his 17 minute debut album was the perfect length for an encore, sprinkling his set with “The Milkman of Human Kindness” and “New England” gave clues that a recent heavy cold would rule out that finale. However, those Braggophiles who stepped in to prompt him with the opening line of the former will have been satisfied by a closing trio of songs aged 20 years plus.

Returning for an air-punching, electrified “Power in A Union.”  A heartfelt “Tank Park Salute” with piano accompaniment then followed, before the band appeared for a joyous rendition of“Waiting for The Great Leap Forwards.”

 
Whether bashing tunes out on a guitar made in a woodwork lesson or a vintage model acquired in California, it’s evident that30 years have failed to dim his passion and optimism. Happily Billy’s later material now matches some of the earlier heights – tonight’s set list interestingly lacking solo tunes released during a 20 year spell when less folks shared his vision and times were more prosperous.

Mike Bolam

You May Also Be Interested

You May Also Be Interested

ne4me's picks of 2016

ne4me's picks of 2016

Picture: The Lake Poets RESTAURANT There are pizza places aplenty in every city in the country and Sunderland is no different, so to stand out from the crowd you really have to be doing well – and Devito’s is. Right opposite Mowbray Park and the city’s main museum Devito’s has free parking next to it after 5.30pm. You can get Italian dishes other than pizza here but why would you? The pizzas are huge, tasty and not expensive. What more do you need?  RM Peace and Loaf in...

Read More

The Shires

The Shires

Sage Gateshead   5 December Three years ago The Shires played The Sage…in the café. Now they’re headlining Hall One to a rapturous audience having hit the big-time.  The sky’s the limit for the duo from the shires of Hertford and Bedford. With their star rapidly rising who knows how far they’ll travel through the universe. Their second album ‘My Universe’ is the fastest-selling UK Country album ever. Their debut, ‘Brave’ had been the first UK country album...

Read More

Jodi Picoult

Jodi Picoult

An Audience with Jodi Picoult Sage Gateshead 24 November  Jodi Picoult is one of modern fiction’s best-selling authors. Her 23 novels have sold over 40 million copies, with the last eight debuting at Number 1 in the New York Times best-sellers lists. Two days after the UK launch she was at The Sage to promote her new book ‘Small Great Things’. Picoult’s formula is to take a really serious subject and tackle it head-on in a direct, fast–paced style which grabs the r...

Read More

view

Audio Interviews

Reviews

ne4me's picks of 2016

ne4me's picks of 2016...

Picture: The Lake Poets RESTAURANT There are pizza places aplenty in every city in the country and Sunderland is no different, so to ...

Whats on

Marti Pellow

Marti Pellow...

Marti Pellow Supported by Philippa Hanna Sage Gateshead 24 March 2017 There’s nothing mysterious about Marti Pellow despite ‘Mysteri...