• Interviewing Billy Bragg in the Brecon Beacons

    I had the honour of interviewing the great Billy Bragg on stage in front of 1000+ people in the beautiful Brecon Beacons at Green Man Festival. It was an inspiring hour of not only words but also a surprise musical rendition as at the end Bragg burst into a rousing rendition of Jerusalem to a standing ovation. An amazing experience.

    We discussed his fantastic new book Roots, Radicals & Rockers: How Skiffle Changed the World which has been acclaimed by those including Jon Savage who described it as “the story of the first DIY revolution; a perfect mix of author and subject”.

    Turning 60 this year, for over thirty years Billy Bragg has been an acclaimed recording artist, performer and activist, his albums including Talking with the Taxman About Poetry, England Half English and, with Joe Henry, Shine a Light: Field Recordings from the Great American Railroad and in 2015 he published his wonderful selected lyrics, A Lover Sings. Over the course of his career, Bragg has enjoyed a No.1 hit single, had a street named after him, been the subject of a South Bank Show, appeared onstage at Wembley Stadium, been mentioned in Bob Dylan’s memoir, shaken hands with the Queen and had dinner with the King of Skiffle, Lonnie Donegan & John Peel. He began by recounting the amusing anecdote of that dinner and a starstruck Peel.

    Bragg was fascinating in discussing the context to skiffle, how "skiffle was the first music for teenagers by teenagers in our cultural history... they created a do-it-yourself music that crossed over racial and social barriers”. Young women were involved in the musical movement, gathering at cappucino bars that faced towards Europe and finding empowerment in music. Skiffle was also a precursor to Rock Against Racism and Bragg recounted his own experiences of this, experience which feels hugely resonant given the rise of the far right.

    The book is subtitled 'how skiffle change the world', and Bragg spoke not only about music and its role in changing the world but also talked passionately about the need to stave off the cynicism that stops people attempting to make the world a better place - how each and every one of us can play a role in making change in the environments around us. He discussed how in the past ten years since the economic crash people's lives have been thrown into chaos and to create chaos instead for those in power responsible for such inequities.

    The guitar was an "outsider's instrument" which empowered young people - and it was very much an empowering session about empowerment. The final audience question, fittingly, asked why Bragg isn't running for Prime Minister. Perhaps most memorable of all, as well as the moving rendition of Jerusalem, was Bragg's call for empathy and compassion - needed more than ever in our world.




  The National Travel section
  April 2012

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