Twitter has many uses for musicians: in Billy Bragg’s case, a recent Tweet dubbing him “the Sherpa of Heartbreak” reminded the veteran political troubadour that he’s also been known to write a love song or two, setting him on the path to a more personal new album recorded in America.
Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh
Star rating: * * *
He may deny he’s “gone country” while simultaneously showing off his cowboy boots, but Tooth And Nail’s new songs are rooted in Americana, like his previous Mermaid Avenue tribute to Woody Guthrie. Yet in essence he’s changed little since his late 80s debut.
No One Knows Nothing Anymore suggests the old certainties are gone, but Bragg is definitely no turncoat: he’s still part-joker, part-speechmaker, with chatty monologues between songs giving his views on fascism, equal marriage and, er, Mumford & Sons. But this loyal crowd have clearly come to hear the politics as much as the music: his account of hearing about the death of Margaret Thatcher serves as introduction to a rapturously-received Between The Wars, his workers’ anthem, while the angry Leveson-scandal lament The Scousers Never Buy The Sun ties together the past and the present.
There’s always been something of the revivalist meeting in Bragg’s heartfelt moral message, so it’s not really a surprise to find him celebrating the more socialist side of religion in Do Unto Others – even if he claims he wrote it just to annoy “Trotskyites and Richard Dawkins”.
He may be preaching to the converted, but the emotion which swells up in the room on the most political songs, like There Is Power In The Union and Waiting For The Great Leap Forward, suggests that in another highly divided time, Bragg’s is still a voice that resonates. Even if, as he quips, no-one actually comes to hear him sing.