BILLY Bragg and his politics are increasingly difficult to separate, such is his ubiquity these days as a campaigner and commentator, and indeed that’s one of the things his fans seem to find most endearing about him.
Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh
Finding his feet in the era of Rock Against Racism, the one-time “Bard of Barking” finds the present-day political milieu – with another right-wing government in power to rail against – practically made for his personal and lyrical concerns.
That he managed to infuse his entire set at the Queen’s Hall with a sense of this without, for the most part, resorting to tub-thumping is a measure of his skill as a performer. Playing semi-acoustic guitar and backed by a second guitarist who infused his songs with pealing slide sounds, he mentioned “thoughts of love and thoughts of Chairman Mao” in The Warmest Room – remarking “very fashionable at the moment” – and on a more serious note spoke of the recent deaths of transgender people in UK prisons prior to the rarely-more-appropriate Sexuality.
It was a fine balancing act which he performed with skill and style, although he couldn’t quite keep his passion from boiling over. On the eve of the Syrian bombing vote, Bragg’s impassioned plea for another way found an audience member misunderstanding his no-fly zone suggestion and almost starting an argument. Still, a tamed Bragg without opinions boldly expressed just wouldn’t be the same, and in the gentleness and honest hope of the finest songs played – I Keep Faith, There is Power in a Union, Waiting For the Great Leap Forwards – there was no room for misunderstanding.