An icon of British music and a political figure throughout Thatcher's Britain and beyond, Billy Bragg needs little introduction to those who appreciate the power of song to inspire change and provoke thoughts and ideas. From his founding of Red Wedge in the 1980s, bringing together the like of Paul Weller, The Smiths and Bananarama to engage young people with politics, to his more recent profile as an influential figure in the digital media age, and his Penderyn Prize-nominated book 'Roots, Radicals & Rockers – How Skiffle Changed The World'. There are few who can claim to have had such a direct effect on the last 35 years of British history, outside of members of governments.
Billy Bragg has always been more than just a popular musician, although, it would be a shame to overlook the great songs he's written over his three and a half decades as a recording artist. His latest tour announcement looks sure to leave no aspect of his back catalogue unexplored.
"After more than three decades of travelling around the world in a van, or spending all day flying vast distances to play a gig, I’m looking forward to having some time to explore cities that I usually only get to see between the soundcheck and the show. And this three-night stand format is a way of keeping things interesting, both for me and the audience. I tried it out in Auckland recently and had a lot of fun revisiting my back pages."
The tour of three-night stands will take in 10 venues around the UK, with each of the consecutive nights focusing on a different period of his career. The first night’s performance will feature Bragg’s current set, which picks from his entire career. The second will see Bragg perform songs from his first three albums: his punk rock debut 'Life’s a Riot with Spy Vs Spy' (1983), its follow-up 'Brewing Up with Billy Bragg' (1984) and 'Talking with the Taxman about Poetry' (1986). The third night will see Bragg perform songs from his second three albums: 'Workers' Playtime' (1988), 'Don't Try This at Home' (1991) and 'William Bloke' (1996). What better excuse to refresh ourselves with some of the music from those classic albums?
'Life’s a Riot with Spy Vs Spy' in '83 famously urged its buyers to "Pay no more than 2.99 for this 7 track album" on its Penguin Books inspired cover, and the cassette version, which only took up one side of the format, instructed fans to use the other side to bootleg one of his gigs. The album gave us 'The Milkman of Human Kindness' and 'A New England', the latter of which was also a hit for the wonderful Kirsty MacColl.
'Brewing Up With Billy Bragg' followed in 1984 and its opener 'It Says Here' took a swipe at the tabloid press keeping to his political heading and suggesting that fake news is nothing new.
Brewing Up was followed by the 'Between The Wars' EP and then 'Talking With The Taxman About Poetry'. The third full-length record was the first by Bragg to feature a more varied list of personnel including the like of Kirsty MacColl and Johnny Marr, the latter playing guitar on the timeless 'Greetings To The New Brunette'.
The release of 'Workers' Playtime' was heralded by the single 'Waiting For The Great Leap Forward'. Released in 1988 the lead single dealt with the disappointment that many felt after the result of 1987 General Election that had left Red Wedge and its followers feeling disillusioned.
Billy Bragg saw in the new decade with 'The Internationale', a seven-track album of covers and versions of political anthems that mirrored 'Life’s a Riot with Spy Vs Spy' with its track count and album art. The release raised eyebrows at the time. Even though Billy Bragg's releases to that point had always had some element of political comment, it was his ability to mix politics with personal themes that made Billy Bragg such an accessible hero through the 1980s. In contrast, 'The Internationale' put distinctly non-pop standards such as 'The Red Flag' alongside a rework of 'Jerusalem' on its somewhat serious track listing.
In 1991 'Don't Try This At Home' reintroduced the personal into the politics with 'Sexuality', the euphoric celebration of personal sexual freedom. The song's all-star cast included its co-writer Johnny Marr and another appearance by Kirsty MacColl, as well as a video directed by none other than Phill Jupitus.
'One Step Forward. Two Steps Back' begins with three nights in July in Portsmouth. For the full list of dates see below.
Billy Bragg - 'One Step Forward. Two Steps Back'
5 - Portsmouth, The Wedgewood Rooms
6 - Portsmouth, The Wedgewood Rooms
7 - Portsmouth, The Wedgewood Rooms
10 - Bristol, Fiddlers
11 - Bristol, Fiddlers
12 - Bristol, Fiddlers
29 - Dublin, Whelan’s
30 - Dublin, Whelan’s
31 - Dublin, Whelan’s
3 - Barnsley, Underneath The Stars Festival
6 - Glasgow, St Luke’s
7 - Glasgow, St Luke’s
8 - Glasgow, St Luke’s
11 - Manchester, Academy 2
12 - Manchester, Academy 2
13 - Manchester, Academy 2
16 - Sheffield, The Leadmill
17 - Sheffield, The Leadmill
18 - Sheffield, The Leadmill
21 - London, Islington Assembly Hall
22 - London, Islington Assembly Hall
23 - London, Islington Assembly Hall
26 - Cambridge, Junction
27 - Cambridge, Junction
28 - Cambridge, Junction
1 - Birmingham, O2 Institute 2
2 - Birmingham, O2 Institute 2
3 - Birmingham, O2 Institute 2
Tickets on sale from www.musicglue.com/billy-bragg