HE may have mellowed musically in recent years but don’t be deceived. In middle age, Billy Bragg is still a political firebrand, fighting tooth and nail for the causes he believes in – warning that to regard him as some sort of cuddly comedian is a mistake.
In the intimate confines of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, the between songs banter was littered with references to the death of Margaret Thatcher, the Government policies that have broken Britain, and the pressures brought to bear on the working man. He blasted tabloid media cynicism, returning the weary anger of post-Hillsborough Don’t Buy The Sun to the setlist; he celebrated equality, and the price that has to be paid, in the rousing rock and roll of Sexuality. Recession ills were addressed several times, most poignantly in Woody Guthrie’s I Ain’t Got No Home. He condemned both the murder of drummer Lee Rigby, and the reaction of the BNP and EDL with Guthrie’s All You Fascists Are Bound To Lose.
Not that it was all politics and polemic. Songs from the Tooth And Nail album dealt with growing older, Handyman Blues and Goodbye Goodbye among them. Tank Park Salute, a tribute to his cancer victim father, was deeply moving.
He rocked out, too, with fan favourites such as You Woke Up My Neighbourhood and another Guthrie song culled from those Mermaid Avenue sessions with Wilco, My Flying Saucer.
This was Bragg at the top of his game in a venue which perfectly complemented more than two hours of songs spanning his entire career.