Billy Bragg: Music, Activism, and Creation

To some, it may appear that Billy Bragg took some time off. After all, “Tooth and Nail” was his first new album in five years. But to assume that would be to guess wrong. Bragg has been as busy as ever. There was a compilation album, new singles released on the interwebs, and even writing music for a play. For the latter, he structured a piece around the Book of Luke. In keeping with his activist and political ties he also performed at several Occupy encampments. He is also update on the ever-changing music industry. For him, this was part of the reason he did so many other projects; making, releasing and selling a record is not what it used to be.

Bragg has always been a “political songwriter”. He told me that he often writes about things that make him angry; this appears to be a wide range of topics – everything from religion to taxes. It should be of surprise to no one that Bragg is a very clear, well-rounded and focused speaker. At many instances he was brief and contrite, others he gave thorough explanations. In all cases, he showcased his intelligence, empathy and mastery of the understanding of the human condition.

What may surprise some is that Billy Bragg started off his music career in a punk band. While this may seem odd, Bragg states that the two styles are very similar. Both have a very do-it-yourself type of ethic, and both are often ripe with emotion, politics and societal issues. Music and activism is essentially the gist of both “genres”.

Given his long history of activism, what does Bragg make of the current LGBTQ marriage equality debate. Like many celebrities he supports it, and he is disappointed that there is so much opposition on hatred coming from Christians. Bragg states that while he is not a fan of organized religion, he could also “never be an atheist”. He is deeply in touch with his spiritual side and talks about how inspired he was – spiritually, philosophically and intellectually – by the aforementioned Book of Luke.

Tooth & Nail is a good album. Bragg is an old-school folk singer in a genre that has changed so much and become so broad over the years. Like his heroes Woody Guthrie and Phil Ochs, his music is simple yet passionate. Angry yet melancholy. Sensitive but unapologetic. To quote another iconic folk singer: “Keep on rocking in the free world”


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