I’ve genuinely lost count of the number of times I’ve seen Billy Bragg live. Not enough to be called a superfan probably, but frankly enough to show devotion. I saw him first in Norwich (where my accompanying Dad was probably the oldest person in the room as the ripe old age of…about the same as I am now). I’ve watched him in student unions, old fashioned halls, festivals and once in a cinema. I’ve watched him sitting down (one of these was ideal as I was heavily pregnant at the time) and lots of times standing up. Many years ago I also watched him on TV whenever I could find him which led to me watching four hours of a documentary about Russia in about 1992 (some of those hours really weren’t worth it if I’m honest).
Last night he was at the Leadmill – one of those iconic venues that is hard not to love (despite how far away the toilets are and them only selling whole bottles of wine – even I can’t manage one on my own on a Sunday). It’s the ideal venue for this kind of gig.
I know everyone has that band, or singer that means the most to them. For me Bill was my teenage years, hence why my brain knew all the lyrics last night to songs, even those I probably haven’t heard in ages.
There were old songs interspersed with the new, all still sadly totally relevant. Of his newest material I loved “King Tide and the Sunny Day Flood” and the wonderful Anais Mitchell song “Why We Build the Wall”.
During both “Must I Paint you a Picture” and “Man in the Iron Mask” I got goosebumps, and it definitely wasn’t just because the air conditioning was so cold. I have a gravelly voice this morning from belting out “A New England” and the LPs are firmly back on my turntable.
He joked that his manager once said “no-one comes to hear (him) sing”. Of course we do. To hear him sing, play and talk. To cheer and laugh and clap. To feel rallied and inspired and supported. And of course to relive being 16.
For me this was the perfect gig out of all Bill gigs I’ve been to and I was lifted up (metaphorically of course – few people are that strong).
I met him briefly once about 8 years ago and I was a gibbering idiot so I wanted to see him at the end last night to try and be less gibbering and to thank him. Unfortunately I was carried out of the Leadmill in a wave of exiting fans and it was past my bedtime anyway.
I’m sure there will another time, but for now, thanks Bill.