Billy’s Uncle

For my sins, given how badly they’ve played so far this season, I’m off to watch Tottenham in the Champions League.

Ordinarily, a football related post would most appropriately be accomanied by a tune by Half Man Half Biscuit, who have a wealth of footie-related references spattered all over their back catalogue.

But not today.

For tonight’s opponents – Red Star Belgrade – bring one particular song to mind, and a rhyming couplet which I’ve not been able to get out of my head since I got a DM on Twitter from my old mate Richie asking me if I wanted to go.

This one:

Billy Bragg – Sexuality

More soon.

How (Not?) To Do A Cover Version

I’m a little torn about whether this is a good or a bad cover version.

The problem is that both versions are by the same person.

In 1986, Billy Bragg released this as the second single from his “difficult” (but brilliant) third album, Talking with the Taxman about Poetry:

Billy Bragg – Greetings to the New Brunette

But then later – and I must confess, I’ve been trying to establish where this version first appeared, with no success (it probably tells me on the album on which it appears that I own a copy of, but as all my CDs are currently boxed away I can’t be arsed with digging it out) – he re-recorded it with a full band, and whilst he was at it, he re-titled it too:

Billy Bragg – Shirley

See, it’s not a terrible version, and in many ways I think it benefits from the full band treatment.

But here’s two reasons why the original is better:

  1. It has Johnny Marr playing guitar on it, and
  2. It has Kirsty MacColl doing backing vocals on it.

I rest my case.

More soon.

Hey Hey Hey, Here Comes Richard

Back in 1983, Billy Bragg released the very wonderful Life’s a Riot with Spy vs. Spy, seven tracks of love and politics, all just Billy and his trusty electric guitar.

In October 2013, it got the 30th Anniversary remaster and re-release treatment. As a bonus, it included the EP being played in it’s entirety, recorded live at London’s Union Chapel earlier that year.

And in between these two dates, sometime in either late 1986 or early 1987, I was introduced to the charms of Billy by my mate Richard.

Other than my father and my brother, and much later Llŷr, Rich was possibly the greatest influence on my musical taste. It was he who first played me The Smiths (of whom I was aware, but generally indifferent to), and, on the same evening, it was he who first played Billy Bragg to me (ditto).

And today, it’s Richard’s 50th birthday.

So here are those live tracks from that 30th Anniversary reissue, in the order he played them (which isn’t the order they appeared on the original release – he jiggles around with it to ensure A New England, complete with bonus verse “for Kirsty”, rounds things off nicely), complete with an explanatory introduction from Billy himself, which is just as well as he absolutely rips through the rest of the set:

Billy Bragg – Intro (Live)

Billy Bragg – Lovers Town Revisited (Live)

Billy Bragg – To Have and to Have Not (Live)

Billy Bragg – The Busy Girl Buys Beauty (Live)

Billy Bragg – The Man in the Iron Mask (Live)

Billy Bragg – Richard (Live)

Billy Bragg – The Milkman of Human Kindness (Live)

Billy Bragg – A New England (Live)

Happy 50th birthday, my old fruit.

And thank you.

More soon.

Believe

There was a really interesting article in The Guardian on Friday, detailing some of the rather more unconventional methods Spurs boss Mauricio Pochettino has used during the team’s training sessions in the build up to today, which focus on increasing the players belief and faith in themselves.

Pochettino – and, indeed, Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp – are both men of religious faith, but some of the methods mentioned here (walking on hot coals and breaking arrow tips with your neck) go a little beyond that in my book.

That’s not a criticism, especially not should we win, they just raised an eyebrow in Dubious Taste Towers.

Some fairly predictable songs, then:

EMF – I Believe

And final-ly…

More soon.

Ivor Gift for You

Last weekend (or was it the weekend before, I lose track so easily these days) I was at a friend’s 40th birthday. The DJ, a very lovely friend of mine, played Kirsty MacColl’s version of A New England. I was stood at the bar, awaiting service, when I became aware that a couple next to me were singing along to it, with pleasingly appropriate gusto.

It always fills my heart with joy, that. Not just to hear that record, but to witness others loving it as much as I do.

Prepare to have the wind sucked out of your sails.

The guy called to his spouse: “It’s a Billy Bragg song, but I’ve no idea who’s singing this.”

The woman shrugged.

I couldn’t help myself.

“Kirsty MacColl. It’s Kirsty MacColl. Famously, it’s Kirsty MacColl.” I spluttered/interjected.

“Is it?” the chap answered.

I braced myself for the follow-up “What’s she up to now?” question.

But instead, this, from his lady friend:

“He’s due a come-back, isn’t he, old Billy?”

I have rarely had to bite my tongue so hard.

“He’s never gone away….!” was all I could proffer.

And as proof, this week Billy has been given the Outstanding Contribution To British Music at this year’s Ivor Novello Awards.

Billy is a man who has stayed true to his principles whilst never losing the knack for bashing out a truly great tune.

I bloody love Billy.

Here’s one such great tune which features not only the dulcet tones of Ms. MacColl on backing vocals, but also one Johnny Marr, who plays guitar. Obviously.

billy-bragg-greetings-to-the-new-brunette-lineBilly Bragg – Greeting to the New Brunette

And here’s a slightly reworked version, which crops up on his B-Side heavy compilation, Reaching to the Converted (and probably, therefore, on a B-side somewhere, but I can’t be arsed with finding out which one):

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Billy Bragg – Shirley

“How can you lie there and think of England when you don’t even know who’s in the team?” What a lyric.

Congrats Billy, this is long overdue.

More soon.

Sunday Morning Coming Down

Let’s be honest, it was only a matter of time before I got round to posting this.

Bragg, Stipe and Buck having some fun:

billy-bragg-you-woke-up-my-neighbourhood-liberation

Billy Bragg – You Woke Up My Neighbourhood

I don’t usually post videos in this series, but I’m gonna this time for two reasons:

  1. The appearance of a rather young and svelte Phill Jupitus, who I assume also directed (as he did with Billy’s Sexuality video)
  2. The inclusion of those facts that The Chart Show used to wang up on screen. Y’know, just to make us all yearn for simpler times when people didn’t throw dead fish into the Thames to try and make a political point.

More soon.

A Mix-Tape Maker’s Best Friend

Been a while since I wrote one of these, but the news this week that there will no longer be a print version of the NME has spurred me into life.

I can’t really shed a tear for the NME moving to an online presence only; I haven’t read it for fifteen years or so, certainly haven’t bought it since Emo was a thing, and have never managed to pick up a free copy outside a tube station in London.

I did, however, purchase it semi-religiously from the late 1980s until the very late 1990s. Just like everyone has a Dr Who that is “theirs”, who resonates with their youth, so it is with the NME. I wish I could say that I bought it when Danny Baker et al were the scribes in residence, but my time involved the likes of Andrew Collins, Stuart Maconie, Stephen Dalton, Tom Hibbert, David Quantick, Barbara Ellen, Mary Anne Hobbs and Steve Lamacq. Looking at that list explains why I listen to BBC 6Music so much these days.

The NME was renowned for attaching the occasional cassette to the front cover; regrettably I was too late to grab a copy of the seminal C86 tape at the time, however I did go and purchase today’s selection, which was released in 1988 in conjunction with, and to raise funds for, Childline, a free 24-hour counselling service for children.

The Sgt. Pepper Knew My Father was released to mark the 21st anniversary of the original release of The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart Club Band, and as I’m typing this, it seems just unbelievable that another thirty years have passed since then.

The idea was this: get current bands to record cover versions of every track on the album. And so it was that the tribute album was born.

As with many albums of this sort, it’s patchy to say the least. But here’s the tracks I like the most from it. And that one by Wet Wet Wet, which I include purely because it was released as a double ‘A’ side with Billy Bragg’s cover on the other side, which led to Simon Bates having to say on Top of the Pops, after the Wetx3s had mimed their smiley asses off, the following words: “That’s number one, and the other side is number one as well. Here’s Billy Bragg.”

Billy Bragg at #1 in the UK Charts. The stuff that dreams are made of.

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Wet Wet Wet – With A Little Help From My Friends

The Wedding Present with Amelia Fletcher – Getting Better

Billy Bragg with Cara Tivey – She’s Leaving Home

Frank Sidebottom – Being For Benefit Of Mr. Kite

Sonic Youth – Within You Without You

Michelle Shocked – Lovely Rita

The Triffids – Good Morning Good Morning

The Fall – A Day In The Life

A few years later, I was travelling somewhere (I forget where) with a friend who was a massive Beatles fan. He had asked me to put together a mix-tape for the journey, which for reasons that escape me now, I gave to him in advance of our trip to listen to. I included The Fall track, which he took exception to.

“Who the hell is that murdering A Day In The Life?”, he asked before I had clicked the seatbelt into place.

I looked at him, baffled, bemused.

“It’s The Fall. Obviously. It’s obviously The Fall. And they’ve not murdered it. They’ve Fall’ed it.”

I wonder if, after Mark E Smith’s death in January, he is claiming to have listened to The Fall since the late 80s. I know he occasionally reads this, so I’ll report back.

More soon.