Tag Archives: Billy Bragg

Thanks for the birthday wishes!

I had such a great birthday at the weekend.

It started off by seeing Stephen Fry on Thursday evening at the Royal Albert Hall… though I prefer him on TV to this live show on stage. The endless chat about his memoirs felt quite forced in front of a theatre of 5,000 people. But then I stayed at the Hilton Tower Bridge that evening and spent a day as a tourist on Friday – saw The Town at the Vue Leicester Square and War Horse at the New London theatre.

Then on Saturday I had a karting race near Heathrow with mates in the afternoon and a great evening at the Rose and Crown, Ealing, where the Biblecode Sundays were playing… and about 50 friends all taking over a big section of the pub!

It was really special and something I won’t forget. Thank you to everyone who gave me gifts – I have not managed to respond personally to everyone, though I have been trying to on Facebook.

Oh, and Chippy – I guess the Billy Bragg T-shirt was from you! No name on the wrapping paper, but who else would buy me a ‘Milkman of Human Kindness’ T-shirt?
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You fascists are bound to lose

I spent hours this evening editing a video about the BNP. I hope you like it.

Robbing Peter to pay Paul

I know that the British government doesn’t have much control over private enterprise, and it’s not desirable for them to have strict control over what companies can get up to. Can you imagine the situation if companies had to ask permission of the government before borrowing, lending, or buying interests in other companies – we would be similar to China.

But, the recent situation with Cadbury seems quite bizarre.

If Cadbury shareholders believe they have now got a good price for their shares then there is nothing to stop them selling to Kraft. That is just business and the emotional response to the loss of another British company is actually not fair – though it’s worth remembering that the majority of shareholders are just funds (pension funds) and so they have no emotion anyway. If British people want to prevent foreign investors buying into Britain, then that restriction would apply in the opposite direction too… Britain would find itself unable to invest in foreign businesses as a reciprocal measure.

But, Kraft had to borrow money to finance the deal. And the British bank Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) financed Kraft. And Royal Bank of Scotland is 84%-owned by the British government, and therefore by the British people. So the British public are effectively financing a deal to buy their favourite chocolate manufacturer.

The government is claiming that RBS can’t be controlled like a government department, that it needs to operate as a regular bank so it can return to profit and that’s mostly correct. But surely someone must have seen this public relations disaster looming on the horizon? Billy Bragg has initiated a campaign where he is refusing to pay income tax, until the government starts controlling the publicly-owned banks – particularly the hefty bonuses bankers are already starting to pay themselves again so soon after the economic collapse.

Bragg won’t change much with this campaign. Even he acknowledges that the government will get their tax from him in the end, but he is demonstrating that the British public are not stupid. They care about how the banks behave and when they own a share of those banks they have a right for their views to be respected.

Lock them up and throw away the key or intervene?

Last night, at the Prince Charles Cinema in London, there was the first central London screening of a new documentary, Breaking Rocks, directed by Alan Miles.

The documentary explains how the Jail Guitar Doors project, created by Billy Bragg in 2007, started and what they have achieved with the programme since it launched.

Jail Guitar Doors is an independent initiative which aims to provide instruments to those who are using music as a means of achieving the rehabilitation of prison inmates. JGD takes its name from the b-side of the 1978 Clash single Clash City Rockers.

Giving musical instruments to prisoners serving time is a controversial initiative. It’s not something the right-wing media will be too happy about, but the statistics on reoffending speak for themselves. Of course, the stats vary for different types of offence and prison regime, but in general if a criminal has been imprisoned, they are more than 50% likely to come back once released. This figure is significantly reduced if the prisoner has been involved in a music education programme.

The idea of giving them a guitar and showing them how to use it is not aimed at creating an army of ex-con James Blunts… what an awful thought. It’s because the guys who start learning guitar while in jail show a demonstrable increase in self-esteem and self-awareness. Just by learning something new they suddenly get the power to resist a lot of the peer pressure culture associated with drugs, and it makes them realise they can play a role in a normal society.

The challenge to the guys who are given the guitars is to show that they can come out and stay out. The guitar unlocks the realisation that they can learn and they can do something useful.

One of the main criticisms of prison education programmes like this is that prison is supposed to be about retribution and punishment. Locking these guys up and letting them rot. The issue with that attitude is that they will come out at some point. Guys doing a 3-year stretch for drugs will be back out on the streets soon, and with no idea what to do, of course they will turn back to the same life they had before coming inside.

The simple act of teaching someone to play the guitar can (and has) shown people that there is another life out there that doesn’t involve drugs, nicking from people, violence, and ultimately returning to jail.

The film is very well shot. It’s an exciting and interesting documentary, explaining the issues as well as the history of JGD. After the film screening in London, the film director Alan Miles and Billy Bragg himself did a Q&A session in person. And after the talk, there was some music. Not only Billy doing a few songs, but two ex-cons who learned to play guitar and write songs because of Jail Guitar Doors.

Take a look at some of their stuff here:

Billy Bragg does Redemption Song

Billy Bragg does April Fool’s Day – song written in a workshop with prisoners

Leon Walker, JGD graduate

Jonny Neesom, JGD graduate

For more information about the Jail Guitar Doors initiative, take a look at the website here…

Billy Bragg in Brighton

Brighton gig 17 June 2009

I went to Brighton on Wednesday evening to see Billy Bragg – again. Here is some video from the end of the show where he was closing with New England… I only took one photo of him during the gig… The venue was very restrictive in terms of allowing video and photography – like most theatre venues – so it was hard to shoot anything this time.

It was an unusual gig in a number of ways. The emphasis of the songs changed with a swing back to some of the William Bloke material, and the use of some of his older political stuff in the context of the expenses scandal. I know Billy has not been a Labour party member for a long time, but I’ve never heard him talking in such an anti-Labour way as when he was talking about Hazel Blears…

I think this should be the complete setlist, but I am only looking back at my twitter feed to see what I wrote at the time…

Ideology
To have and to have not
From red to blue
I ain’t got no home in this world anymore
Warmest room
All you fascists
Sexuality
Sin city (with Otis Gibbs)
O Freedom
King James Version
Greetings to the new brunette
St Swithin’s day
New song about Consitutional reform – Constitution Hill (?)
World turned upside down
Levi Stubb’s tears
I keep faith
Power in a union
Great leap forward
Between the wars
Milkman
New England