Barking’s favourite folk man Billy Bragg is on tour again and is back in Glasgow for a long awaited return to The Barrowland Ballroom, a venue he hasn’t graced for many a year.  Now sporting a beard which Brian Blessed would be proud of and grey hair, he may look older, he may indeed be wiser but his politics and to-the-point lyrics coupled with resounding guitars have not dulled one bit, the older numbers still as punchy and relevant as ever and the newer material gets a more contemporary point across urging you to think of the present climate and wonder if music really can make a difference.  He just has a knack in the way he tells a story.

There’s no support act on this tour, meaning Bragg has the evening to himself, and he only shares the stage with half a dozen guitars and one keyboard, supervised by Tom Collison, who adds a subtle backing vocal and piano accompaniment to the tunes which follow.

The set tonight would cover all bases, with tracks from Billy’s debut record Life’s a Riot with Spy vs Spy right up to three or four tracks from his most recent release The Million Things That Never Happened.  Opening with A Lover Sings from 1984’s Brewing Up with Billy Bragg, his stall was set out for the evening, with the trademark guitar and amusing anecdotes between the tracks which were equally as entertaining as the songs.  A guy you could listen to all night, talking and singing.

All the big tracks are here, Levi Stubb’s Tears, Sexuality and the moving Tank Park Salute, a song many of the crowd can relate to, myself included, which tells of how Bragg lost his father to lung cancer at an early age.  ‘You were so tall, how could you fall?’ Would bring a tear to a glass eye, and gives a lump in the throat every time. 

The Milkman of Human Kindness, St Swithin’s Day and Between the Wars, all classic Billy Bragg tunes and they sound as relevant today as they did thirty plus years ago.  Hearing them live now brings back memories of hiring the original vinyl from the local record library when you couldn’t afford to buy new records every week as a skint teenager, but you knew good music when you first heard it, and it still is.

The near capacity audience were lapping up every minute of the two hour plus show, with Bragg himself commenting on his own site how much he appreciated the Glasgow crowd, with cheers so loud he struggled to hear his guitars at times, and being so into it that he added six extra songs to the set list as he didn’t want to end the evening, however all good things must come to an end eventually.  Accident Waiting to Happen and the punch the air There is Power in a Union, Waiting for the Great Leap Forwards and the sing-along song made famous by the late great Kirsty McColl, A New England and another Billy Bragg show was over, and a great time was had by all, on both sides of the safety barrier.

Bragg is a man who always has an opinion, and something to say, and chooses his words and music wisely to get his point of view across.  He does this amazingly well, his music is fantastic and to hear the tunes played live, and listen to the stories behind writing them is enlightening.  It would be great if more artists were to try this once in a while, but do they have the solo talent or the courage to face an audience and be as open and vulnerable as he is? Billy Bragg in concert is a fabulous night out, and you’d be surprised how many tunes of his you know.  He’s just really, bloody good.

Review and Photographs by Stephen Wilson