I have three abiding memories of Billy Bragg. The first: hearing his sonorous, utterly distinctive tones ringing out from the radio at my parents’ house in Swindon. I must’ve been about eleven and it was the first time I’d heard the Braggster and the last time I’d ever hear anything like it. It was on John Peel’s show, and I can remember the song: one of Bill’s absolute finest, Between The Wars (check out this marvellous TOTP performance, made even more wonderful by the contrast between the song itself and Steve Wright’s hair).
My second BB memory is when the man himself came to do a talk at the university where I was studying. He took questions at the end and I summoned the courage to ask whether he’d rather be remembered for his contribution to politics or for his music. Billy said that he was pretty sure most politicians aspired to be rock stars, so he plumped for the music.
Finally: a more up-close-and-personal meeting at what may or may not’ve been called the Leftfield Tent, at Glastonbury in 2003, when Billy happened to be chatting to someone behind one of the union stalls and my girlfriend and I were sheltering from the blistering sun. I can’t remember what words of wisdom I conveyed in my cider-fuelled state, but chances are it was along the lines of ‘I love you I do’ or maybe ‘you’re Billy Bragg and I think you’re brilliant’.
I have a deeply-held affection for everything Bragg (at least up until 1996’s great William Bloke album and his excursion into Woody Guthrie covers with Wilco on the Mermaid Avenue records), but in general my favourite songs of his are the love songs. So, in reverent homage to JP for introducing me to the Bard of Barking, here’s a blissful Peel Sessions version of The Short Answer, one of the best.