Billy Bragg 12:12:2010

O2 Academy, Bournemouth

Billy Bragg, O2 Academy Bournemouth. photo by Wheelz Wheeler.

BY his own admission on Sunday night, Billy Bragg is a half full kinda guy.

Which is good news really as, with half the nation at home watching the craven Cowell anoint a poor karaoke singer the winner of X-Factor, the Bard of Burton Bradstock shares a new Christmas song, We’re Following the Wrong Star, with a few hundred long-standing (well, it was a two-hour set) converts.

Using only guitar and voice to channel political theory, social commentary and the slings and arrows of outrageous romance, hits like Sexuality, Levi Stubbs’ Tears and Greetings to the New Brunette are still warmly welcomed.

It’s 25 years since the young Bragg shredded a Bournemouth stage during a Labour Party conference. Tellingly, the songs he played that night, including The Milkman of Human Kindness, To Have And To Have Not and singalong set-closer A New England, still ring with the same sense of hope and enthusiasm.

But in middle-age he brings a broader experience to bear on the eloquent I Keep Faith and Tomorrow’s Going To Be a Better Day. Between-song sermons relate the victory over the BNP in his native Barking, laud the return of young people to protest marches and warn against our own cynicism, hitting the sweet spot just as keenly as soft-centred oldies like The Saturday Boy and A Lover Sings.

But the heart and soul of Billy Bragg is carried in the tender, vulnerable delivery of Tank Park Salute, his heart-rending tribute to his dad. In this most personal of songs he articulates feelings for which there aren’t words and at last we know we’re not alone. It’s quite something to realise again just how much music can do.

And you don’t get that on X-Factor.

Nick Churchill

• First published in Bournemouth Echo.

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