Billy Bragg 2010

BB3SATURDAY afternoon in November in a quaint Dorchester tearoom and Billy Bragg is as hungry as ever – for music, for politics, for love and justice… and cake. Between mouthfuls of a rich fruit number and sips of tea he’s looking to the future, making sense of the past and finding his way through the digital challenges of the present.

It’s 30 years since the then 23-year-old Essex boy joined the army, instantly regretted it and bought himself out after three months. Less than two years later his debut album, Life’s A Riot With Spy Vs Spy was released. Coming on like a one-man Clash, his angry guitar and rough-hewn vocals set him apart from the synthesised sheen that blighted the glossy pop hits of the day. By the time the follow up, Brewing Up with Billy Bragg arrived a year later, his blend of left wing politics, perceptive social commentary and heart-wrenching romanticism had crystalised and one of English music’s most intriguing careers was underway. Age has done nothing to wither his commitment to fairness, if anything it has only sharpened in recent years and he continues to engage passionately with specific causes big and small – from ousting the BNP in his native Barking, to supporting his local independent record shop, one of the last two left in Dorset.

So, how does Billy Bragg fit in the 21st century?

When you’ve been doing this for 25 years like I have you’ve got a vague idea of how it all works and if you don’t want to play the big game, you don’t want to play the big promotion, singles, videos things, or if you’re doing that only once every three or four years when you’ve got an album out, what do you do in between?

You either employ an army of people to get stores in newspapers or you tend to it yourself. For young musicians, getting in newspapers is important but for people like myself there’s not a huge amount of space for me in places like New Musical Express and I don’t really fit into Heat or any of those hairdresser magazines, so how do you get out word about what you’re doing?

About a year ago I started to realise there are people on things like Facebook where you can post something and some of the stuff I posted this year [2010] when we were fighting the BNP in Barking was getting a quarter of a million hits – that’s more than the NME at its height, so it makes more sense for me to be posting stuff on Facebook rather than expecting to get the attention of the daily papers.

Everyone’s on the internet these days so communicating is easier than ever, yet sometimes it seems there’s a lot of talking going on but not much being said.

For me it wasn’t difficult because I am doing a lot of stuff. In between records and tours I’m not sitting on me butt, there’s always stuff going on. Last year that was all going on below the radar, but this year I’ve been able to disseminate information out to people and so through that remain connected to people who are interested in what I do. That I think is the industry model. How do you connect with your audience and how do you keep them informed of what you’re doing to the extent you can make living doing it?

Because that’s the key. Whatever it is you love doing, making a living. It’s not having hit singles, not being on Top of the Pops, it’s actually just being able to do what you want to do and not have to juggle it with other stuff. So many people in my industry fall down at that moment where you let go of your day job and you oblige to the career. It took me ’til I was 25 to really crack it. In between then, in between being 18 and 25 I had turned tail and gone back to me mum’s on at least two occasions.

The thing that’s different now, with the internet, is the potential to be able to connect with people who are into what you’re doing and to talk to them almost like I’m talking to you, through the net, is huge. Now the question is, what can you do about it? Is what I’m doing the be all and end all where you’re serving a core audience, alerting them to the things that you’re doing, engaging with them in debates about issues, giving them free downloads, selling merch, is that the model, or is there some other model that’s broader than that? A model where you’re working in concert with other artists and there’s some kind of aggregator who will draw in the wider audience?

I’ll tell you the person we’re missing – John Peel. We need someone to do the job that John Peel did for new young bands where he aggregated a huge audience who listened to his show. Half of it would be unlistenable shit that you didn’t like, but the other half would change your life. That’s what we’re missing. And that’s not just because Peel’s no longer with us, it’s because our cultural focus is no longer on such a narrow band as it was in those days. The thing about the music industry is that it’s forever changing, like any industry, it’s forever changing and the way that we work with it is lagging behind. The industry is digging in its heels and digging its own grave by doing that.

But there are smart elements within the industry that do see that free downloads and kids sharing music is a form of promotion and they recognise that does play a role. Based on things like the Arctic Monkeys having the biggest selling debut album for donkey’s years despite the fact they gave away all the tracks free beforehand, how does that work?

It’s the antithesis of everything they believe in and it’s difficult for them, It’s almost like the Luddites going out and trying to break up the threshing machines, they’re trying to destroy people’s ability to enjoy music. On my behalf, despite the fact they’re only paying me 8% after all these years, not me personally but the standard industry deal will be 8-15%, they’re still paying you that amount of money, the people who listen to your music and pass it on to their friends and spread the word for you, they want to put them in jail.

What kind of industry is it that arrests its customers, that jails its fans? It’s so counter productive. I’m involved in something called the Featured Artists Coalition and we’ve sought in our way to organise artists in order to get a seat at the table when these things are discussed. Some are clinging to the industry model they just don’t see.

BB4You mean the record industry of tomorrow will bear little relation to the system of labels as we understand it?

There are already smaller labels doing revolutionary things like for instance allowing you as an artist to sell your records on your own website. And not just your stuff either. They give you the same deal they give to iTunes so that you become a retailer. You’re not just a producer of material, you’re also your own best promotion and you’re probably your best retailer too, you’re the go-to person for you. You can say to the punters: ‘Look, if you buy the music from me, I’m making the most money out of it because I’m not just getting my 15% or 8%, I’m getting the 45% they give to iTunes. So, although the record company is still getting the same amount of money, I’m getting most of it.’

Why give it to iTunes, Steve Jobs don’t need it? Cut out the middle man. Try and give them a better deal than what you’re doing. This year I’ve given away six new tracks, free downloads on the website and probably sold people six new t-shirts. It’s a strange way of doing business, but that’s how it works.

But you’ve been in the game for nearly 30 years now Bill, do artists need to establish a base first?

This is the great conundrum and this is why the record labels are dead if the industry doesn’t adapt, it will go the way of the dinosaurs. The big ones will die and the little ones will build a niche and will grow, but they’ll be different. I think the hardest thing to do is when you’re on that first adrenalin high of attention, it’s tough enough to keep focussed on writing good songs when you have to do the interviews, do the touring, do the telly, that’s hard enough but to also have to sell the records you’re in real trouble.

When the Smiths made The Queen Is Dead and Johnny Marr was having to phone up and organise the van for the tour. That was a fundamental failing of The Smiths, not being able to get a manager that would agree with Mozzer. That’s why I think record labels if they’re smarter will become more like promotional labels and their investment would be promoting you, but they’d give you a better deal so that instead of them owning your material for life in copyright forever, they’d give you say a ten year deal. They really need to change the way they look at the deal because the industry has changed because of digitisation.

You’ve also managed to get control of your own back catalogue which is a luxury many of your contemporaries haven’t managed, never mind the new kids on the block.

I’ve always had reversions from the get-go. I’ve been very clever, my manager advised that. I was worried about it to be honest with you because it didn’t look like a real deal to me, but I was in a very fortunate position of (a) getting good advice and (b) being smart enough to take it. In fact all the Mermaid Avenue stuff came back a couple of years ago and it’ll be reissued for Woody’s centenary in 2012.

The thing about reversions is it allows you re-adjust your deal to take on board new technology but people are still stuck in deals they signed 40 years ago, 50 years ago in the time of the Beatles. But I’ll tell you this, I’ve never worked fucking harder, I tell ya, never worked harder.

I’m not complaining about that, but what it is now is before somebody else joined the dots for me. There used to be an office elsewhere, away from me, and they held it all at bay, they joined all the dots. Now I have to join the dots. I’m not complaining about that, I’m just saying it is more labour intensive to do it this way. But it is a cottage industry, what do you expect?

How do you find the time to be an artist?

Well, you know I try…! To be an artist means different things to different people. What is my main job? Is it my job to write songs and make records? I’m a live performer, that’s my job, that’s how I make a living, that’s how I’ve always got my edge. My bottom line is communication and it’s always been that. If you look back at what I do, that’s what I’m good at. Whether I’m doing a gig, writing a song, writing an article, giving an interview, that’s really what I’m best at so in that sense it gives me more opportunity to do it, it gives me more opportunity to express my opinion, I have more chance to set out my stall.

This year in the election down here in West Dorset I voted Liberal Democrat. Now obviously someone like myself, given what happened, I got a lot of shit for that. The internet of course has given me plenty of opportunity to write articles explaining to people and refute directly. Very seldom a week goes by and I’m not writing about something political and someone comes on Facebook and says: ‘Well, you voted for these people; one minute you tell us vote Liberal Democrats, the next you tell us to attack Liberal Democrats, what’s going on?’

I have to the explain there is consistency in my position because I was talking about voting Liberal Democrat to stop the Tories, now I’m telling you to oppose the Liberal Democrats. It’s the same thing but I have to do my best to explain to people what tactical voting is and how it works. In that sense the internet has been very good because it has allowed people to voice their opinion in the first place, which I think is fair, and it has allowed me to refute it – and I’ll probably have to keep doing that for a while!

All of us, particularly in the political world, do things that at the time seem logical, but later seem illogical. I don’t apologise for what I did because I think it was the right thing to do in the circumstances, I do feel I owe people an explanation. Immediately you can have a line-by-line refutation of points. On Facebook you can do that. You can get into an argument with people on Twitter because what happens on Twitter is you can see all the things that have been tweeted about yourself. Some people have got completely the wrong end of the stick around the election. The irony was I spent the whole of the general election in Barking and Dagenham knocking on people’s doors asking them to vote Labour against the BNP so I’m not going to take any lectures from people that I have been disloyal to the things I’ve always believed in.

Nobody worried about it before because the Liberal Democrats never amounted to anything. The result of the election was incredibly strange. At a time when the economy is tanking and the Prime Minister is very unpopular and the government has been in for 13 years, it looked like we were in for a pounding, but it didn’t quite happen. My sense is that people were ambivalent about what to do about the economy. They didn’t accept any of the remedies that were being offered; and that’s when all the parties were saying there will be cuts. The potential for opposition is pretty big. In Barking and Dagenham with the British National Party there was a lot of concern there that they would win more seats. They didn’t, I was very encouraged by that.

I was there the day of the election knocking on doors and we were saying if we can keep it down to 20 seats we’ll be doing well because they needed 24, 25 to win the council and they already had 12. The fact they were wiped out was incredible and I think that’s really empowering. One of the interesting things about that campaign was there was a lot of young people there.

Before, fighting the BNP, campaigning against those guys was a bit like an old Clash fans’ convention – a lot of middle aged geezers who had been to Rock Against Racism and were keeping the faith, but now what happened out there in Barking and Dagenham, I don’t know if it was the same around the country, but it was predominately young people under 25. How must they feel because they took action and changed the world? Hopefully they feel empowered by that because it is absolutely clear that without their intervention the outcome would have been quite different. And it may be that through their actions, through that campaign we’ve dealt a fatal blow to the BNP. They do seem to be falling apart now.

BB2And suddenly students are politicised again…

Yeh, it’s like the 80s all over again – all we need is Bronski Beat back in the charts! It’s harder for the young generation to get a purchase on politics than it was for my generation. It was undoubtedly true that when I was making my first records the men that were the editors of the rock press at the time – the NME, Melody Maker and Sounds – were all children of 1968, they were that generation. They believed that music should do more than just sell records.

Consequently when some of us did feel the need to get up on a soap box, they were willing to give us a platform. Not that they necessarily agreed with us, but they saw that as a function of the rock press to give an alternative point of view. I don’t think it would be the same now, I think it would be much more difficult. Prior to this Millbank event it would be very much more difficult for a young musician to do that. You don’t have that ideological difference between Tories and Labour that was there.

In the 80s the Labour Party was the opposite of the Tories and the thing about Thatcher was you knew exactly what she stood for because it rang out through everything she said, but with Tony Blair, I still don’t know what he believed in. And the same with Cameron, what does he actually believe in? For a long time I have been willing to castigate the young generation for not being radical, just because there haven’t been loads of political songs, but it’s clear from what happened at Millbank that when they find the thing that blocks the path to their dreams they will respond.

That’s how I was politicised – Margaret Thatcher suddenly it seemed to me was going to get rid of all the things I’d taken for granted like free health care, free education, decent proper housing, pensions, all these things I’d grown up with in the post-War consensus she seemed to put under threat and that really galvanised me. So I think this younger generation now – and I mean really young, there are 15-year-olds talking about school strikes in defence of higher education. I think the thing is every generation has to find a way to deal with these problems and in some ways the peace dividend of the end of the Cold War kind of missed out a generation in between – the years of the 90s and the last decade.

But the idea that somehow this is coming back, like a fashion, I don’t think is right, it’s never been away. People have been out there making angry music, going on demos, but before it wasn’t so high in the public conscience. And you can’t make political music in a vacuum. This is very, very important. I used to think the Civil Rights movement in America happened because Bob Dylan wrote The Times They Are A-Changin’; whereas the truth is Bob Dylan wrote The Times They Are A-Changin’ because the Civil Rights movement was happening. And that’s how it always was.

The Miners Strike didn’t kick off because I wrote Between the Wars and Power in a Union, far from it. Our job is to reflect society, to try and offer people a different perspective on what’s happening. Maybe young bands will come through with something to say that reflects this.

I’m encouraged that young people would rather hear something about Millbank than the Royal Wedding.

Or some fabulous juxtaposition of the two, if it was me writing it… I’m a bit loathe to jump in because I think it needs a 25-year-old to comment on it. It’s not that I’m leaving it to them, I’ll be playing about on tour, reflecting on this and talking about it, but there’s got to be space for a younger voice in this.

After months of campaigning, does it feel like a relief to get back to being an entertainer and going out on tour again?

I wouldn’t want to be doing gigs that were just a political lecture, although there are some contexts where I would do a more political set, like Tolpuddle, but generally it has to be broader than that. I have to weave in the personal with the political, I’ve always tried to do that and that’s going to carry on. But obviously with the situation like it is, there are moments. The most electric show I did this year was a fundraiser for Hope Not Hate for the fight in Barking. It must have been in January or February in the University of London Union and the place was ram-packed and it was electric because there was a sense that we were here for a purpose and that we were going to do this and it shook me, it surprised me how up people were for it.

It was the first time I really got a feel for how I wasn’t here to stir them up, I was just the lightning rod for the fact that they were already stirred up. Maybe that’s an idea of what’s to come. People were already galvanised, they didn’t come to the gig to get fired up, they were already fired up and I was just channelling it for them. It was very exciting. We’re in good stead here for this fight; we’re not daunted by the task.

Thirty years in and you still have the same appetite for it then?

Yes, of course I have. It’s the thing I always wanted to do, it’s the thing that keeps me from having to work in car factory – Made in Dagenham is a film now and I wrote the song at the end of it which is great. It’s still the focus of what I do, so I’m still up for it.

There are some photos of the young Billy Bragg on your website, do you recognise him?

When we did the box set a couple of years ago, one of the things they wanted to do and they did eventually include in the box set, was a DVD of the South Bank Show I made very early on. They sent me the tape of it to watch and I was secretly dreading this younger version of me would be saying the worse possible thing that could happen to me is I’d be living in a big house by the sea in Dorset, driving a 4×4 with a big shaggy dog!

Fortunately the younger me was much more in tune with where I am now than that which was very encouraging. I didn’t feel I’d betrayed him. I may not have lived up to everything he spoke about, but I don’t think I let him down. I looked at it and thought: ‘You know what son, you’re not so naïve.’ Thank God I was 25 and not 18, that was a real positive. If I was looking at an 18-year-old talking it might have been a bit different. I did the Army when I was 23 that will be 30 years ago next year, unbelievable.

And what of today? Does getting older inform your writing?

Yes, of course it does. You can’t escape from that and I find myself touching on broader subjects in the things I say between the songs. For instance, I’ve been talking a lot about cynicism and that being our real enemy for those of us that want to make the world a better place. Not the cynicism of the Daily Mail, but our cynicism that we all feel, myself included, how do we fight that?

I wouldn’t have had that perspective were it not for the fact I’ve been through a lot of this already and I’ve put a lot of thought into what’s really going on and what are challenges are. When you’re younger you don’t see the cynicism. Your ideas are bright and shiny and it just washes off, but it gathers in those small places and like rust it never sleeps and we’re all prone to it from time to time. But it’s natural and doubt is natural.

Don’t ever trust anyone who don’t have no doubts because they’re either a Trotskyite or a religious fundamentalist; and both of those people should be avoided. And it’s not scepticism, people’s scepticism is healthy, to question the world and what’s going on. But when I’m talking about cynicism I’m talking about people who have given up and they want you to give up: ‘The only way we’ll ever change this is by having a left wing party elected and that will never happen.’ Those kind of posters, whenever I read that I think: ‘Fuck’s sake mate, you’ve given up already. Get a grip.’ Yeh, it is going to be hard and a lot of it ain’t gonna work, but ultimately you got to keep faith in where we’re going. We may not get there but we pass it on.

Your music has always had a fiercely romantic, even sentimental vein running through it. Are you still soft centred?

Of course, yeh. Driving up here I’ve just been listening to a new album by this woman Rumer – brilliant record, particularly that track Aretha, love it, love it, been going round my head all week. I know it’s a big soppy romantic Radio 2 record, but it’s just brilliant, brilliant songwriting, she sings like an angel.

It’s not as sugary as Karen Carpenter – and I like The Carpenters – but it is dreadfully sugary, it’s like too much icing and marzipan, not enough cake. I think Rumer has got more real in what she’s singing about. It’s more Jimmy Webb, it’s got this Jimmy Webb vibe to it. Jimmy Webb wrote these incredible songs which were covered by people like Dionne Warwick with great, beautiful AOR arrangements around these incredible lyrics – Wichita Lineman is an incredible song. She’s more in keeping with that. I wouldn’t really think that would be my cup of tea, but I heard it on Later and checked it out. Beautiful, beautiful record.


You say you’ve never worked harder, but what about some new music? What’s happening with The Blokes? Is it back to just Billy these days? What’s going on?

The Blokes are scattered to the four winds, but they did come together to play for Pressure Drop which is a play that I wrote six songs for during the election campaign. I was performing these songs as part of this play and I’ve just recorded that. I actually recorded it at the end of the run, but it’s just been released now to tie in with the tour, just through the website again. A cottage industry.

But my next plan is to record an album in Los Angeles with Johnny Cash’s daughter Roseanne and a guy named Joe Henry who’s a songwriter, a really great songwriter. He brought me and Roseanne together a couple of years ago in Germany for series of concerts. I’ve known Joe for years, lovely guy, great producer as well, great songwriter, but a great producer. He produced that Allen Toussaint/Elvis Costello record about New Orleans. So he brought me and Roseanne together to do a week of concerts at this festival in Germany with his band and it worked so well that since then we’ve been trying to find time for the three of us to get together in the studio and that’s coming together in March, so that’s my next project.

The year after that, 2012, will be the reissues of the Mermaid Avenue stuff and that’s got probably an extra dozen tracks that were never released, because we recorded shit loads of stuff, about 50 different tracks so we’re finally going to try to do a complete Mermaid Avenue.

How about a tour with Wilco?

Well, I’d love to. I haven’t put it to Jeff Tweedy, but I’d love to do some shows around it where we just played some Mermaid Avenue tracks.

Word was there was some bad blood between you and Wilco…

Well, there wasn’t really any bad blood, but I find myself forever explaining it. What [director] Kim [Hopkins] put in her film [Man in the Sand, 1999] was a lover’s tiff that lasted for a week or two over the issue of who produces what track. That wasn’t when we were in the studio; that was later. When we were in the studio everything was fine. When we went home they started mixing their tracks, I started mixing mine and they sent me some mixes of some stuff that I’d… basically the deal was they mixed the tracks they wrote and I mixed the tracks I wrote and they wanted to have a go at some of the other tracks and I was like: ‘You know what, that’s not what we agreed’ and that was what the friction was. But it was very soon resolved and I’m still talking about it.

The good thing about it is that it means everyone’s seen Kim’s film and we put it in the box set. Maybe we shouldn’t have. Maybe Jeff and I should write a little card to each other saying how much we like each other! The proof of the pudding is when Volume 2 came out. On the first one there were many, many more Billy Bragg tracks than there were Wilco tracks because they came later to the project. I would say of the songs we recorded, two-thirds of them I’d written and a third of them they’d written and because of that when it came to the second album they said: ‘We want more songs, do you mind if we go in the studio and record some more tracks?’ I said: ‘Be my guest’. They recorded an extra five tracks which are the stand out tracks on that record, I think.

And it kind of made the second album a bit more lean towards Wilco whereas the first one leaned a bit more towards me, I thought. You know they could easily have said: ‘You know Bill, thanks very much, we had a great time, but you got enough tracks.’ And there were. There was enough Billy Bragg tracks to make an album, but they didn’t do it, they came back. The reason we didn’t tour then was they were in a different cycle to me. They were between the demos and the recording of Summerteeth which when you think about it is an incredible thing to do. A lot of the time Jeff would be in the studio playing a song and I would have to try and work out if he was playing a Woody Guthrie song or one of his songs he was working on for Summerteeth.

If it was a Woody song I’d go and join in and help him, if it wasn’t I would stand back. Really amazing thing to be part of. They were great about it in the studio. And when Jeff wasn’t here they were my band. In fact, that’s why since then I’ve never really been in the studio alone because they showed me collaboration was the way forward.

Does that mean you’re touring with a band again?

I am touring on my own – the economic reality of that I’m afraid is hard to argue with.

People love to get you in to do a little something with them, a bit of collaboration – and you always seem up for it. At one extreme there’s something like The Imagined Village, which was amazing, then at the other there’s Milburn, or Kate Nash, or Florence…

There’s always people you want to sit down with and play a song. You get a phone call and you go and do stuff with people you’d think you’re not sure if it would work and it turns out brilliant. About this time last year I got a shout from Rob Da Bank, would I come in to his Christmas show and record a Christmas song with Florence and the Machine. I’m like: ‘Yeh, that sounds interesting.’ I didn’t know her, but we booked it for late December and about a week later word come back from them they’d like to do Fairytale of New York.

Now, that’s a great song and I love it, but that’s Kirsty’s song and I’m a little bit like I don’t really want to tread on those particular toes. So I ummed and arrghed and like whatever, so we get down there, meet Florence and she’s very nice, she’s got a guitar player and a harpist with her and we start singing the song and it’s kind of in the ball park and I was thinking this might be all right. So we go in the studio and set up and then the harpist starts playing the refrain and it just got me and I was like: ‘Fuck, this is really going to work.’ And then she sings that line: ‘…well so could anyone’ and she sings it so like Kirsty and I was like: ‘OK, this is going to be really beautiful.’

Fortunately, and unbeknownst to anybody, it was in this studio… just before I moved down here I was doing Johnnie Walker’s Radio 2 show on Saturday afternoons. He’d been suspended for snorting coke and one of the things they did, they started doing things from this studio, live bands and I did like David Bowie there, The Proclaimers and I did Kirsty there.

In fact, it was the last time I saw Kirsty was in that same space so it was a little bit iffy. But what on paper I didn’t know if it would work actually I’m really glad I did it – even the things you don’t expect to be good turn out really, really amazing if you’re willing to go with it. She didn’t know my stuff. The harpist knew my stuff, but she’s too young to have clocked it. But she was really cool about it and put up with my tentative singing style and it worked really well. I’m always up for a bit of that. If people say come and have a sing you can only learn about yourself. It’s when you close yourself off it’s not good. You’re in enough of a stupid bubble as it is, when you seal that bubble up and don’t let anybody in things can get a bit mildew-y, stagnant, if you don’t change yourself.

That’s what the play was like – I haven’t done anything like that, let’s try that, see what that is. I’ve just been asked to do a project where they’re doing something about the King James Bible anniversary. They’re trying to write stuff about different books of the Bible. They’ve sent me some stuff on that. It’ll probably be a song. One of the things about being Billy Bragg is you always have to… people have already painted you into that political corner so you have to always try and do things that challenge people’s perception – like shaking hands with the Queen and all that.

You think about it, it’s a no-brainer. I’d just written a book about being British, why would I not, just out of curiosity, want to go and look her in the eye? As it was, it was very strange. She gave me this look that said: ‘What the bloody hell are you doing?’ It was right at the end of this thing. They said if you want to meet her get down them stairs and my Mum was there and I wasn’t going to say no. So down I went. She was like: ‘I wasn’t expecting you.’ She knew who I was because they asked if I’d been cleared. Later that evening we got a message: ‘Would it be possible for Her Majesty to have a copy of the score signed by Mr Bragg?’ She was following the words in the programme, you could see into the Royal Box from where we were sitting so it was a very strange experience.

But to somehow expect me to not want and go and meet the most ubiquitous person… I mean, David Beckham, you what?! The Queen’s got my autograph, that’s bonkers! If I’d have known I’d have brought her a t-shirt!

I get the feeling she wouldn’t stand for half the stuff we have to put up with. Everything has a price tag on it these days; and nobody’s sure what anything is really worth. What makes sense on paper turns out to be nonsense. I know it’s the preserve of the middle aged man to moan about these things, but what’s happening Bill?

We lost the broadband in a storm this week and it took three days to get us back on. You have to phone a bloke in Bangalore – not that I’ve got any problem with that – but he says there’s a guy in Weymouth, it’s his job, why don’t you give him a call and he’ll come and have a look? It’s the reason why I’m no longer in the music industry, but I’m still making a job. It’s why you’re getting downsized from the Echo. It’s because people can’t tell the difference between efficiency and effectiveness.

It’s efficient what they do, but it’s not effective. It’s efficient to have it all in a call centre somewhere; it’s efficient to have a list of questions to go through – you can’t just tell them what’s wrong, you got to answer all these bloody stupid questions every time you ring them up, you got to go through this shit. That’s efficient but it’s not effective. It didn’t get my problem sorted and it’s that crucial difference between an efficient health service and an effective health service that cures people and detects illness early and helps people get back to work; and an efficient one where they don’t spend so much money and there’s not so many bureaucrats.

I don’t want to feel the invisible hand of the market over every aspect of our lives, I want to feel the caring hand of the nurse or the teacher. Ideology doesn’t have all the answers, it never has done, it takes no account of the individual. The thing with ideology is that it’s cold – the ideology of the market is cold; so is Socialism. I’m all for the individual, but first there comes a collective concern for each other. Once everyone’s OK, once the weakest and most vulnerable are taken care of, then do what the hell you like as long as it doesn’t impinge on others. You know the hand of the market is fine for those who have got all the money, but it’s not so good when it runs out.

And with that it’s time to go. We head off down High West Street talking about the Christmas presents we need to get our respective boys before heading left and right into the shops – Billy to Boots (“for toothpaste and t’ing”) me to Waitrose to get something for tea. The last interview I did as an Echo staff writer and the one that made me most hopeful about the future. Cheers Bill.

• All photos taken at O2 Academy Bournemouth on 12.12.10 © Haydn Wheeler

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