The London Fleadh 10 June, 2000
It seems that in modern music consciousness mentioning the name Billy Bragg to anyone who isn't a fan, provokes a stock response, a clich? image of what 1980s Billy Bragg was. One man and his guitar, he was a political cannonball, outspoken, left wing, but still capable of writing tender, unrequited lovesongs.
Politically, he's still venting spleen but Bragg has reinvented himself musically and his set included plenty of new material as well as old classics.
The night kicked off with "Accident Waiting to Happen" much to the delight of the crowd and was followed with a number he had never played live before. The Fleadh was the perfect place for him to debut "England, Half-English", a celebration of England's multicultural diversity. Smattered with Oriental-style keyboard sounds (courtesy of Ian MacLegan, formerly of the Small Faces), Billy shuffled rhythmically around the stage, reminding us "I'm now someone's Dad. I have to dance like this!"
Behind every song played, there was a story, a message, an introduction. Another new number, "St. Monday", is his paean to 17th century cloth workers who defended their right to have their weekends off, a cause Bragg urged the crowd to take up in the face of modern day commercialism.
He seemed more relaxed with a band behind him who interpreted his new and old material with style. He railed against William Hague's pro-Capital Punishment stance before launching into "All you Fascists are bound to lose". He followed this with the light-hearted, pseudo-Americana sound of "California Style", a vehicle for MacLegan's legendary sound.
The biggest cheers of the night were for old favourites "Shirley" and "New England" which the crowd seemed to think were the last songs of the night.
I had been standing for nearly 11 hours by the time Billy Bragg returned to the Irish Post Stage for a three-song encore, but at that point I would've been disappointed if he hadn't. He obliged with "Waiting for the Great Leap Forward", "Upfield" and a reprise of "England, Half-English".
He can still do it well, and was indubitably the highlight of the Fleadh. I just felt sorry for the folks out at the main arena who were listening to the Corrs instead of one of London's best performers.