A PEOPLE'S SINGER. AN IDEALIST WHO NEVER stopped believing. One man vvith a guitar vvho hitched his vvagon to the Old Left in politically conservative times. but never stopped vvriting love songs too. We shouldn‘t get too carried away — lissex is a long vvay from Oklahoma ~ but the parallels betvveen Billy Bragg and the late Woody (iuthrie are legion. So it l'eels only right and proper that. a couple ol‘ years ago. .\'ora Guthrie should have asked Bragg to set music to vvords from her lather’s archive ol around 2.50() complete lyrics.
('ritics had noticed the similarities betvveen the tvvo right from the start but. Bragg relates. only really in America. ‘()ver here. it vvas still too close to punk. I think. And that made me vvant to ﬁnd out more about him. It vvas hard linding Woody songs here in the 70s and early 80s. bttt vvhen l vvent to America in IUS—l. l vvas able to ﬁnd some ol’ his stut’l‘ amongst them the Library ()_/‘('mrgre.vpv‘ triple—disc and hear what the luss vvas aboutf
Ironically. vvlien Bragg ﬁrst heard the man vvho vvas chiel' inﬂuence on his ovvn idol. Bob Dylan. he vvas rather less than completely blovvn away. 'When I heard his stul‘l‘ in the early 7()s. my l‘eeling vvas that Woody (iuthrie vvas a bit too ravv for my ovv‘n rock 'n‘ roll sensibilities. Bttt alter punk. obviously. I had a complete change. and also the political content vvas much clearer to me alter the mid- 80s in Britain. So I realised that Woody vvas the lather ol‘ a tradition that l vvas part ol‘.~
Just hovv much became clear on .llr'rmuid Avenue. an excellent album ol' unheard (iuthrie lyrics rendered by Bragg and the American band Wilco. There are a l'urther 25— odd tracks vvaiting to be released on a l‘ollovv- up sometime next year. some ol~ vvhich might be heard on Bragg‘s current tour. He's not
16 THE LIST‘; ‘9'
vv'ith Wilco this time. but the line—up ol‘ 'l‘he Blokes should create ripples oi interest
anyvvay: alongside l‘ormer members ol
Shriekback and 3 .\lustaphas 3. Bragg has roped in lan .\lcl.agan l'rom The Small liaccs on keyboards.
liveryonc knovvs a levy bare l‘acts about Woody (iuthrie. lle vvas a ('onimunist vvhose guitar bore the legend "l‘lllS .\l.v\(‘lll.\'li KILLS l"AS(‘lS'l‘S’; he bummed about America collecting songs and getting to knovv the ordinary people ol‘ his country: he vv rote the classic "I'his l.and ls Your l.aud‘. .»\merica‘s alternative national anthem; he died a long. lingering death ol Huntington‘s (‘horea. But it‘s vvorth getting hold of Joe
'The political content was much clearer to me after the mid-805 in Britain. I realised that Woody was the father of a tradition that l was part of.’ Billy Bragg
BRAGG. The Bard to take the great man’s words back
of Barking is about
Klein‘s e\cmplary biography lliim/y (iiil/rrii' li‘iitlk‘l‘. [9.99) [0 get lltc‘ 5101') ll] tlc‘PIlt.
(iiv en incredible access to primary sources. ls'lein cral‘ted one ol‘ the best inusie biographies ever. It vvas reissued this year vvith a nevv l‘orevvord by Bragg (by coincidence. Bragg‘s ovv n biography has just been published) so. vvhat vvith one thing and another. there vvill soon be no eycuses tor ignorance about the man vvhose inl‘lucnce has l‘ercolated tight throuth PUsi-Wlll' l‘olk and the singer-songvv riter scene.
In December. BB(‘2 is shovv ing a documentary ol the making ol‘ .llermi/it/ .lt‘r'lll/t’ vv hich. according to Bragg. leaves one in no doubt vvhose project it vvas. "l'he album should be called Ali/"(i (ii/l/ii'ie Prevents l)’i//yv lift/g“; .l/lr/ ill/er). it‘s her \isiott. llis her realisation that her lather is not as vv ell knovv n as he could be because. over the years. he‘s become a bit ol‘ an icon. vvhen in tact he vvas an iconoclast. ll you think that during his lil‘etime he recorded about l5ll songs that's only 5% ol the songs he vv rote. 'l’he other 95% even I haven‘t heard.
‘So hovv much more more is there to learn about Woody." Bragg asks rhetorically. '.lust lrom those l'il'teen songs on the album you get a much deeper idea ot' Woody even than you get l‘rom .loe Klein. l vvould argue. And thctes another limo-odd songs still out there to appreciate. l'ntil those songs have been appreciated in some vvay. Woody hasn't spoken his last \vot‘tls.~
Billy Bragg And The Blokes play The Arches, Glasgow on Sun 8 Nov. Still Suitable For Miners, the official Billy Bragg biography by Andrew Collins (Virgin £12.99), and the album Mermaid Avenue are out now.