AGITPOP BILLY BRAGG AND THE BLOKES
Usher Hall, Edinburgh, Sat 16 Mar
Another Billy Bragg album and another agenda. The bard of Barking has twigged that something’s rotten in the state of England. While Scotland and Wales have carved out an identity in the modern world, their larger neighbour can’t decide whether to celebrate or be embarrassed by its colonial past.
So, contrary to earlier reports, Bragg is not looking for another girl, he does want to change the world and he is looking for a new England.
Hence England, Half English, his first album of original material since 1996. On it, he paints with an untypically colourful musical palette, courtesy of his band of
Shriekback renegades, The Blokes. It’s an entertaining collection of love
Ever the flag waver
songs (these days, family man Bragg is the one doing the unrequiting) and anecdotes (Tears Of My Tracks is a tongue-in-cheek blues number about selling his vinyl collection) built around a couple of songs that wrestle with the question of what it means to be English. To talk to Bragg, you'd think these last two - the title track and ‘Take Down The Union Jack’ - were all he’d done. Our conversation is bright and lively on the theme of English versus Scottish nationalism - and we rabbit on for far longer than our allotted time - but every time I divert him onto the subject of music, he gives a half-hearted reply before bouncing back to the official agenda. It’s fun, but it’s not like talking
to a musician at all.
‘Something has gone on in our lifetimes,’ he says, looking at Scotland with admiration and pointing out that it was Edinburgh where he premiered ‘Take Down The Union Jack’ with its line about asking ‘our Scottish neighbours if independence looks any good’. ‘The Scots have gone from being tartan Tories and marauding football fans to being SNP and the most hospitable football fans. By contrast, the English still think they’re fighting World War II. Why is it when you see the flag of St George you think racist, xenophobe; when you see the flag of St Andrew, you don’t think that at all?’
The best hope for his country, he feels, is to celebrate, not negate its variety. ‘Diversity is the defining point of Englishness,’ says Bragg, now living on the Dorset coast. ‘The Angles came from Denmark and the Saxons came from Germany, so the only part of Anglo-hyphen-Saxon that came from England is the hyphen. That hyphen has been handed down for a 1000 years to express our historical diversity.’
Liquid Room, Edinburgh, Fri 15 Mar; King Tut’s, Glasgow, Sat 16 Mar ‘Death to false metal.‘ proclaims Simon Neil, singer and guitarist with Biffy Clyro. the latest and greatest new rock band to mix the riotous with the beautiful. Neil's in the mood for fighting talk as they prepare to headline the first BBC Radio 1 Session In Scotland Tour to feature an all-Scottish line-up. So it’s no wonder he's feeling fired up. Is this 'death' to anyone in particular? ‘It's a quote from the kings of metal, Manowar; it was their call to arms. So we've made it ours for the modern age. Basically, chart metal is doing the real thing so much harm. It has become polluted. brainless and just worthless really.‘
The band have described their thrilling debut Blackened Sky as 'weirder and heavier than anyone will expect'. but is Neil worried about bringing out a hard rock record when so much throwaway guitar music is gracing the charts? ‘We just hope that all the kids who like Limp Bizkit and stuff will want to move on to something intelligent when they get bored of
52 THE LIST 14—28 Mar 2002
it all and maybe we can benefit from that.‘
So are Biffy Clyro looking forward to taking their rock manifesto to the people? ‘Oh yeah, we're really excited about these shows. We play every gig like it‘s our last but Scotland always gets our best performances and we love Eska so it will be a great line-up. Also we're proud to be part of the first all-Scottish line-up and we hope that people will think we‘re worth being in the first one.
‘lt's weird though because a lot
Get ready for a Biffing
of people at our gigs are surprised that we all sing lead vocals. and they can't seem to handle the singing drummer thing. But we'll make them handle it.‘
Biffy Clyro make for an intense live act. a glorious blend of racket and grace to lose your heart to. They claim their shows to be as memorable as those of Iron Maiden. so be sure to catch them before they explode into the mainstream rock scene slaying fakes left. right and centre. Fred Durst take cover. (Camilla Pia)
INDIE POP THE BLUETONES
Liquid Room, Edinburgh, Tue 19 Mar
‘How many years is it? Six years? Seven years, nearly. Oh crikey. We're not a new band anymore now. are we? We're not fresh-faced youngsters anymore.“ It's been six years and two months to be exact since the Bluetones hit the big time with their master stroke. 'Slight Return', and frontman Mark Morriss is reflecting on the imminent release of a singles
5 album with mixed emotions.
‘lt’s strange because it just feels like
= the edited highlights,’ he says. 'I don't
think the singles album is the best of the Bluetones because a lot of the time we've left our best songs on the albums. But I do think it marks an interesting musical journey. You can hear the trip that we‘ve gone on and how we've changed. and how our
3 goals and how our musical vision has ; transmogrified. Oh I don't know.’
As a creative force churning out a singles album and b-sides compilation before working on album number four (considered a sound financial strategy by the “accountants on high“). the
. normally chipper singer has a
frustrated tone that is to be expected. Nevertheless. they have been allowed some latitude; four new tracks recorded specifically for The Bluetones: The Sing/es 7995—2002 (the original title of PaCh/nko thwarted by copyright
tycoons) see the ‘tones chip away at their guitar pop genre boundaries and striding into new stylistic territories.
‘Being in a band you're always trying to move yourself into different musical
areas. You‘re not thinking about losing
ground in terms of people turning their
back on you. you‘re more worried
about turning new people on. It's not a
case of if we do this. we might lose a
certain section of our fan base, it's like.
I well fuck them. You've got to think positively; pastures greener.‘
The accompanying promotional tour should give the Britpop survivors the
chance to let off steam. allow existing
fans to reminisce and maybe convert dissenters to their melodic brand of
~ upbeat giddiness.
Staying faithful to their words. the first single lifted off the singles album is ‘After Hours'. a frothy. camp tribute to the hallowed British institution of the lock-in. But something doesn't quite
ring true: the apparent concern over I‘ work in the morning. ‘Oh yeah, I know
where this is going. You're going to ask
' what the hell do I know about that?
Well that's artistic licence my dear.‘ Let '3 hope they're allowed to use it.
: (Maureen Ellis)