Billy Bragg @ Philharmonic Hall
Philharmonic Hall was treated to a night of politically motivated songs by folk punk 80s legend Billy Bragg.
It was a relaxed atmosphere at the Hall, as many fans were earnestly looking forward to Bragg’s interesting viewpoints and classic tunes. First to the stage at 7:30 was the rising talent, singer-songwriter Sean McGowan. A 24 year-old from Southampton, Sean was keen to name Bragg as one of his biggest influences, saying that it was due to Bragg’s political influence through his music that he was able to become aware and “moral”. Playing through folky, punk inspired songs such as Neverland and Come Unstuck, Sean’s influences became very apparent. However, he managed to instil each song with a natural youthfulness which made many of them enjoyably tongue-in-cheek. He finished his set with an emotional belter called Millbrook Road, a song which emphasises how time drastically changes the people who are close to us, and how they’re worth caring about. After declaring his love for Liverpool, Sean headed to the merch stand where I was lucky enough to meet him. Talking to him was a pleasure and confirmed himself to me as one of the most grounded and likable singer-songwriters who are working today.
Billy Bragg finally arrived on stage just after 9, to a hail of cheers from the crowd. He wasted no time in immediately diving into his 1991 classic Sexuality (which was co-written with Johnny Marr), a pro-LGBT song which he performed with gusto. Bragg’s performance was certainly impressive, as he played the vast majority of the setlist completely solo, with the occasional input from an incredibly talented multi-instrumentalist who wowed the audience with his guitar and keyboard talents whenever he made an appearance. Later in his set, Bragg additionally paid tribute to the late, classic American folk musician, Woody Guthrie, labelling him as arguably his biggest influence, before covering She Came Along to Me.
Following this, he switched in his acoustic for one of his signature electrics, a Green Starburst Burn Steers which has become a staple of his live shows. Bragg affectionately referred to it as “an old friend”, inspiring a wave of nostalgia to hit many of the audience who had been fans for decades. After a performance of The World Turned Upside Down, the gig took an expected political turn. Bragg dedicated his next song to the likes of Theresa May, Donald Trump, Boris Johnson and Brexit before he played the aptly named Accident Waiting to Happen. Among other 80s classics such as The Man in the Iron Mask and Levi Stubbs’ Tears, Bragg played the entirety of his new release, the Bridges Not Walls EP. Condemning the rise of Islamophobia and nationalism, he played the progressively positive Saffiyah Smiles, which was dedicated to Saffiyah Khan’s defiance to a white nationalist rally in Birmingham earlier this year.
Why We Build the Wall was played after this, which Bragg used as a platform to point out the idiocy of Trump’s Mexican wall, while also pointing out the hypocrisy of Europe using tax to keep Syrian refugees out of certain countries. This was all met with cries of agreement from the crowd.
The most poignant moment of the night came after this when, exclusively for the Liverpool audience on his tour, he played the emotional Never Buy the Sun. The song declared fiercely that “Scousers Never Buy the Sun” while condemning the newspaper for its writings following the Hillsborough disaster, and Bragg topped the song off by passionately crying “Justice for the 96” at its conclusion. This was rightfully met with a standing ovation from the audience. He then discussed how despite how the political situation may globally seem depressing, he was kept hopeful by the common people’s solidarity and “my faith in your ability to change the world”, a sentiment that clearly moved many of the crowd. The audience then suitably raised their fists in solidarity to the left-wing belter Power in a Union. Bragg then finished with an encore which included the pro-remain Full English Brexit, an ironic twist on Bob Dylan’s The Times They Are a-Changin’, and an inspired rendition of New England, where the crowd was encouraged to, and subsequently belted out, the chorus. Overall, it was a fitting end to a gig so based around the solidarity that can be found in both politics and music.