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REVIEW: Billy Bragg

Billy Bragg + Jordie Lane

QPAC, Thursday October 25

DON SINNAMON catches BILLY BRAGG‘s world tour for Woody Guthrie’s 100th birthday. It’s rad.

From the back row, Jordie Lane is just a distant hat, beard and guitar until he opens his mouth and that amazing voice spills out. His soulful lilting could easily belong to one of Guthrie’s contemporaries as he launches into Feet Fall. But not many bluegrass songs feature salacious ladyboys and misinformed schoolkids in Vietnam like War Rages On or a tale about wandering into an AA meeting while looking for a sandwich as in Hollywood’s Got A Hold. His tone and timbre might be pulled from the early 1900s, but his subject matter has such immediacy it’s no surprise that he was chosen to complement Bragg’s Guthrie tour.

Billy Bragg divides his performance in two — starting with his tribute to Guthrie through song and biography, then diving into his own works that show why Nora Guthrie entrusted her father’s legacy to him. Mermaid Avenue saw Bragg and Wilco collaborate to bring to life and into the present day song lyrics written by Guthrie during the years he was stricken with Huntington’s Disease and unable to perform himself. She Came Along By Me is Woody’s ode to the role and unrecognised strength of women in society and his wife Marjorie in particular, and Billy’s dedication to Tony Abbott gets a huge cheer.

The Barking bard shares humour as well as politics with Guthrie, remaining funny and engaging throughout. He describes how Stromboli could easily be renamed Carry On Stromboli for the double entendre-laden idle Ingrid Bergman fantasy that it is. “It may ‘ave been Camelot for Clegg and Cameron…” — Bragg constantly rewrites Waiting For The Great Leap Forwards for current events, but it never loses its brilliance or purpose (note to George Lucas: this is how you update a masterpiece with wit and charm. Thatcher still shot first.)

Tomorrow Will Be A Better Day is his recent anthem against apathy — which he argues is a bigger hurdle to making the world a better place than even the fascists. And because like Woody before him, Bragg has succeeded in changing the world for the better, here’s a link to Amnesty International’s petition supporting Malala Yousufzai, the 14 year-old girl shot by the Taliban for suggesting that girls should be able to go to school.

After being named Time’s Person of the Year in 2006, DON SINNAMON faded from public life, being spoken of in whispers wherever beards and dressing gowns are held in due regard.

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About DENIS SEMCHENKO

Media & comms pro who works in mysterious ways. Writer, vinyl enthusiast, sort-of cineaste, history and geopolitics nerd and (nearly) reformed muso. Has a soft spot for hyphens and slashes. Will chew off your ear about obscure music, random facts and world football.

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