Billy Bragg - Rock City, Nottingham

One of the joys of French radio was the complete lack of censorship - I can still remember my brother and I headbanging away to Killing in The Name Of with my Dad entering the room in time for Zack de la Rocha to scream his climactic expletive. Impressed he certainly was not but even he could appreciate the innate groove of the Rage Against the Machine anthem. Bizarrely, my parents pretty universally enjoyed our musical choices. Even Tom Waits screaming to a symphony of steel pans was not enough to put them off - the only artist who managed to bring universal disapproval from my parents was Billy Bragg with his rendition of the Milkman of Human Kindness.

He was indeed the ultimate taste challenge for anyone's parents - something he now readily acknowledges with this Marmite tour. He is either a national treasure or disgrace, a tuneless chancer or one of our best songwriters of the last few decades. Suffice to say, the crowd at Rock City are all in the Love Him camp. As soon as he enters stage, carrying his telecaster, he is greeted like a long lost family member back from the war theatre.

In contrast to his latest polished studio releases, we are treated tonight to old school Bragg i.e. just a distorted guitar and voice. After a sip of his herbal tea, he jumps into the 80s with This Guitar Says Sorry followed by A Lover Sings. Covering most of his latest release Mr Love & Justice, Bragg strangely avoids almost all of his Woody Guthrie catalogue which has oft been deemed some of his strongest work musically. Despite this, his back-catalogue is heavily featured with instant classics like Upfield and Accident Waiting to Happen. Sexuality is given an acoustic rendition complete with crowd singalong. He brings the proceedings to an end with a set of encores featuring the Milkman, A New England and Levi Stubb's tears.

There may be a certain element of preaching to the converted when he embarks on his political raps - as he happily notes, no-one on the BNP's leaked membership list are likely to be here tonight - but I guess that will always be part of Bragg's stage act. Love him or hate him, Bragg is one of these musical acts you have to experience live for the sheer brashness of his sound and his pig-headed honesty.

Category Gig Review

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