Even Billy Bragg probably doesn't know quite who might be expected to go to a Billy Bragg concert these days. The audience at the old Sodra Teatern in the Swedish capital seemed equally confused, and for every teenager dreaming of revolution there was also a middle-aged couple looking for a quiet night out. The Sodra Teatern is a long way from Bragg's roots as a busker at Tube stations, and it is the sort of cosy venue he thrives in, even if he did look more than a little perplexed by the surroundings as he took to the stage.
When Bragg belted out the opener, "The World Turned Upside Down", a song about the 17th-century English radicals, the Diggers, one suspected that the audience only related to part of the lyric "We are free men though we are poor".
One over-exuberant youngster tried to sing along, but was swiftly told to pipe down by a man sitting adjacent. Bragg has spent 25 years on the road now, so perhaps the old maxim that you don't go to a Billy Bragg show to hear him sing no longer applies. After the fully seated crowd politely applauded, Bragg jokingly noted that "you don't get this in a rock'n'roll club". But since he sipped a cup of tea in between songs, there was little to suggest that he misses much about them.
New material was interspersed with old. "People tell me that the new album is a lot more soulful, but actually it's just because I recorded it in my bathroom," he quipped before launching into a song about faith. Audience members had to pinch themselves, to be sure that it was Bragg and not a Christian-rock act before them. Of course, the message has always been more important than the music with Bragg, but the long diatribes between songs got a little tiresome.
A 10-minute ramble about Woody Guthrie, a hero of Bragg's, preceded a cover of Guthrie's "Ingrid Bergman". The song, a patent attempt to curry favour with the Swedish audience, went down well, but the show failed to gather momentum because songs were sacrificed for chatter.
At least Bragg has maintained a sense of humour during his career of protest, and at times you could be forgiven for thinking that you were watching a stand-up comic. The biggest cheer of the night came when he turned the fade-out of "There Is Power in a Union" into the opening chords of the White Stripes's "Seven Nation Army". The crowd warmed as the evening reached a climax. By the encore – a rousing rendition of "A New England" – Bragg left it to the audience to sing the chorus, and at least some of them complied.
David Bartram, student, London
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