Pop: I put you on a pedestal, you revive my career
Friday 06 November 1998
WOODY GUTHRIE, the anti-fascist folk singer and Bob Dylan's musical guru who died in 1967, was writing lyrics in the Forties that are highly relevant today, according to Billy Bragg.
Recently, Bragg and American alt.country band Wilco were asked by Guthrie's daughter, Nora, to put music to a bunch of her late father's lyrics from that period, and they came up with the stunning Mermaid Avenue album.
Wilco leader Jeff Tweedy's warm, emotive voice, interacting with Bragg's Thames estuary yelp, should have produced a gig to cherish but, for some reason, it just did not happen.
Instead, the set opened with Bragg doing two solo acoustic versions, including "Sexuality", which he finished by bellowing "we can be what we want to be", adding "and that applies to Ron Davies as well".
It was also the cue for the Blokes and the first of the Guthrie numbers. Woody wrote a song about gender politics and "She Came Along To Me" provided the first hint of musical diversity from the Blokes (who took Wilco's place and were to prove their worth throughout the night) with some searing Zimbabwean highlife-style guitar from Lou Edmonds.
The song, delivered with touching emotion, was also a reminder that Bragg, often stereotyped as agitpop, has written his best lyrics about personal feelings, such as "Tank Park Salute" which he gave a rare airing tonight.
Persecution was the next theme and Woody's contribution was "Eisler On The Go", about the German composer who escaped from the Nazis and was then thrown out of the USA for being a communist.
Again the Blokes surprised, this time with Ian McLagan (yes, he of the Small Faces) on keyboards providing bluesy, almost trip-hop, vibes.
Then came the politics, with Bragg as stand-up comic saying the tour was backed by the GMB union. The Guthrie spin was "I Guess I Planted", with a ranted pro-union chorus.
An unreleased Guthrie/ Bragg composition called "Flying Saucer" was preceded by the assertion that Woody was not just a folkie: when living in Brooklyn, he listened to urban music and scribbled on the lyric sheet that the tempo should be "supersonic boogie". It is doubtful whether he had a fuzzed- up surf-punk intro in mind, but it was good.
Guthrie's song for children, "Hoodoo Voodoo", got the ska treatment with Bragg thoroughly enjoying a goofy dance and they finished, three encores in, with the forthcoming single "Way Over Yonder In the Modern Key", a manic hillbilly take with Edmonds by playing a range of Turkish instruments and band leader Ben Mandelson ripping away on lap steel.
Largely thanks to a dead guy, and incorporating musical styles from several continents into his set, Bragg is better and more relevant than ever.
Jeff Fletcher found fame in 1990s
'At times I thought he was me'film
Review: One Direction, Fourmusic
Review: The World of Ice and Firebooks
Film More romcom than S&M
Review: The Imitation Gamefilm
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Tamir Rice: 12-year-old boy playing with fake gun dies after being shot by police in Ohio park
- 2 To help fuel their propaganda machine against the poor, our government has now decided to redefine the word 'welfare'
- 3 Naked free runner captured in breathtaking photographs above London's streets
- 4 Woman opens professional cuddling shop – gets 10,000 customers in first week
- 5 Manchester United named Premier League's loudest fans despite late push by Chelsea according to 'Smart Meter' app
Hitler painting sells for 130,000 euros at auction despite controversy over Nazi dictator's artworks
Strictly Come Dancing results: Steve Backshall sent home after dance off with Sunetra Sarker
Naked free runner captured in breathtaking photographs above London's streets
Marilyn Manson denies involvement in shocking leaked clip of Lana Del Rey rape video
Band Aid 30: 'Do They Know It's Christmas' storms to number one
Rochester by-election: Ukip gains second MP as Tory defector Mark Reckless holds seat
'Beast of Bolsover' Dennis Skinner takes Ukip MP Mark Reckless to task moments after he is sworn in
Rochester by-election: Labour MP Emily Thornberry resigns after posting white van and England flags tweet
The young are the new poor: Sharp increase in number of under-25s living in poverty, while over-65s are better off than ever
France 'blocks' Russian sailors from boarding a warship
Green Party Caroline Lucas interview: 'We could be on the edge of something very big'