Sunday, 17 August 2014

The Archivist Volume 2: Billy Bragg - Don't Try This At Home

Stephen William Bragg. Billy Bragg. The Bard Of Barking.

However you know him - you cannot ignore him.

With a musical palette born out of the Punk Movement of the mid 1970,s Billy Bragg has been releasing LPs since 1983, with his first release Life's A Riot With Spy Vs Spy.
An acquired taste right from the off, there was no mistaking where Billy came from in Barking in Essex, as he became the epitome of the travelling troubadour - one man and his electric guitar.

His first album had at least 3 bona fide classics on it - The Milk Of Human Kindness, A New England & The Man In The Iron Mask and would indicate the No Compromise quality of his work to this day.

Everyone has probably heard A New England - because of the Kirsty MacColl cover, so here's another less well known track from that debut album.

Billy released 5 albums up to the release of Don't Try This At Home in 1991. All were a mixture of songs relating to his highly political socialist views and songs of love - often unrequited. 

These albums gave birth to a wealth of absolutely classic songwriting such as Levi Stubbs Tears, Greetings To The New Brunette, St Swithin's Day, It Says Here, Waiting For The Great Leap Forward... I could go on and on.

Billy is man who is never afraid of saying what he believes and observes and he uses his songs to try to galvanise people to think of and question what is going on around them - to me he has been as important to my generation of music lovers as Bob Dylan was back in the 1960s.

Billy had been honing his craft up to 1991 but with Don't Try This At Home, for me, Billy finally produced the album he had been capable of all along.

Every track is an absolute gem - and it's a double too, which Billy insisted at the time it was released, was to be the cost of a single album.

It opens with the brilliantly uplifting Accident Waiting To Happen. "Your life has lost it's dignity, it's beauty and it's passion, you're an accident waiting to happen" - the man's a poet.

In contrast, the next track is the gorgeously plaintive, Moving The Goalposts.

And that is the beauty of this album - it's full of contrasts. It's very English (British) - and tells what was/is important to the majority of the people listening at the time, or even now.

By 1991, Billy was getting some important exposure in the music world and was highly regarded by many contemporary songwriters and perhaps oddly enough, especially over the pond in the USA. He even garnered the considerable talents of Michael Stipe & Peter Buck from REM on his song he wrote with Peter Buck, You Woke Up The Neighbourhood.

Mother Of The Bride is another example of Billy at his upbeat best and includes folk instrumentation which points the way to some of his later work. Billy is never scared to try unusual musical presentations of his songs.

The album also contains one of my favourite songs of all time Sexuality, which is about the reaction to the AIDS scaremongering at the time. Co written by Johnny Marr of The Smiths and featuring the vocal talents of Kirsty MacColl, it also gave Billy one of his biggest single hits. And produced one of the best videos of all time too.

This is the album of a man at the top of his game - with such a breadth of songwriting skills and couplets to die for. He has gone on to produce some brilliant work . Yes, his vocals are an acquired taste but I doubt you'll find a better album with such variety in songs and musical presentation. So go on and dive into Don't Try This At Home and wallow in it's musical delights - of which there are many.

If you only know Billy by his singles then it's time to investigate further because he has produced some excellent work since this landmark album, which I'll let you discover for yourself.

Twitter - @billybragg

1 comment:

  1. Tank Park salute always brings a tear to my eye. The most moving tribute to a parent and it stirs all kinds of emotions in terms of my own father and in inevitability of what my son will go through