Billy Bragg

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About Billy Bragg

As a guitar-strumming folkie singing about the lives and loves of the working class, Billy Bragg was bound to seem like a throwback amid the flash of the ‘80s. Yet, thanks to its wit and warmth, his music’s always been keenly attuned to his own times. Born in 1957 in the London borough that later inspired his nickname, the Bard of Barking, Bragg developed a unique sensibility that was shaped as much by The Clash and Elvis Costello as it was by Bob Dylan and Phil Ochs. On albums such as 1984’s Brewing up With and 1986’s Talking with the Taxman About Poetry, he balanced the political and the personal by mixing his acerbic takes on life in modern Britain with ballads like the wrenching “Levi Stubbs’ Tears.” And for all the earnestness he exuded as an activist who often campaigned and performed on behalf of leftist causes, he also enjoyed subverting that image with songs like 1991’s “Sexuality,” a sex-positive pop hit cowritten by Johnny Marr. Equally fruitful was Bragg’s collaboration with Wilco and Natalie Merchant on 1998’s Mermaid Avenue, the first of Bragg’s three volumes of songs based on unrecorded lyrics by Woody Guthrie. On 2021’s The Million Things That Never Happened, Bragg responded to the fear and confusion of modern times with the intelligence, humor, and compassion that has long filled his songs.

Barking, Essex, England
December 20, 1957
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