It was thirty-three years ago today when the Saturday boy from Essex who would become the UK’s foremost political singer-songwriter released his first record, Life’s a Riot with Spy Vs Spy. It contained seven songs, honed live, bashed out on a punk rock electric guitar, and wrapped in a utilitarian, single-colour sleeve. It charted at number 30 in the national charts. Billy Bragg had arrived. His first record company bio stated that he had ‘risen from obscurity to semi-obscurity.’
The intervening three-and-a-bit decades have been marked by numerous milestones and waystations for Billy, political and personal, including going topping the singles chart, having a street named after him, being mentioned in Bob Dylan’s memoir and meeting the Queen.
Named Trailblazer of the Year at the Americana Music Association UK Awards in February 2016, Billy was subsequently awarded the Spirit of Americana/Free Speech in Music at the Americana Music Awards in September, co-presented by the First Amendment Center. In his middle years, he really did start to straddle continents.
After 13 studio albums, eight compilations, two box sets, and countless tours across countless international borders, the elder statesman of today, bearded and ‘ruggedly handsome’ (according to one Facebook fan), refuses to slip into the dotage of self-parody. In his fifties, neither the fight nor the fight songs have left Billy Bragg.