Billy Bragg - Manchester Bridgewater Hall - 28.4.06

Part storyteller, part political campaigner and to a lesser extent a gig, Billy Bragg's arrival in Manchester's Bridgewater Hall says more about the audience he's playing to than anything else. While a couple of decades back much of tonight's audience may have been firm supports of the left, supported Red Wedge and still had memories of Rock Against Racism fresh in their mind you get the feeling they now drive convertibles, have a couple of children and more than likely vote New Labour while living in leafy suburbs.

As someone who's seen Bragg a number of times in the past in more intimate venues, tonight is nothing short of shocking, musically if not in terms of the message he's pushing forward. With a stage set up meant for an intimate 200 seater venue what we get throughout the whole of tonight's set is a piercing tinny guitar shooting you right in the head while the vocals are looped around the side of the venue creating a sense of vertigo throughout. It's that bad we'd have preferred he simply dropped the guitar and talked to us about the ideas of his new book in which talks about us reclaiming the St George's flag and a sense of being English again.

With some valid arguments like "imagine if the Beatles had only listened to English music rather than the sound of Black America" and slogans such as "power to the union" and "This machine kills fascist" referencing his guitar ,Bragg is an infinitely better spokesman than he is a performer tonight. With covers of Woody Guthrie's "All you Fascists Are Bound To Lose" and his own anthem "New England" he just about rescues tonight's set from the mire.

Designer Magazine once saw Bragg in his finest hour at the Love Music Hate Racism one day festival in Manchester a number of years ago with Ms Dynamite and Doves amongst others and it worked 1) because of the setting 2) because of the spirit of the people. In a stuffy setting like this Bragg was never going to shine and while it left us inspired with some hope of the future
musically it failed on every single level

Alex McCann
Photos: Karen McBride

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