Tuesday, 27 November 2018

Billy Bragg - Brewing Up With Billy Bragg (1984)

For the weather or the battle of Agincourt....


Released November 1984

Recorded in London

After the mini LP that was Life's A Riot With Spy Vs. Spy from 1983, this was Billy Bragg's first full album of songs, still largely delivered in a raw, edgy fashion featuring his voice and his crashing, jangling electric guitar. There have been additions, though, a delicious trumpet and organ in places, plus a sweeter tone to the guitar.

The songs are the now established subjects of political, corruption, injustice and naive, nostalgic love.  Bragg does all of these so well.


1. It Says Here
2. Love Gets Dangerous
3. The Myth Of Trust
4. From A Vauxhall Velox
5. The Saturday Boy
6. Island Of No Return
7. St. Swithin's Day
8. Like Soldiers Do
9. This Guitar Says Sorry
10. Strange Things Happen
11. A Lover Sings                                        

It Says Here is a magnificent, vitriolic condemnation of the gutter press that has my full support. "They offer you a feature on stockings and suspenders while calling for stiffer penalties for sex offenders...". What a great line. It is one of favourite Bragg songs. Love Gets Dangerous has an addictive guitar riff of a deeper, fuller tone than on the previous album. Bragg explores the cynical side of relationships. He uses double tracked vocals as well, for the first time. The Myth Of Trust has a bass riff and a mysterious moody feel to it. The clash of the electric guitar riff sounds like some of Steeleye Span's early electric folk rock work. I remember initially finding this album less easy to get into than its predecessor. My view has changed over the years. It has hidden depths.

From A Vauxhall Velox gently lampoons Dylan's From A Buick 6 on an edgy, guitar-driven stream of consciousness, rapidly sung number. The lyrics are pretty incomprehensible, something about the class system... The song also has a Chuck Berry-style "bridge" in the middle. The Saturday Boy is just beautiful. One of those so evocative, movingly nostalgic tales of school and teenage love.  It is disarmingly fetching. "We'd sit together in double history twice a week and somedays we'd walk the same way home and it's surprising how quick a little rain could clear the streets...". Then that sumptuous horn kicks in and I feel decidedly tearful. Great stuff.

Island Of No Return is an anti-war song telling of Bragg's time in the British Army and also The Falklands War. St. Swithin's Day is the best track on the album. Another of those great, atmospheric love songs. It is timelessly beautiful. It also uses a bit of bass and percussion at one point. "The polaroids that hold us together will surely fade away, like the love that we spoke of forever on St. Swithin's Day...". Lines like that are up there with the best of them.

Like Soldiers Do sees Bragg revisiting Army memories once more. This Guitar Says Sorry has always seemed a bit of a cacophonous mess to me, however. Sorry Billy, not one of my favourites. Strange Things Happen brings back echoes of the previous album. Whereas much of the earlier material showed signs of progression, this is very much in the same vein as the previous offering. A Lover Sings, however, is a different kettle of fish, featuring an infectious organ backing and an almost soulful feel and vocal from Billy. Great lovelorn lyrics too.

This was the bridging album between the debut and the next one, which would go "full band" and really develop Bragg as a credible singer/songwriter.


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