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Goldsmiths' Official Student Magazine

Mixing Pop and Politics: An Interview with Billy Bragg.

January 6, 2016
Ewan Atkinson talks Corbyn, Politics in Music and the Daily Mail with the King of punk-folk himself Billy Bragg at the Tory Party conference in Manchester. [smiths]: You were a very vocal supporter of Jeremy Corbyn during his campaign to be leader, do you see him as the next Prime Minister? Billy Bragg: Of course!…

Ewan Atkinson talks Corbyn, Politics in Music and the Daily Mail with the King of punk-folk himself Billy Bragg at the Tory Party conference in Manchester.

[smiths]: You were a very vocal supporter of Jeremy Corbyn during his campaign to be leader, do you see him as the next Prime Minister?

Billy Bragg: Of course! I wouldn’t waste my time on it if I didn’t think that.

[smiths]: Following his election how do you see the future for the left in England?

BB: If we [the left] are prepared to take part in the process of making policy, we can spend the next 5 years shifting the debate to the left so we can focus on the issues we care about rather then the debate being led by tabloids like the Daily Mail.

[smiths]: How do you think Corbyn will cope with the newspapers like the Daily Mail and the Sun?

BB: If he can retain his sense of dignity and not be provoked into losing his rag with them, I think people will be impressed with that. His refusal to get into personal attacks is something that people will definitely find refreshing.

[smiths]: You’ve been mixing pop and politics for many years now, do you see a resurgence of politics in music in the near future?

BB: The thing that’s changed since I was your age is that music no longer has a vanguard role in expressing and forming opinion. When I was nineteen there was only one medium available for me to speak about these things, I had to learn to play guitar, write songs and do gigs. If I wanted to know what my generation was thinking, I had to buy the NME and melody maker. Now of course if you’re nineteen and angry about the world you can use social media to engage people. People don’t immediately think anymore ‘I must write a song about this’. Music has lost its vanguard role but it does still have a role in brining people together. Demos like today still play a vanguard role though, If I had never been on a demo I would never of seen those gay men kissing. I was from a working-class background so going on the demo opened my mind to that and it wouldn’t have happened if I was just sharing stuff online. So music does still have a role in politics, just not a vanguard role anymore.

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[smiths]: For your standards, your last album wasn’t particularly political, after five years of Tory government. Will your next album be more political?

BB: The reason it wasn’t political is because the Internet now allows me to write, record and distribute political songs at the very moment. Before you had to wait ‘til the next album, now BANG if I have an idea it’s gone already. If I’d put ‘Never Buy The Sun’ on the album, everyone would’ve heard it two years ago when it happened, so now my albums are more for reflection. I make my topical songs available for free download instantly. That’s why it wasn’t as topical as my albums have been previously.

[smiths]: What song from your extensive back catalogue do you enjoy playing the most?

BB: The song that most connects with people is a song called ‘I Keep Faith’. I pitch it as a kind of anti-cynicism song, the enemy of all those who want to make the world a better place is not conservatism or capitalism but its actually cynicism, the idea nothing will ever change, no one gives a shit or all politicians are the same. If we hope to change things in this window we have now with the election of Corbyn we have to curb our cynicism to engage. I think that’s the most important message I put out. ‘I Keep Faith’ packs the biggest political emotional punch in my set. It could also be seen as a love song as well as a political song, I think they’re the best kind of Billy Bragg songs.

[smiths]: What do you think demos like today can achieve?

BB: It will remind the Conservatives that although they won the election, they didn’t win the hearts and minds of the British people. Having a majority of 12 out of 650 is a statistical anomaly really, its only two percent of the seats. Given that those seats were won because the Lib-Dem vote collapsed due to the fact the Lib-Dems moved to the right, rather then the idea that it was because Labour moved to the left. When I see these headlines ‘Britain voted for austerity’, I think ‘Did they fuck?!’. Britain voted for a number of different things but the way first past the post works it left the Tories with a tiny majority [only 24% of the electorate actually voted for them]. There’s never been a better point to give a shit about stuff`! Your generation need to be the spearhead of the movement, there’s no point having some old bloke banging on about how good The Clash were in the eighties. I want to see young bands talking about the pressure your generation is under due to todays economic and political circumstances, we don’t need people writing another ‘There is Power in a Union’.

[smiths]: What would you say to someone who is on their first demo today?

BB: Today is an opportunity to look at all the idea that are here, all the different versions of socialism and compassion and visions for a different world and realise it’s a mass movement! I know this is a trade union march but there’s many people coming together because if you’re a supporter of the left, you’re part of a movement, its not just the Labour party it’s a labour movement.