It’s fair to say that there are few people around these parts who are as loved as Billy Bragg, partly for making consistently great music for all those years and partly for all the shit he has to put up with online, and who this very year is celebrating a remarkable 40 years as Britain’s favourite folk singer, songwriter and campaigner. So it was nice to see Billy being honoured on the weekend just gone (9th Sep 23) with a plaque on the Camden Music Walk Of Fame. Previous inductees include Madness, Amy Winehouse, The Who, David Bowie and The Kinks. At a red-carpet ceremony on Camden High Street, tributes were paid to Billy by one of our own, rising Liverpool singer/songwriter Jamie Webster, and by TV presenter, naturalist and activist Chris Packham (both pictured below alongside Billy).
Billy commented when unveiling the prestigious award stone embedded in the pavement: “I wish my mum had been here to see this. She was my biggest supporter and my fiercest critic. She said of my early records: ‘if you carry on making that racket, you’ll end up on the streets’. Well I’ve finally made it mum!”
Quoting extensively from the Bragg songbook, Chris Packham in his heartfelt tribute, told how Billy’s lyrics had inspired him: “Bill is a spokesperson not just for one but several generations because he spoke to us about us – with clarity and wit and kindness. But he also instructed us, pricked our consciences or kicked our arses with demands.
“You can be active with the activists, or sleep in with the sleepers, while you’re waiting for the Great Leap Forwards.”
His poetry and lyrics should continue to compel us to act.
“I should have seen it coming, but I looked the other way
I didn’t need the trouble messing up my day
I figured if I walk on by somebody else could pay
I should have seen it coming, but I looked the other way”
From my perspective that could be applied to climate breakdown. It’s a warning unheeded, and sadly we are still looking the other way. That’s why Billy Bragg’s name is written in stone. He found the bravery to protest, he found the romance to sing and he found a beauty in all our lives to give us hope. And ultimately he will always be the only star on these pavements who had an uncle who played for Red Star Belgrade.”
At the end of October ‘23 Billy will release a career-spanning box set of his work entitled ‘The Roaring Forty’ but in the meantime, here’s a track from his latest studio album which we fell in love with 2 years ago.