Interview audio version first posted in Timber and Steel in September 2013. Interview text version first published in January 2014 edition of Trad and Now magazine.
Recorded in the studios of community radio station 2XX-FM, Canberra.
Thanks as always to these three venerable institutions for the very fine work they do in supporting folk and independent music in Australia.
In March 2014, Billy Bragg will be touring Australia with band on his ‘Tooth and Nail’ tour, part of a worldwide expo of his latest studio album. Last year, I interviewed Billy as he made a whirlwind promotional tour to Australia. We revisited some old themes and looked forward to this year’s tour.
[For the time poor, the full audio file of this interview (including outtakes featuring gratuitous underwear references) is at: Timber and Steel.]
At the Cobargo Folk Festival in February, Kim Churchill was the recipient of my vicarious joy at this news, and we spontaneously had a chat, leaning on someone’s trailer, outside a venue, out in the open — which was a bit of a mistake because as I now know: don’t try to do these things in a flukey, swirling breeze.
I’m sure you’ll cope. Muggins here did the best he could with the sound balance.
Kim’s remaining Australian dates:
Thursday 14 March — Beav’s Bar, Geelong (Vic)
Friday 15 March — Thornbury Theatre, Melbourne (Vic) Saturday 16 to Sunday 17 March — Blue Mountains Music Festival, Katoomba (NSW)
[Insert audible groan of indecision mixed with ‘Oh well, why the hell not’-ness.]
I realise that ‘Year in Review’ blogs and lists can seem as passé as flash mobs and….. other things that are passé.
Like saying that things are ‘passé’.
But as per the opening sentence, ‘Why not?’.
As with many things that I’ve written since age 14, this may provide a mixture of utility for others (especially if I’m reduxing your interview or news event) and utility for me. It’s a natural progression from the Year in Review emails and Farcebook notes I’ve written in years gone by.
This 2012 version was prompted by that nonsensical Farcebook function that purports to consolidate your 20 biggest moments of 2012, using an algorithm that was obviously created by a very finitenumber of monkeys on a finite number of very old typewriters.
My glittering pseudo-career on community radio took an extended break in May when I hung up my boots from Artsound FM.
I love presenting radio programs. I’ve discovered so much good music, so many talented performers and met so many good people through it. But it’s nice to have a little more breathing room and leisure time.
I tend to throw myself in to things like this, boots and all, somtimes at the cost of sensible balance with other things, so I have enjoyed putting my energies into other areas.
Getting this interview was in some ways a 25 year odyssey, in other ways a two-year process, and in yet another, a 17 day exchange of emails.
More of that elsewhere because as I expected, Billy Bragg was his charming, effusive, generous, articulate and engaging self for 21 minutes. We’d still be chatting had we not gotten the wind-up.
But on a clear, crisp early Spring Friday night in Canberra, and god knows where Billy was – I never did find out – two Bills had a chat about music, assumptions (grr!), death, life, the moon, first words, and giving the punters what they want.
Now if reading great swathes of text is not your thang, do here undereth clicketh:
Bill Quinn: He’s coming to Australia in a couple of months’ time but we have him here telephonically; it’s hello and welcome, Billy Bragg.
Billy Bragg: ‘ey, Bill. ‘ow are you?
[I’ll eschew the phonetics from here on, but even just these five words made me smile.]
BQ: Billy, I’m going to start and finish with a slightly clichéd question, and in between, we’ll see where we go.
Your signature song is “Waiting For The Great Leap Forwards” which is a bit like a snowflake, never the same thing twice, always evolving and grabbing the zeitgeist. In 2012, are you just a little bit spoilt for choice with subject matter for that song?
BB: Heh! Unfortunately I am, yeah.
That’s the problem with being a topical songwriter; sometimes things just keep popping up, y’know? I’ve got a week or so in New Zealand before I get to Australia. I hope I’ll be able to zone in a little on what’s happening in Australia. And see if I can shape some of the lyrics of “Great Leap Forwards”.
I mean, some of the verses are universal, but one or two of them are specifically about the UK. Maybe I might just be able to Australianise them if possible.
On a mild Canberra evening, I interviewed Billy Bragg down the line from the UK. While I hammered the text out fairly quickly and it appeared in Timber and Steel a week or so later, and in Trad and Now not long after that, I dragged my heels a little to get the audio edited down.
Luckily, my new multi-channel recording device comes with a handy bit of sound-editing software, and while I’m hardly a master of it, it’s done. Even if Soundcloud is taking forever to load the audio file.
But that’s my problem not yours…… 36% uploaded……
Full details of where Billy’s playing are in the Timber and Steel article — see above for link.
Thank you SO much to the truly wonderful Gareth Huw Evans of Timber and Steel — he’s a credit to Australian music and to effective business and being a good bloke.
Similarly, Heidi Braithwaite from Riot House Publicity has been a model of timely responses and good-humoured help.
And to everyone who’s given the interview a nudge, a like, a re-post or a share: you rock my world and you know who you are. (And I know where you live!)
To go back a ways regarding interviews: in 2008, I spoke in halting, nervous tones down the line with Jim Paterson of The Borderers on my very first solo radio show on Artsound FM, while I tried very hard to work out which buttons to press and which faders to slide.
Jim didn’t realise it at the time, but his simple query in an email created something of a monster (in every sense of the word), and my four years with Artsound were typified by studios over-flowing with guests, musos, family, friends, PR people, mums and dads, and some golden live moments. I think pets is the only….. no, we had some of those too, including my melon collie in later years.
I look forward to many more interviews and live moments elsewhere in the cosmos. I recorded one at this very dining table about 8.5 hours ago and that will be coming to you soon.
For now, Billy Bragg has been by far my biggest — and longest for a non-performance — interview to date. (Myf Warhurst had the gold for a good run, but she’s sitting so very pretty — sigh! — in silver medal place now. Why did I shave that beard off? What was I thinking?! Why am I saying this out loud?)
Transcribing the BB interview took the better part of a working day, albeit with lots and lots and too much of online-y distractions along the way.
I’m an un-ashamed Billy Bragg fan, and he’s my favourite performer of any genre in the world.
As much for his soul and his passion and his politics and his unrelenting drive as for his art. If you could bottle the resonances, you’d outsell coke. And coal. And natural gas.
I hesitated like you can’t know before going down the route of making that personal connection with him about my brother during the interview, but I was ultimately so glad I did. Like a song I partially inspired, written by my good friends Craig and Simone Dawson, I have a little personal dare with myself where I take a deep breath, count 1, 2, 3 and dive in.
I was sat there in the studios of 2XX, having effectively paid/donated a tick under $500 of my own money to a crowd-sourcing project for the privilege. That was a thing of pure socialism. At the time I had roughly five grand in the bank and thought, some of this cash could do more that just gather dust.
If I had known then that less than seven days later I would fall even further down the rabbit hole for two weeks, I might not have been as effusive and altruistic!
Meh. As I fully believe, and as I overheard a new colleague say in as many words today:
“It’s only money — you can always get more.”
So, there I was in Studio 2 or 3:
in a radio studio I’d never used before,
one arm across my body holding mic three which I’d dragged across the desk,
twisted half-way back towards the console to read a few scratchy notes I’d made for myself on screen,
one eye on my watch as we were going to be cut off at 20 minutes and I hadn’t been able to add nineteen to whatever time we’d started — there was too much going on.
And out of all that I had nothing but faith (because I do keep faith) in my ability to somehow make it all happen in an interview that in many ways had been two years or more in the making.
And when I hung up from the interview and had let out a gurgling scream of something to the universe, in the next heartbeat I was on the phone to my brother Greg’s widow to do a quick de-brief. I’d told a few choice and a few badly chosen people what was going on, but ultimately it was Ainslea’s secret.
Anyone who saw me later that night at the Canberra Musicians Club Old Timey gig might have mistaken me for a ten year old boy who’d just gotten the cream, to mix a human-feline metaphor.
Sadly, and this has been a pattern, some elements in the music world and the yarts have again inferred some sort of ego-stroke or self-aggrandisement for Billy Quinn out of all of this.
And to those people, I say two things:
1. It’s not me, it’s you. No, really, this time, it’s you.
3. Press ‘play’.
Me? I’m looking for that next big thing, “exploding over our heads”. ♪♪♪♪♪
So, as the bishop said to the actress, I’ll be brief.
No, seriously. I know we’ve met and all, and I know that you know that I know that I don’t do brief.
Or briefs. But hey I just got up from a nap.
Unclench and un-eeewwwww! I’m wearing trackie pants but only because me trewsers are drying and when they are, I get to go out the door and down the club to watch Norwich at home to West Ham United who are the new black because (tada) that’s Billy Bragg’s team.
See? Douglas Adams was on to something with Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency: the interconnectedness of all things. (Shows how much TV I watch; apparently it’s a TV series. Go go Google iView or whatever or I’ll have to go to Britain if it’s geo-blocked here. Mind you, I’m writing this from Australia, so we might get to see it here in 2014. This is the part where you dive in and say, ‘Oi, cloth ears; it was on in May!’)
Now, by curious coincidence, I mentioned ‘the interconnectedness’ of all things to Sir William Bloke in the interview, and just as I expected, he leapt on to the concept like a seagull onto a chip.
I once blew seven layers of merde through a group of teenagers throwing chips to seagulls on the south coast of New South Wales.