A Punter’s Perspective #37 – Billy Bragg interview

Billy Bragg
Billy Bragg

A Punter’s Perspective

Random observations on the wide, weird world of folk from the side of the stage

#37 Billy Bragg interview

First published on the Timber and Steel blog on 12 September 2012
Second published in Trad and Now magazine, September 2012

Recorded in the studios of Community Broadcasting Association of Australia member station 2XX-FM, Canberra on Friday 7 September 2012

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.

I’ll see what I can do!

Billy Bragg, Hamer Hall, Melbourne. 19 October 2012.
Billy Bragg, Melbourne Recital Hall, Melbourne. 20 October 2012.

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Billy Bragg interview: the sound file

Billy Bragg -- on tour in Australia from 19 October 2012. Photo credit and copyright: Anthony Saint James.
Billy Bragg — on tour in Australia from 19 October 2012. Photo credit and copyright: Anthony Saint James.

Billy Bragg interview: the audio

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……

Enjoy.

Full details of where Billy’s playing are in the Timber and Steel article — see above for link.

Billy Bragg interview — the text on Timber and Steel (Director’s commentary)

Billy Bragg -- image courtesy of BillyBragg.com
Billy Bragg — image courtesy of BillyBragg.com
♪♪♪ If you don’t tell me what not to say, I won’t tell you what not to do ♪♪♪

Billy Bragg interview

by Bill Quinn

I’ve been a little tardy on my interview transcriptions lately and have a few stacked and racked. All paid work is up to date; it’s the pro bono stuff I’m dragging my heels on a tad.

To business. The text of my Billy Bragg interview is at Timber and Steel blog.

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?)

Then Harry Manx, and then probably you.

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.

Which is when I spontaneously donated at the fund-raising finale.

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”. ♪♪♪♪♪

Adios.

Bill Quinn
Overheard Productions