The Bard's Still Barking

British troubadour Billy Bragg returns to Australia with a new two part show: the first half celebrating the legacy of American folk legend Woody Guthrie, the second exploring Bragg’s own extensive catalogue. The Dwarf chats with the musician affectionately known as ‘the bard from barking’.

“I’m awake. It says here it’s 10.30am, and I’m at home. I’m in a month of festival weekends where I’d go away on Thursday and do three festivals and come home on Tuesday,” laughs Billy Bragg as he takes our call from his home in Dorset, UK. “I’m in a bit of a panic boiling my hankies and washing my underpants.”

Domestic jokes aside, Bragg hopes the upcoming tour will challenge people’s perceptions of Guthrie - a man he refers to as the ‘original alternative musician’.

“People underestimate how deeply Woody was part of the culture of popular music,” says Bragg.

Championing the plight of the underdog, Guthrie’s work inspired the careers of Bob Dylan and Joe Strummer, as well as ‘The Bard’ himself. Bragg’s connection to the folk legend was deepened when Guthrie’s daughter Nora discovered volumes of her deceased father’s unrecorded lyrics. Along with Wilco, Bragg put music to the Guthrie’s words, and the critically acclaimed Mermaid Avenue albums were born.

“Now that we’re in difficult economic times again, the songs he wrote in the 1930’s are suddenly relevant,” says Bragg of the work.

Like Guthrie, Bragg’s music sounds the alarm on social and political issues. His involvement in grassroots and left-wing politics is as well known as his music.

“I’m asking people to have a different perspective on the world, in a way that it helps them better understand it,” he says.

For those ambitions, Bragg has spawned many labels: he’s an activist, punk, storyteller, entertainer, protagonist, satirist, and according to The London Times, a “national treasure”. But don’t expect Bragg to fall strictly in line with any label, or forsake the place of the “personal” in “political”.

“People expect me to have knee jerk reactions to particular issues... I find myself, a lot of the time, arguing against type. Not because I’m trying to be contrary, but because I’m trying to have everyone understand there isn’t cookie cutter politics.”

Bragg’s facebook page has become a forum, of sorts, towards that pursuit.

“All day yesterday on facebook, I was arguing with people who were trying to downplay and discredit the accusations of rape against Julian Assange,” he reveals."WikiLeaks is all about accountability. He needs to stop talking about the United States of America. He hasn’t in any way addressed the accusations against him. I find that very, very disturbing..."

"The Julian Assange thing is very, very conflicting. It’s very confusing. It’s very troubling for anyone who believes in Freedom of Speech, but it also pushes up against accountability. Ultimately, I think accountability trumps everything.”

Catch Billy Bragg up close and personal at one of the following shows nationally:

- Hamer Hall, Melbourne, October 19
- Melbourne Recital Centre, Melbourne, October 20
- Federation Hall, Hobart, October 21
- Canberra Theatre Centre, Canberra, October 23
- Queensland Performing Arts Centre, Brisbane, October 25
- The Hi-Fi, Brisbane, October 26
- Enmore Theatre, Sydney, October 27 and 28
- Adelaide Town Hall, Adelaide, October 31
- Astor Theatre, Perth, November 2 and 3
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