Tuesday, 15 September 2015
Oliver: Billy Bragg - Accident Waiting to Happen [Peel Session] (28 December 1991)
Over the last year, this blog has enjoyed some moments of fortuitous timing. I started it almost on the 10th anniversary of Peel's last Radio 1 show. I wrote about Public Enemy the week they brought out a new album. Now, our first selection from Billy Bragg comes a few days after the Labour Party, for the first time in well over 25 years, elects a leader that one can really see Bragg getting comfortably behind.
Like Peel's programme, this blog's relationship with politics will only be touched upon occasionally. The main reason for this is that my own politics are all over the place. If it's possible to be a capitalist, liberal, socialist then that's me. I want to live comfortably and to get on in life, but I want a society that supports its most vulnerable and keeps the safety net in place for those who cannot work, all while allowing people to say and think what they want (providing it does no harm to anyone else). So, the moon on a stick basically. But if that all seems rather woolly, a look at Billy Bragg's Twitter page provides a quote which sums me up in a nutshell: "A progressive is someone who wants to see society re-organised so that everyone has access to the means by which to reach their full potential."
When you read a quote as clear-sighted and warm-hearted as that, it makes me want to bang the heads together of those Labour MPs who've responded to Jeremy Corbyn's victory by saying, "I'll sit this one out thanks, until we can project nothingness as what we stand for again".
Even if I was completely diametrically opposed to Billy Bragg's politics, I'd still respect him and even more now. After all, in 1987 he appeared on Channel 4's open-ended discussion programme, After Dark, the night after the Conservative Party had won a third term in government under Margaret Thatcher. On the show, a potentially sleep-deprived and triumphalist Tory MP, Teresa Gorman told Bragg, "You and your kind are finished. We are the future now." before walking off set. I can't imagine how he must feel to hear members of his own party all but spouting the same thing, throughout this summer. Regardless of how things turn out in 2020, Bragg deserves a week of quiet satisfaction before the hard work really begins.
1991/92 saw Bragg brace himself for another unsuccessful general election by releasing an album called Don't Try This At Home, which could be called the Billy Bragg overground album: Bragg backed by a full band on some tracks; by a string quartet on others; releasing singles and videos including the delightfully playful, Sexuality. Inevitably a session for Peel, his seventh was recorded and transmitted in June 1991 and showed that even attempts to package Billy for the Our Price crowd couldn't dull his political or romantic edge. Accident Waiting to Happen, the only song from the session that I heard on the 28/12/91 recording was from the former branch of his songwriting. The Bard of Barking is on fine lyrical form: "I've always been impressed by a girl who could sing for her supper and get breakfast as well" is a cracking opening couplet. In trying to read the song, I veer between thinking that its addressed to right-wingers in one hearing, "Goodbye and good luck to all
the rubbish that you've spoken", but in the next line, I think that it could be addressed more to former comrades who may have switched sides from left to right, either at local or national level, "Goodbye and good luck to all the promises you've broken." An impression which seems to be confirmed as we head into the title line, "Your life has lost its dignity, its beauty and its passion". And then, well Blairites and Corbynistas can split the vote on who the title line should be bellowed at. One thing's for sure, though, we're going to be seeing a lot more of Billy over the next 5 years. Hope Huw Stephens is poised with the keys to Maida Vale...
The '91 Peel Session is available but this version is from an appearance on Australian TV. It's tremendous and connoisseurs will be delighted to see the Billy Bragg bow is present and correct at the end.
The full Peel session from 1991 featuring The Few, Accident Waiting to Happen, Tank Park Salute and Life with the Lions.
Videos courtesy of Peter Demetris and vibracobra23 with thanks to @keepingitpeel.