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john davies
notes from a small vicar
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK

    Thursday, April 27, 2006
    Flying the flag with Billy Bragg
    Last night, in Liverpool's famous Far East Restaurant, I shook Billy Bragg's hand. Both there - at separate tables, with different people - for the same reason: to have a good feed before the gig. And though I now regret not indulging him in conversation about his noble campaign to reclaim the English flag from the fascists, or thanking him at length for his seminal appearance at Greenbelt 2003, though I now regret instead exchanging mere small talk about the forthcoming gig and jokes about the volume of Chinese food he was ingesting, it was good to meet the man whose passion, politics and poetry has meant so much to me over 25 years.

    There is no such thing as a bad Billy Bragg gig. The reasons why last night's were especially good were the rationale and the timing (anti-facist rallying the week before the local council elections where the BNP threaten to make gains); and the way he put this across in his music: for instance, by offering a beautiful rendition of England, Half English allied with folk standard John Barleycorn, a rousing version of Woody's All You Fascists are Bound to Lose and an encore which consisted of his first album in its entirety, ending with A New England, which sort of said it all.

    Bragg makes it plain that fascists' claims to represent Englishness are at odds with our nation's past rejection of such extremism, and in a new song he makes it clear that he keeps faith with that humanitarian, decent, tradition.

    It was great to watch him - the Hammers fan - blow bubbles all over the stage during Honey I'm A Big Boy Now, and to applaud wildly along with lots of others when he said, "I'm glad to be in Liverpool because I know that at least half of you will be cheering on West Ham in the Cup Final". But better still to watch him brandishing the flag of St George onstage and to be provoked into thinking, how can we help reclaim this for the decent, humanitarian, people who make up the majority in our multiracial land?