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

    Sunday, October 08, 2006

    This is surprising writing. You hear him onstage and you know that he speaks large measures of commonsense wisdom with integrity and passionate directness. But there's clearly only so much you can put across on a rock'n'roll platform. Because his newly-published book The Progressive Patriot reveals depths of observation and cultured understanding that Billy Bragg's stage persona only hints at.

    Bragg's 'Search for Belonging', his desire 'to reconcile patriotism with the radical tradition', critics might have thought, would be a thin tome dripping in rhetoric. It's far from that. The stage on which the writer Bragg enacts his search for an enlightened, honest Englishness is his home town of Barking. The filter through which he tests his theses is the life story of his own family, their predecessors and their neighbours.

    And the book's opening chapters take the reader to unexpected places - making connections between ancient and modern eras in a place where the Iron Age settlement on the Roding was one of the largest in the land, a vital port and trading post centred on a massive camp which in later centuries became the site for Howards (Laportes) Chemical Works and today, twenty years after an elaborately expensive act of decontamination, houses people in Hyacinth Close, Dahlia Gardens, Foxglove Crescent and Tulip Drive.

    This is where Billy Bragg's politics comes from - from a very specific somewhere - and in telling us about that somewhere in such careful detail, the medium of print is helping fans of Bill like me to attain a deeper understanding of his project, complementing twenty-five years of hearing his brilliant, but by comparison thin, onstage banter.