13 March 2011

I met a lovely person.

It's been ages since I've posted here. I know.

And yet, you haven't felt the lack of me, have you, dear reader? Because now we are all fluttering flies mired in the spider's web of Facebook, and every time I tremor, you can feel it, and you know where it's coming from. Problem: so does the spider, and it's probably coming to pierce our fleshes, liquify our innards and our souls, and suck them out, leaving only our cold exoskeletons and keratinous wings to wear away slowly, under the onslaught of entropy, fluttering and tremoring now not from our own energy, but merely whipped about by the uncaring wind.

Oh, dear, I need to get back to writing proper stories, so you won't be assaulted with crap like that again.

I have been up to many exciting things. However, if I tried to tell you about all of them, I would never catch up.

More importantly, I met a lovely person last night.

 His name's Billy Bragg. I kind of love the seriously junky quality of this picture.

I'd been planning to attend this Hope Not Hate show for weeks. I convinced my friends John and Jordan, from my MA, to come out. Jordan was even going to bring his lovely girlfriend, Claudia.

But at the last minute, everyone backed out, and I decided to go alone. Because I have to see Billy Bragg. He's one of my favourite musicians. For those of you who have never heard of him, go here. Or here. His music means probably a little too much to me (and to Craig, and to us). Though I've been a fan for 14 years, I had never seen him live. The last time he played in Atlanta, I didn't hear about it until too late. When Craig went to SXSW and saw Billy play, I was supposed to go, but schoolwork came up (I know! Work's for suckers!). When we moved to Australia, Billy played Big Day Out in Sydney two days before we landed there. I've been following him, from country to country, for too long.

I got to the show a bit early (because I'm me), and found a very good spot to stand. Not quite leaning on the stage, but still damn close. Since the Manchester Academy is part of the UoM student union, I logged onto the WiFi and started tweeting about the show, because I am an official Twitter Tragic (#TT).

The sound guys were playing English Rose by The Jam–awesome! The roadies came out to set up for the supporting act, and I noticed that one of the roadies looked just like Billy Bragg, but younger, like 16. I send out a tweet saying so, and someone else at the show tweeted back, saying they thought so, too! #TT. We found out later that there was a very good reason for the physical resemblance. Jack, the roadie, is Billy's kid. Should have guessed.

The show was amazing. Billy's voice is such a comfort during these aching times. He played The World Turned Upside Down, Qualifications, Half-English, Greetings to the New Brunette, A Lover Sings, A New England, Between the Wars, Tank Park Salute, NPWA, The Saturday Boy, The Milkman of Human Kindness, Everywhere, Sexuality, Levi Stubb's Tears and The Warmest Room, amongst others. He made fun of Tories and the SWP. He was lovely. He made jokes about Morrissey, always a good move in Manchester.

"This tea is a special brew, it's called 'Froat Coat,' spelled f-r-o-a-t. Thing is, it makes you fink you can sing in tune. Morissey taught me that."

I laughed, and some people standing next to me laughed, too, and we had a moment of that live-music community that is always so enjoyable. We all like this music, and we're all happy to be here, and we can smile at each other and enjoy these moments of humour, together, as humans. I took a funny-looking photo of Billy.

I showed it to the woman standing next to me, and she laughed with me.

It was a great concert, in support of Hope Not Hate, a group that works against hate groups in the UK. He talked about the fight against the BNP in Barking and Dagenham, and how that fight kicked the BNP out. About how important it is for every generation to recommit to the fight against racism and fascism. He made all of us, every person in the audience, feel like we were not alone. And he put the responsibility on us to go out and make sure the BNP couldn't get a foothold in Manchester. He told us to keep the faith, to keep fighting.

During the show, he told a story about having to tell Jack to quit playing his guitar; it was bothering Juliet. At first, Billy didn't recognise the song, because Jack apparently turns everything into the Ramones. But when he realised what Jack was playing, he knew he couldn't tell Jack to stop. Because Jack was playing The Milkman of Human Kindness.

Jack shook his head as Billy started singing. "If you're lonely, I will call... If you're poorly, I will send poetry."

The show was beautiful. More than anything, I was overwhelmed and thrilled to have seen him sing live, a 14-year goal finally met, brilliantly met. After he finished his encore, ending the show with A New England, everyone sort of milled about for a little while, mulling over the beauty of the night. The pop mixed with politics. The soothe of a voice we know so well.

Then, the woman next to me (Mandy) asked if I was alone, and if I wanted to grab a quick drink with her and her friends. "Sure," I said, happy to make some new Billy-Bragg-fan friends. And as the group of us were walking out, a blonde woman came from backstage and hugged Mandy's friend, Beryl. I soon learned the blonde woman is Juliet, Billy's wife. And she invited the whole group up.

To meet Billy Bragg.

! ! !

He was super-nice, as you'd expect. I showed him the goofy picture, and he didn't seem to mind. Because, you see, he's a lovely person.

He signed a photo for me, and took a photograph with me. I asked if he had any shows coming up in America, because I said it's aching. They need him there, I said.

"I know they do," he answered. And he's trying to get there later. "But they have my songs, and they're playing them. I've seen it on YouTube" He said Tom Morello had gone to Wisconsin and told Billy it was so cold, he couldn't play the guitar. Frozen hands.

I said "You have to love those Wisconsin musicians, though, because they get on with it anyway." And he agreed, saying he liked Wisconsin, because he loves cheese.

Then he asked me why America doesn't produce any world-class cheese.
They do, I told him, you just have to go to the small dairies.

He was not impressed. That's not enough for Billy Bragg, folks. He wants several varieties of cheese, especially the English crumbly kinds, in every supermarket and every corner shop in America.

So, um... dairy farmers and cheesemakers of America: Get on it.

I can't believe Billy Bragg argued with me about the state of American cheese.

He said whenever a quasi-Republican wants to talk to him about shooting a deer or stabbing a dolphin to death, he distracts them with questions about cheese. He said Americans always want to talk about killing things. "Not all of us," I said. "You're right," he agreed, "I'm generalising." Then he told me to get a beer.

What a lovely person.  That's right. I drank a Billy Bragg's Dressing Room Corona. With Lime. You're jealous. You know it.

Though now I wonder if maybe he thought I was a quasi-Republican? Hopefully not. I had told him that his music influenced me in a good way. Probably just came up because of Wisconsin. That's what I'm going to hope for, anyway.

And his kid Jack is a sharp one, too. Billy tried to get him to admit that he had, in fact, once been caught playing one of Billy's songs. "I admit, it wasn't Milkman, it was A New England. But it's a better intro for Milkman, so I changed it."

Billy: Isn't it true that you were once playing A New England?
Jack: No.
Billy: Yes, you were. You couldn't get the chord right at the end, and you tried [he air-guitars] jhunh, jhunh, jhunh, and then you stamped and went "F-ck, f-ck, f-ck!"
Jack: No. Wasn't one of your songs.
Billy (to Juliet): Isn't it true that he was once playing one of my songs?
Juliet: I remember the "F-ck, f-ck, f-ck!" because he couldn't play the chords.
Billy (to Jack): You were trying to play it, and you couldn't. Isn't that right? You can't play A New England, can you?

Jack: I don't know. I haven't tried.


I chatted with Mandy and her friends about the Jam and why I was in Manchester at all. It felt great to be around other Billy Bragg fans, honestly, and just know that they knew why I was there. They knew the words, too. All of them.

Honestly, I still cannot believe my luck. Who knew coming to a Billy Bragg show alone could be such a surprising and magical experience? I have to thank Mandy and Beryl, who invited me to come along with them. And I guess, in a way, I have to thank coincidence, for having me go to a show alone, for having me stand next to some kind people, and for having everything happen the way it did

He even took the time for a better picture, because he's just such a lovely person.


  1. three cheers for going it alone! i have never had an all-my-mates-bailed-but-i-decided-to-go-anyway experience that *quite* comes close to this billy braggity, but it's a top policy. keep it alive, along with the faith! and tell billy that someday i'm going back to my hometown to sort out that cheese issue.

    p.s. i find it hard to believe that someone could construe you as a republican, pseudo- or otherwise. pretty wild.

  2. Top Policy News: Just bought a single ticket to the MCR Wu Lyf show! Taking place in a freaking tunnel. Hot.

    Will pass your message along. We'll see if that assuages his distress at all.

    Re: misconstruals. Let's just hope that wasn't what was going on.

    Oh, pheebs! when are you coming here???