UK singer, songwriter and activist Billy Bragg was last in Australia late last year to take part at Brisbane’s Big Sound music conference as a speaker and before that for a solo tour in 2012. He is returning with his full band and new album, Tooth and Nail, for a national tour that will include an appearance at WOMADelaide on Monday, March 10.
Bragg fronted UK punk band Riff Raff in the late 70s before embarking on a successful solo career with such albums as Life’s a Riot With Spy vs Spy, Talking to the Taxman About Poetry and Back to Basics. He has also been involved with grassroots, leftist political movements such as Red Wedge. Bragg also collaborated with Wilco on Mermaid Avenue on which they put the unused lyrics of Woody Guthrie songs to music with the song Way Down Yonder in the Minor Key receiving much airplay on triple j. The musician is also no stranger to WOMAD festivals as he has performed at many around the world and is greatly anticipating taking part in his first WOMADelaide. WOMAD festivals are always such a lot of fun,” Bragg says. “They are such a great event to be involved in because it’s like a little multicultural village and you also get to see some great music. “I’ve always had a good time in Adelaide, anyway,” he adds. “Adelaide is a place where you can really chill-out anyway and I’ve heard that Botanic Park, especially when WOMADelaide is on, is a great place to do that. And the other great thing about the WOMAD organisation is that they choose some great locations. They always give a lot of attention to that so a WOMAD festival is never just held in a big empty field somewhere.” The musician uses Facebook to post videos of soundchecks with a recent guilty pleasure, as they have become known, being of Bragg and Australia’s Kim Churchill covering Fleetwood Mac’s Go Your Own Way. “They are a lot of fun because at soundchecks you can get into a situation where you are playing the same bloody song every day,” he laughs. “But doing a few covers, mucking around and jamming on some intros to songs can be much more fun. And for the Fleetwood Mac song, we got Kim up because he was touring with us at the time and we knew he’d make a good Stevie Nicks. He’s got the right haircut for a start.” Bragg recently posted another ‘guilty pleasure’ on Facebook of the band covering The Byrds’ I’ll Feel A Whole Lot Better and dedicated the rendition to Sid Griffin, formerly of US band The Long Ryders but now leader of UK-based country rockers The Coal Porters. “Sid had been very helpful in introducing me to some musicians for my new band,” Bragg says of his latest backing players, which include drummer Luke Bullen, pedal steel player and guitarist CJ Hillman, bass player Matt Rounds and keyboardist Owen Parker. “Sid’s very active in the London bluegrass and country scene so when I was trying to put a band together I went to him for help as I was desperate to find a young pedal steel player. There are a lot of pedal steel players in the UK but most of them are older than me and I wanted someone who might know how to play pedal steel, but also play Johnny Marr as well. “Sid told me there was a guy up in Manchester, CJ Hillman, who would fit the bill. So that’s how I hooked up with CJ who has brought something really special to the band with his pedal steel, the Dobro and his jangly Rickenbacker guitar. “I don’t know if you’ve ever heard The Flamin’ Groovies version of I’ll Feel A Whole Lot Better but CJ, who is only 26 but into jangly guitar bands, had never even heard of The Flamin’ Groovies,” Bragg adds with a laugh. “So I had to sit him down and have a bit of a chat. Everyone should hear some of The Flamin’ Groovies even if it’s only Shake Some Action.” Bragg was preparing for an encore when told that Nelson Mandela had passed away. “So I went back on and did Tank Park Salute,” he reveals. “It’s a song about the death of my father so I dedicated it to Nelson Mandela as the father of his nation. While his death wasn’t unexpected, there was an audible gasp from the audience when I told them.”