Billy Bragg Interview: Jeremy Corbyn, Labour Party 'Review Time' And The Magic Of The US Railroad

Billy Bragg's new album with Joe Henry is 'Shine a Light'.

Billy Bragg may still stand with Jeremy Corbyn - he was one of the many who renewed his membership in recent times in order to register his support for the Labour Party leader - but he’s happy to admit “it’s time for a review of the party”.

Billy tells HuffPostUK:

“I’m a socialist which means my glass is half full. I’m encouraged by the young people being mobilised. My 22-year-old son and I talk about politics a lot more than we used to.”

What about the chasm at the heart of the party?

“I’m still with Corbyn, but it’s time for a review,” he admits. “I don’t think we can split - we know what that looks like with the SDP back in 1981, and that swing was too extreme.

“Now the membership has taken the initiative. We don’t have to reject everything Tony Blair represented, but a lot of people have been alienated.”

<strong>Tireless Billy Bragg still finds unity in music, but considers himself romantic over political</strong>
Tireless Billy Bragg still finds unity in music, but considers himself romantic over political
Ian Gavan via Getty Images

Billy has been a tireless balladeer for nearly four decades, seamlessly blending the political and the personal on such timeless songs as ‘A New England’, ‘Sexuality’ and ‘Between the Wars’.

After all these years, I wonder... would Billy describe himself as an activist or a romantic?

“So few political people write political songs, I now stand out,” he reflects. “But really up close, the songs are in the cannon of love songs. The world is not just about politics.”

He pauses. “I think I just want people to feel less alone.”

And after all this time at the coal-face, is it still easy to get fired up, either romantically or politically, for music?

“There’s a huge cost of blood and treasure involved in making music,” he begins. “It costs money to make music, it costs money to promote it. I don’t have the same urgency I used to have, but it’s always been about performing live for me, about turning up at festivals. I think I’ve been to a dozen festivals this summer.”

No small feat for a man in his 59th year, but it seems Billy is committed to the cause, both politically and creatively.

“I have no choice but to continue to lean in,” is how he describes it. “I would be such a hypocrite to stand on the sidelines now.”

But doesn’t he ever get tired of digging deep, when his 1970s and ‘80s peers have long since contented themselves with nostalgic merry-go-rounds? Or penning far more lucrative, pop fare? Does Billy secretly wish he had a song for Britney in him?

“I wish I could,” he chuckles. “And I certainly get cynical like everybody else. I watch the TV, but if you want to make the world a better place, you have to take part. The enemy is not capitalism, but cynicism. It’s not even the Daily Mail, they’re just doing their job.

“I keep the faith. A gig is unity, whatever the emotions, and if it happens to be political, it can be very powerful.”

<strong>Billy Bragg's new album with collaborator Joe Henry celebrates the US railroad</strong>
Billy Bragg's new album with collaborator Joe Henry celebrates the US railroad

Despite all this, he agrees that making music stand out is a lot harder than it used to be, hence his experimenting with the form on his new album with Joe Henry, ‘Shine a Light’, focusing on the transformative power of the American railroad. As Billy explains it...

“You have to be innovative to keep the crowd interested. This album, we’re going on a journey, trying to create an immersive experience. The message to listeners is ‘stay with us.’

“It used to be that you were stood beside a great river, and you saw everything floating down the river. Now, you’re on a vast ocean, and you can only see the things immediately around you.

“The market’s harder to make a dent in these days, but the good news is you can use social media to spread the word.”

Billy Bragg and Joe Henry’s ‘Shine A Light’ is available now. Click here for info on the album, and the UK gig dates planned.

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