Burger the Bragg, Confuse the enemy


A lot has happened in the decade since I last saw Billy Bragg perform live.

I moved away from the UK to become a foreign correspondent. My politics have undergone the inevitable overhaul of age. And I’ve grown a beard.

Bill has advocated tactical voting. Dropped his invitation to “Bootleg the Bragg, Confuse the Enemy” in favour of working out how to best deal with music streaming services. And he’s grown a beard.

All of which goes some way to explain how during the rousing finale of Levi Stubb’s Tears my view is blocked by an overzealous waiter pouring the dregs of a 2012 Zinfandel into my glass.

You see, this is not your average Billy Bragg gig. This is the New York City Winery, a swanky affair, where gig goers are welcomed by a man with an iPad before being escorted to their table. Everyone is offered a sample of the Zinfandel produced on the premises. And not once do my feet stick to the floor.

It’s a long way from that first album in 1983 with its “Pay no more than £2.99” slogan to Manhattan’s Lower West Side and the most expensive gig I’ve ever attended.

And this, being America, means that I can have dinner. There’s nothing Americans seemingly don’t do without eating – walking, movie watching, drinking, sports viewing, music listening are all apparently endured merely to facilitate the act of eating.

So my LaFrieda Burger (named for the local butcher that supplies the meat) with cave-aged Cheddar (I have my doubts about the capital C) arrives after the lights have gone down for Billy the Kid, serving up a nice enough slice of Americana to accompany my meal.

The burger was OK. As I’m learning in the US, it seemed to be nothing but beef, salt and pepper. A good thing in my book. But it arrived cold. The centre seemed rarer than I’d ordered, but I couldn’t see a damn thing.

Anyway the Zinfandel was sloshing down a treat. And by the time Billy Bragg came on I had lost my anxiety about seeing him perform in a wine bar surrounded by people in suits. From the opening salvo about the Scottish independence referendum to the closing “I’m just looking for another girl” it was vintage Bragg. Tank Park Salute always makes me stop dead. And Both Sides the Tweed carried extraordinary resonance on the night before Scotland voted on independence.

Maybe he hasn’t changed at all. I, on the other hand, have to buy XL T-shirts these days.

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