Brighton Magazine

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Selected Brighton Magazine Article

Sunday 08 May 2011

33 Revolutions Per Minute: Billy Bragg Guests As A History of Politics In Pop Came Under Discussion

As far back as works by the jazz singer Billie Holiday, the American folk of Woody Guthrie, through to Elvis, and Bob Dylan, protest songs have connected with worldwide audiences.
Poly Styrene Remembered

This subject was tackled during day two of Brighton Festival 2011, at the Pavilion Theatre as part of the Books and Debate programme.

Introduced by Luke Bainbridge, Associate Editor of Observer Music Monthly, and joined by Dorian Lynskey, author of new book 33 Revolutions per Minute, as well as everyone"s favourite alternative rock musician and political activist, Billy Bragg.

From the off the debate was insightful and based around Lynskey's book; to which many references and anecdotes were made during the hour-long debate.

Especially interesting were Bragg's musical influences - which helped shape his songwriting - The Clash, Ramones, Dr Feelgood and The Jam all played their part.

Bragg related his experiences dealing with his involvement in the punk movement of the 1970s, his attendance at the Rock against Racism gigs in London – which were in response to the rise in racial conflict and growth in groups such as the National Front.

Later in his career, he was deeply involved in the Miners' Strike gigs and Red Wedge political collective, which included like-minded musicians such as Paul Weller and Jimmy Somerville.

The author went on to highlight an array of good and not so great musical protest songwriting; including diverse artists such as U2's Sunday Bloody Sunday through to M.I.A, Green Day and even the Pet Shop Boys.

Songs highlighted as bad examples of protest song included Live Aid's Feed The World and Michael Jackson's Earth Song.

It was argued that pop music is a 'flimsy vehicle' in which to convey political and social comment, but an important one, and also the lack of political comment in modern music.

Many artists write about political issues; however few are willing to debate issues when given the opportunity.

Questions were opened-up to the audience; someone asked about why the current urban music scene made more political references than the current indie and rock music scene - to which Bragg related back to the West London punk scene from the 1970s where rock music fused with reggae and events such as the Notting Hill Carnival were born.

The debate concluded with an audience member commenting on the lack of female artists in the protest arena, with Bragg quick to mention and pay respects to X-Ray Spex singer Poly Styrene, who died recently.

Dorian Lynskey and Billy Bragg were available afterwards to sign copies of 33 Revolutions per Minute.

The Brighton Festival continues until Sunday 29th May. See for more info.

by: Andy Sturmey


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