Protest: Billy Bragg on Lockdown, Thatcher, and QAnon | Under The Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Thursday, July 7th, 2022  

Protest: Billy Bragg on Lockdown, Thatcher, and QAnon

Still Active with the Activists

Dec 22, 2021 Issue #68 - Japanese Breakfast and HAIM (The Protest Issue)
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The global pandemic may have stopped live music in its tracks but Billy Bragg has been spending his lockdown time productively. With all scheduled gigs cancelled for the foreseeable future, the English singer/songwriter and left-wing activist decided to transfer 2021’s plan to write and record a new album into 2020’s diary. He also informs us that he hasn’t set foot in a barbershop for six months and thus currently resembles the late hirsute country legend Kenny Rodgers. “I’ve stopped wearing a wristwatch too which I found strangely liberating,” he laughs.

Bragg began his 38-year spanning career as a rabble-rousing young punk troubadour who wanted to liberate the UK from the iron grip of then British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and her government. In 1985 Bragg, alongside Paul Weller, formed Red Wedge, a politically engaged musical collective that included the likes of Tom Robinson, Kirsty McColl, The Communards, The Specials, and Johnny Marr of The Smiths. The idea was to engage with young people and introduce them to policies of the Labour Party. Bragg admits it was something borne out of the complete disillusionment with the divisive politics pursued by Thatcher, energized by a desire to provoke debate and achieve change. He also concedes it’s something that would be very unlikely to happen today. “It would be very hard to justify young musicians working that closely with the Labour Party now. They were completely different times and you have to view Red Wedge in the wake of Rock Against Racism, the miner’s strike, Liverpool Council and Greater London Council’s battles with The Tories. They were certainly more ideological times.”

However, it’s unlikely the young Billy Bragg could have ever have imagined a time when Thatcher and Regan might be viewed as almost palatable in comparison to their 2020 contemporaries, such as current Prime Minister Boris Johnson and former President Donald Trump. “The thing about Thatcher you do have to recognize is that she was a genuine radical and she had a vision,” he explains, “albeit a vision I was vehemently opposed to. But in comparison to Johnson and Trump, I respected that at least she believed in something and that made it possible to take a stand against her. When we opposed her we were talking within a framework of reality that we all agreed on. And as such within these parameters, we were then able to talk about revolutionary ideas based on that shared reality. I don’t think that reality is there anymore. The framework I use when I talk about Trump as opposed to the one employed by the supporters of say QAnon are two very different realities. And I find that genuinely troubling.”

Indeed the rise in popularity of conspiracy theories and the willful spreading of fake news aligned to the emergence of the far-right is a worrying trend. It’s a situation that Bragg finds deeply disturbing. “There was a QAnon demo in [London’s] Trafalgar Square a few weeks back and somebody unveiled a British Union of Fascists flag which is just shocking.” He concedes that throughout history fascism has never really gone away. “These people just manifest in different ways and every generation has to work out how to deal with them.”

[Note: This article originally appeared in Issue 68 of Under the Radar’s print magazine, which is out now. This is its debut online. The issue was our 2021 Protest Issue, in which we once again examined the intersection of music and politics and conducted photo shoots with musicians holding protest signs of their own making.]

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