skip navigation
Barry Boxall

Barry Boxall

| VIEW ALL

TCM Messageboards
Post your comments here
ADD YOUR COMMENT>

share:

TCM Archive Materials VIEW ALL ARCHIVES (0)

Biography CLOSE THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

Widely regarded as one of the finest protest singers of his generation, Billy Bragg became something of a national treasure in his British homeland thanks to a keen sense of political activism, a biting wit and an influential sound which fused the socially conscious folk of Woody Guthrie with the defiant attitude of the punk scene. A regular at leftist rallies across the U.K., Bragg's music provided an authentic insight into the issues of the day but also found the space to focus on matters of the heart, making him one of the 1980s' most compelling chart artists. His distinctly British subject matter ensured he remained more of a cult concern in the U.S., but few modern-day troubadours performed with as much conviction or injected as much passion into their work. Born in Barking, Essex in 1957, Bragg became inspired to pursue a career in music after attending the 1978 Rock Against Racism gig headlined by The Clash. But after the punk outfit he formed with next door neighbor Wiggy, Riff Raff, failed to move beyond the London pub circuit, he abandoned his plans and instead joined the British Army. The change of heart didn't last long and after buying himself out of his contract after just three months...

Widely regarded as one of the finest protest singers of his generation, Billy Bragg became something of a national treasure in his British homeland thanks to a keen sense of political activism, a biting wit and an influential sound which fused the socially conscious folk of Woody Guthrie with the defiant attitude of the punk scene. A regular at leftist rallies across the U.K., Bragg's music provided an authentic insight into the issues of the day but also found the space to focus on matters of the heart, making him one of the 1980s' most compelling chart artists. His distinctly British subject matter ensured he remained more of a cult concern in the U.S., but few modern-day troubadours performed with as much conviction or injected as much passion into their work.

Born in Barking, Essex in 1957, Bragg became inspired to pursue a career in music after attending the 1978 Rock Against Racism gig headlined by The Clash. But after the punk outfit he formed with next door neighbor Wiggy, Riff Raff, failed to move beyond the London pub circuit, he abandoned his plans and instead joined the British Army. The change of heart didn't last long and after buying himself out of his contract after just three months of basic training, he began busking on the streets of the capital and was regularly invited to open for other acts, allowing him to hone his signature 'one man and his guitar' sound and build up a sizeable following in the process.

Debut album Life's A Riot With Spy Vs Spy (1983) first showcased his righteous lyrical approach to a wider audience, addressing topics such as endemic unemployment and the failures of the education system, while also revealing a softer side with the likes of "A New England," a track which Kirsty MacColl would score a UK Top 10 hit with two years later. After signing to the Go! Discs label, Bragg continued to balance socialist anthems with tales of unrequited love on Brewing Up With Billy Bragg (1984) before releasing Between The Wars (1986), a four-track EP inspired by, and which gave away all profits to the miners' strike, and his highest-charting album, Talking With The Taxman About Poetry (1986).

After joining the likes of Paul Weller and Jimmy Somerville to form Red Wedge, a musicians alliance designed to discourage young people from voting for the Conservative government in the 1987 general election, Bragg embraced a more expansive sound on fourth studio effort Workers Playtime (1988), released his first live album, Help Save The Youth Of America (1988) and scored a surprise UK number one single with "She's Leaving Home," a double A-side with Wet Wet Wet's "With A Little Help From My Friends" that was recorded with Cara Tivey for the Beatles tribute album, Sgt. Pepper Knew My Father (1988).

Bragg then released arguably his most explicitly political record with The Internationale (1990), a collection of cover versions and rewrites of left-wing protest songs including "The Red Flag" and "Blake's Jerusalem," then followed it up with his most accessible record, Don't Try This At Home (1991), a pop-oriented set which featured guest appearances from R.E.M's Michael Stipe and Peter Buck and former Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr. Bragg then took several years off from the industry to raise his son with wife Juliet before returning with William Bloke (1996), a stripped-back affair which featured an adaptation of Rudyard Kipling's "A Pict Song."

Invited by Woody Guthrie's daughter Nora to set some of her late father's unrecorded lyrics to new music, Bragg hooked up with alt-country outfit Wilco for Mermaid Avenue, which gave him both his first Billboard chart entry (No. 90) and his first Grammy nomination for Best Contemporary Folk Album, two achievements the unlikely bedfellows repeated with follow-up Mermaid Avenue Vol. II (2000). The belated Stateside success appeared to rejuvenate Bragg, and England, Half English (2002), a rabble-rousing record which addressed everything from the global economy to cultural identity, was viewed by many as his most vibrant in years.

But as in the mid-'90s, Bragg then took a break from the studio, although the release of several compilations and live albums helped him to maintain some kind of profile, as did "We Laughed," a collaboration with the Rosetta Life charity which gave him his biggest U.K. hit in 17 years. In 2007, he joined forces with the likes of Eliza Carthy, Martin Carthy and Sheila Chandra for the first of three traditional folk albums under the guise of The Imagined Village.

Following well-received comeback album Mr. Love & Justice (2008), Bragg helped to form the Featured Artists Coalition, a body representing the right of recording artists in the digital age, and curated the leftfield stage at Glastonbury 2010. After releasing Fight Songs (2011), a collection of tracks that had previously been given away as free digital downloads, and Mermaid Avenue: The Complete Sessions (2012), a series of outtakes from his recordings with Wilco, Bragg continued on a Woody Guthrie tip with the Americana-inspired Tooth & Nail (2013).

VIEW THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

Filmographyclose complete filmography

CAST: (feature film)

VIEW THE FULL FILMOGRAPHY

Please support TCMDB by adding to this information.

Click here to contribute