Billy Bragg Talks The Passing of The Queen and Playing In Troy For The First Time on Oct. 11th

Written by on October 3, 2022

RRX: It’s very nice to be talking with you. How have you been?

BB: Not too bad and you? 

RRX: Things have been weird but okay.

BB: Things have been weird here as well.

RRX: So, you’re in the UK right now?

BB: I am indeed and you’re in Troy?

RRX: Close to Troy, I’m actually right across the bridge.

BB: That’ll do for me. 

RRX: So, you’re coming to the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall on October 11th with Alice Phoebe Lou as the supporting act. We’re excited to have you. And this is a US/Canada tour that you’re kicking off. Are you excited about that?

BB: I am, I’ve never been to Troy before. It’ll be a first time for me. I’m looking forward to having a stroll around between sound check and the gig to see the place. 

RRX: It’s an interesting historical theater, going back in time. This is a place where Ella Fitzgerald would’ve been standing on that stage. 

BB: I love those kinds of gigs. We have some in London where Charlie Chaplin and the Marx Brothers performed, you know, old theaters. I always love playing in those places.

RRX: Traveling wasn’t so easy back then.

BB: That’s true. I think they probably relied on the railroad a lot more than we do.

RRX: Absolutely. You’ve been described as a singer/songwriter and activist. I’ve got to address it and it’s big news. How does the queen’s passing affect someone like you?

BB: It’s very strange. On an emotional level I’ve found it has affected me quite a bit because my parents, like the queen, were both born in the 1920’s. They both passed away now but with the queen dying it’s kind of the end of their presence in our lives, that generation. They’re not just any generation, they are the generation that lived through the second world war. It’s a generation that rebuilt our country, quite an important generation. She was like the final representative, who was still in our national life and whose role in the war still resonated. So, on one level, I feel it, I really feel it and on the other side there’s the legacy of the British Empire and the role the monarchy plays in our society, that really we should be able to question. You know? King Charles will be crowned next year with a crown that most of the jewels on it have been stolen from someone. 

RRX: Right.

BB: But I can tell you right now that we won’t be able to have a discussion about that. It’s unfortunate because there’s probably not a better time before they’re putting the damn thing on his head. So, it’s not just a single feeling. I posted something about this on Facebook and a lot of people are having similar feelings. Feelings of sense of loss but also a need for reform, to talk about the way the modern monarchy is in our lives and to deal with the legacy of the British Empire. That discussion is like the legacy of slavery in the United States of America. 

RRX: Sure.

BB: There are people that refuse to recognize what effect it’s had on our society. Increasingly there are people who want to discuss that legacy and I’m hoping that the change, the death of the queen will allow us to begin that discussion. It’s going to be a painful discussion but equally it’s one that we really need to have if we want to be able to live in the diverse society that we are. There are so many people in our country, particularly people of color because their parents were part of the British Empire, they came that way. The other weird thing is that the death of the queen has ramifications beyond our borders. These are very interesting historical times but at the moment we’re all a bit amazed it’s come to this because we’re so used to her being there. It would be like if Dwight Eisenhower was still president of the United States or still around and turned up on your TV every Christmas and said a few words about the world. It would be very weird if suddenly he wasn’t there. So, a mixture of feelings really, Rob.

RRX: Couldn’t have said it better. So obviously you’ve got this tour coming up, anything else on the horizon for you?

BB: Yeah, next year will be the 40th anniversary of my first album. So, I’m currently knee-deep in my archives pulling together tracks for that. 2024 will be the 40th anniversary of my first visit to the United States of America. The changes I’ve seen in that time are just incredible. When I first came over I opened for Echo and the Bunnymen.

RRX: That’s cool.

BB: It was cool. It was amazing. I just sat on the back of their bus, and we drove around East Coast lakes, New Orleans, Texas, it was incredible. There were places we went on that tour that I’ve never been able to find again. That’s why it’s going to be interesting coming to Troy because I don’t know anything about Troy. When I came for the first time to North America it was all new. A couple of years ago I did a tour with a new pedal steel player (CJ Hillman), all of his life he’s been obsessed with America, but he’s never been there. It was so great touring with him because everything was new to him. We ended up somewhere in Arizona, I can’t remember exactly where it was now, but we had a day off. He and I went walking off to find a record store, of course.

RRX: Of course.

BB: We stood at this traffic light and a guy pulled up on a big motor bike, it might have been a Harley and he had flip flops and shorts on and that was about it. CJ said to me, “Bill, the thing about America is it’s just so American, isn’t it?” I’m now working on avoiding the part of America that I hate the most… that of course is the airports.

RRX: (Laughs) Yeah, no kidding, they’re terrible. 

BB: Buffalo I haven’t been there since 1985 with R.E.M., so I’m looking forward to that. I’m just trying to keep it interesting. It’s a job like anything else. I don’t want your readers to imagine I’m living some kind of fabulous rockstar lifestyle. It is a schlep, even in England it’s a schlep. Someone once said they pay me for the travel, I do the gigs for free. So, cutting that (airports) out, not just for my benefit but for the environment as well, means that there will be more visits to places like Troy. Places I’ve never been or haven’t been for a long time, keeps it interesting for me.

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