At the tail-end of a hot, overcast holiday Monday, a slightly weary but undaunted WOMADelaide crowd makes its way over to Stage 2, the scene of much of the long weekend’s great entertainment. This will be the last performance of the four-day festival for most, and quite possibly the one show that many have come to see – Billy Bragg.
Bragg soundchecks in the fading light, while those arriving late attempt to get as close as they can to the stage, often with scant regard for those who found their own spot early. Apart from some slightly spiky reactions to the behaviour of some of these opportunist late-comers, there is little or no sign of WOMAD fatigue.
After the usual festival MC introduction, Bragg appears on stage and, along with his band, kicks off with a poppy version of “Ideology”. It’s different to the arrangement that is familiar to most, but the occasional updated lyrics and less jangly sound is met with approval.
The bearded Bragg’s banter is sometimes a little hit-and-miss but he’s still an affable kind of activist. Some of his sports stories raise a smile, and he also talks of his adventures in country-and-westernising his wardrobe. He spends a moment reflecting on the death of Margaret Thatcher that doesn’t have a punchline but does allow him to vent, just a little.
A short bracket of the expected Woody Guthrie songs that includes great versions of the popular “Way Over Yonder in the Minor Key” and “All You Fascists” is next. This leads us into genuine Americana territory and, with it, the tale of the emerging and ongoing stoush with Pokey LaFarge regarding the origins of the genre.
Bragg spends the majority of the time he has remaining between songs attempting to strengthen and perhaps rationalise his original argument. I’d seen LaFarge earlier in the day and he took the odd pop at Bragg. The whole debate is barely worthy of discussion and both artists would be well-served by moving on.
Bragg continues to assert his Americana/country credibility as he performs his own country-flavoured “You Woke Up My Neighbourhood” before serving up some original English Americana; a most enjoyable rendition of the Rolling Stones’ “Dead Flowers”.
The next section of the show sees Bragg in solo mode. He kicks off with the classic “There is Power in a Union” which is well received, as is the brilliant and thoughtful “Between the Wars”. The band members rejoin Bragg, one by one, to augment the crescendo of “Waiting For the Great Leap Forwards”.
There are stories about (not) being a Handyman, about odd uses of the words “Lonnie Donegan”, and a little more about country music. “Sexuality”, coming between newish song “Handyman Blues” and Mermaid Avenue’s “California Stars”, takes the audience back a musical generation.
Festival shows are generally shorter than your normal gig, and we are well over the hour mark when Bragg says goodbye with the perennial and worthy crowd-favourite “New England”, with an extra verse and a brief remembrance of the late Kirsty MacColl.
Somewhat surprisingly, given the usual time restrictions, there is an encore. Bragg, somewhat unsurprisingly, dedicates his last number to the leader of the South Australian Liberal Party opposition – “Accident Waiting to Happen”.After an agreeable 90 minutes, the show finishes quickly and the satisfied Billy Braggers drift off into the Adelaide darkness, having witnessed another chapter in the musical development of their hero.
© Copyright David Robinson, 2014
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