For Ireland, it seems, socialism of the heart is not an abandoned concept. The country has just elected a champion of the arts as president over a businessman with a questionable past, while our stroll to the Button Factory takes us past a body of hardy souls who are sleeping on the street to highlight the failure of the financial system. And inside said venue, Billy Bragg is telling us that the system has failed but not to fail ourselves.
State has seen Bragg play in a number of different guises over the years, quite often with a full backing band, but the solo form he takes tonight is the purest of the lot. Despite his last album, 2008’s soul tinged Mr Love & Justice, exploring the mellower side of his sound, Bragg is armed largely with his trusty electric and rolls back the years with an opening sprint through ‘It Says Here’, ‘To Have And Have Not’ and ‘Greetings To The New Brunette’. With a sold out crowd of long-term aficionados (aka middle aged men) bellowing along to every word, if looks as if we’re in for a night of nostalgia.
This matters not a jot for two reasons. Firstly, Bragg is aware of his surroundings in a manner that puts most musicians to shame. Having been on tour in Ireland for two weeks, he is able to hold forth on a number of topics – from the presidential election and his visits to various Occupy demonstrations to the Dublin – the Galway motorway, Shamrock Rovers’ title win and the perils of singing English folk songs in Drogheda on a Saturday night. Those songs, folk or otherwise, are pretty much timeless. The politics he has sung of across his career, have sadly, never stopped being relevant but it’s the love songs (his “softie” side, he tells us) that strike an even greater chord – prompting such unique singalongs as “in the end it took me a dictionary to find out the meaning of unrequited”.
The combination of the two makes for an inspiring, moving and entertaining evening. Bragg spins his frequent yarns with charm, whether it be how The Clash set him on his path or how his teenage son’s guitar playing sounds like an angry wasp in a biscuit tin. The whole experience cannot but help but fill your heart with joy and make you feel that, just maybe, there is hope for us after all. Step outside into the real world, however, and see those camped outside the Central Bank suffer casual, at times vicious, abuse from the stumbling, staggering visitors to Temple Bar and a sense of the size of the task becomes clear. Yet if Billy Bragg can keep his faith, maybe we can too.