Thursday, January 26, 2012



by Steve Tilston

There are a limited number of performers who would use the word "misbegotten" in a song. But then there are a limited number of performers who combine a gift for melody, poetry and actual thinking in the way that Steve does. (He is in the category of "you may not have heard of him but you have probably heard some of his songs".) The Reckoning is a deeply reflective piece about the kind of world that we are leaving to the next generation. Refreshingly free from obvious target hunting or jerking knees, it has a melody which manages to be memorable without actually being catchy. 

"I offer you this toast should these troubles come to roost / for we ate the golden goose and left the reckoning to you."

by Billy Bragg

Thank God for Billy Bragg. Literally, thank God for Billy Bragg. I may or may not have mentioned before that Tony Blair became the the godfather of Rupert Murdoch's baby, in a ceremony which took place on the banks of the River Jordan. The nauseating -- literally nauseating -- hypocrisy of both teams -- the "socialist" politician in bed with an empire that is committed to destroying everything he stands for, the empire cultivating the personal friendships of politicians they pretend to "hold to account" -- more of less guarantees that nothing honest or indeed coherent can ever be said in any parliamentary debate, op ed columns or media talk show. So it is left to people like Billy Bragg to use music and plain speach to tell it how it is. Or how they think it is. It hardly matters if you agree with him: it's enough that he uses words to to convey meaning, instead of to obscure it. He eschews triumphalism at the wounding of the Murdoch empire, and instead offers a lament. How did we let it come to this? 

"No-one comes out looking good when all is said and done / And the Scousers never buy the Sun."

What If, No Matter
by Tom Paxton

Joe Hill is supposed to have said that a leaflet, however well written, will be read once and thrown away, but a song will sung, and passed on, and repeated, and remembered. Tom Paxton's instant response to the Arizona shootings are a case in point. There were acres of newsprint and hand wringing and speculation, but Tom said all that  really needed to be said in five verses.

Billy Bragg and Steve Tilston are cleverer and more complicated, but the judge has no hesitation in giving the prize to Tom Paxton. Songs like this are the reason I started to listen to this stuff in the first place. (There is still absolutely no excuse for the Marvellous Toy.)


Mike Taylor said...

"It hardly matters if you agree with him: it's enough that he uses words to to convey meaning, instead of to obscure it."


But is it really asking too much that he make some effort to sing them?

Andrew Rilstone said...

I don't think that is entirely fair. I think that Billy is part of a venerable tradition of protest singers who are Not Vocally Sophisticated. And he may not sound his best on a youtube of an American talk show.

Mike Taylor said...

I've heard enough of Billy Bragg's studio recordings (including this very song) to know that this talk-show performance was pretty much representative.

It's not the lack of technique that bothers me so much as the affectation. I don't believe that he can't sing better than that. I just want to slap him and shout "come on, man, make an effort."

And actually, vocal affectation seems to be a recurring symptom of folk music. Even a song as beautiful as the Two Sisters that you posted last time is sung with an odd and characteristic vowel inflection that I suspect does not reflect how Emily Portman (if it is she) speaks.

So, not that this is a big problem. But it is an area where folk music is just as stylised and even ghettoised as, say, heavy metal, which also has its idiosyncratic standards for vocals.