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Baker's Dozen

Worker's Playtime: Billy Bragg's Favourite Albums
Colm McAuliffe , March 18th, 2013 07:47

To celebrate the release of his notably personal new album Tooth & Nail today, the outspoken, political singer-songwriter talks Colm McAuliffe through his top records


Dick Gaughan – A Handful Of Earth
What an incredible record and how timely, just before the miners' strike. I was a punk rocker in the years leading up to that but, when the strike happened, I went up into the coalfields to tell him what it was all about from my punk rock perspective and I found this guy called Jock Purdon who was probably in his seventies then, sitting on a chair on stage with a finger in his ear, singing songs that were much more radical and much more political than anything I had heard by The Clash and I had to step back and re-assess my idea of it. In some ways, it's the folk tradition that has kept those angry songs alive even now, they are the only people who are interested in topical songs. That's why I got that award (BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards Lifetime Achievement) - not because I'm a folk singer but because I write topical songs. And Gaughan is, for me, the king of that. Hearing 'The World Turned Upside Down' - I don't know if you've heard the original version by Leon Rosselson but it's like [SINGS SLOWLY] "In 1649… dun-du-dun…’ on the piano; it's a lovely song but Leon doesn't really do it justice. But Gaughan! He grabs it by the scruff of the neck and chucks it into the twentieth century where it lands at my feet and I think "fuckin' hell, that is an incredible song" but also [on the album you have] 'Both Sides Of The Tweed' which is probably the best song you could ever imagine about English and Scottish thoughts of independence. We could do with people singing that now. 'The Worker's Song', what a great song that is, and I think it just really exemplified the tradition not just of folk music but of struggle that the miners' strike was the last example of and getting into that, by doing gigs for the miners, I became part of that tradition. That folk tradition embraced me, I'd always had an ear for it because that singer-songwriter tradition led me to Martin Carthy, to the Watersons and to people like that, so I was aware of all these songs but punk swept it away. But when I heard Gaughan, it gave me the courage to record something like 'Between The Wars' which is a folk song, or at least it's in the folk idiom, even though I recorded it electric. And appearing on Top Of The Pops singing that just as the strike ended, I wouldn't have done that if it wasn't for this album. An amazing guy - album of the eighties, perhaps.