October 24, 2008 / 7:14 PM / 10 years ago

Billy Bragg mellows with age but keeps the faith

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Fatherhood and a 16-year relationship with his partner have mellowed singer Billy Bragg, lending his latest album a softer, more soulful sound than the rousing, sometimes angry, songs of politics and relationships that marked earlier work.

Singer Billy Bragg poses at the "Q Awards" in London October 8, 2007. REUTERS/Anthony Harvey

Bragg is in the midst of a U.S. tour promoting his first solo album in six years, “Mr Love & Justice,” which tackles the complexities of commitment, love and faith.

“It’s the intricacies and intimacies of long term relationships and how to communicate that to people,” Bragg told Reuters.

“I’m trying to reflect the world I’m in, rather than where I was, and writing about my own personal dramas of relationships would be about as pointless as writing about Margaret Thatcher, cause it ‘aint there no more,” he added.

The predominately love-themed work comes after Bragg took a hiatus from song writing to author a book exploring the issue of British nationalism and identity, called “The Progressive Patriot.” It was sparked by Bragg’s concern over the rise of racism in his home borough of Barking, in East London.

“The album came after 3 years of sort of polemical focus of writing that book,” Bragg said. “When I stepped back and the songs that came through were predominately love songs, I just felt that that was the thing reasserting itself, and rightly so, too.”

That’s not to say that Bragg’s interest in themes of broader social change aren’t at work on the album, as can be seen in the introductory song, “I Keep Faith.”

“That really is not capital ‘F’ faith, but faith in humanity, faith that can express itself in the form of social solidarity, those kinds of things,” Bragg said.

“I try very hard to talk about my faith in the audience’s ability to make a difference in the way the world is,” he added. “At a time when an election is coming, that to me is an even more dynamic message that needs pounding out.”

Bragg remains committed to the socialism he sang about in earlier work, such as “Workers Playtime” and “Talking with the Taxman about Poetry.”

But he now finds himself writing about core values of socialism in less ideological terms reflecting a general, cultural shift away from making ideological statements.

“You do find yourself in a post-ideological world writing about broader ideas,” he said.

“As I get older, there’s a generation that was brought up that don’t have ideological insights and don’t find bands their age making these connections, so they come see some old guy,” he added. “It was the same when we were young, we were listening to Bob Dylan.”

During the tour, Bragg hopes he can engage audiences to think about and act on societal issues in the same way that he was inspired by seeing 1970s British punk bank The Clash at an anti-racism concert.

“I speak as someone who was inspired, and who’s perspective of the world was inspired, by The Clash at Rock Against Racism in 1978 so I know it can be done and its kind of what I aspire to do,” Bragg said.

Reporting by Karen Brettell;

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