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Billy Bragg: Still Suitable for Miners: The Official Biography

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He was a punk. He was a soldier. He was a flag-waver for the Labour Party. He is Billy Bragg, best known as a passionate political songwriter and urbane folk singer, but equally admired for his offbeat love songs. Billy Bragg is a British institution who never went out of fashion (he was never in fashion in the first place). In America he was chosen as the spiritual heir t He was a punk. He was a soldier. He was a flag-waver for the Labour Party. He is Billy Bragg, best known as a passionate political songwriter and urbane folk singer, but equally admired for his offbeat love songs. Billy Bragg is a British institution who never went out of fashion (he was never in fashion in the first place). In America he was chosen as the spiritual heir to legendary protest singer Woody Guthrie, beating rival claims from the likes of Bob Dylan and Neil Young. In the UK he surfaced on current affairs TV programmes during the 2001 election dressed as a Roman legionary advocating tactical voting to keep the Tories out. Billy Bragg is a one-off and Still Suitable for Miners is his official story, a portrait of a peerless entertainer and a fearless campaigner growing up in Britain in the years after rock 'n' roll. The book includes childhood photos and previously unseen images from Billy's personal archive.


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He was a punk. He was a soldier. He was a flag-waver for the Labour Party. He is Billy Bragg, best known as a passionate political songwriter and urbane folk singer, but equally admired for his offbeat love songs. Billy Bragg is a British institution who never went out of fashion (he was never in fashion in the first place). In America he was chosen as the spiritual heir t He was a punk. He was a soldier. He was a flag-waver for the Labour Party. He is Billy Bragg, best known as a passionate political songwriter and urbane folk singer, but equally admired for his offbeat love songs. Billy Bragg is a British institution who never went out of fashion (he was never in fashion in the first place). In America he was chosen as the spiritual heir to legendary protest singer Woody Guthrie, beating rival claims from the likes of Bob Dylan and Neil Young. In the UK he surfaced on current affairs TV programmes during the 2001 election dressed as a Roman legionary advocating tactical voting to keep the Tories out. Billy Bragg is a one-off and Still Suitable for Miners is his official story, a portrait of a peerless entertainer and a fearless campaigner growing up in Britain in the years after rock 'n' roll. The book includes childhood photos and previously unseen images from Billy's personal archive.

30 review for Billy Bragg: Still Suitable for Miners: The Official Biography

  1. 4 out of 5

    Ian Wood

    I first became aware of Billy Bragg on hearing ‘Between the Wars’ during the miners strike and his brand of Urban Folk music fitted the times we were living in completely. Originally politicised from the records of the Two Tone label and Weller’s bands The Jam and The Style Council the songs Billy Bragg was singing seemed to me, with a then complete lack of knowledge of folk music, to be more immediate and resonated more. I soon needed more of what was screaming out of the dansette from the ‘Bet I first became aware of Billy Bragg on hearing ‘Between the Wars’ during the miners strike and his brand of Urban Folk music fitted the times we were living in completely. Originally politicised from the records of the Two Tone label and Weller’s bands The Jam and The Style Council the songs Billy Bragg was singing seemed to me, with a then complete lack of knowledge of folk music, to be more immediate and resonated more. I soon needed more of what was screaming out of the dansette from the ‘Between the Wars EP’ and soon complimented this with ‘Life’s a Riot’ and ‘Brewing Up’. Following Billy through ‘Taxman’ his difficult Smith’s influenced third album and the fantastic pop folk records of ‘Workers Playtime’ and ‘Don’t Try this at Home’ as well as my own favourite ‘The Internationale’ convinced me he was the greatest songwriter I’d followed and with a limited range that meant my shout along accompaniment wasn’t too jarring. Billy Bragg concerts were events with or without a band due to his between song banter that joined the dots between the songs with his own back-story. After a absence ‘in the bathroom with the baby’ that Billy could return with an album as strong as ‘Bloke on Bloke’ was an achievement in its own right but to follow this with the Woody Guthrie album ‘Mermaid Avenue’ was almost beyond belief. With no drugs busts and his personnel life laid bare in songs such as ‘Saturdays Boy’ and ‘The Short Answer’ the question remained, what kind of a biography can be made out of this? Well Andrew Collins gave us a long answer, well worth the reading. Bragg winning a poetry completion at school tells its own tale and this as well as the details of Bragg’s original punk band ‘Riff Raff’ and the army career make this a well rounded story with Collins tying the personal to the professional to give us the story of the down to earth troubadour we had imagined. That Bragg is eminently quotable helps this book bubble along as does Collins humour and encyclopaedic knowledge of music which makes the book a delight to read. Read the Bragg, confuse the enemy.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Godzilla

    This was a book I approached, unsure of what to expect: I'd heard all the rhetoric around Billy Bragg,and I guess it had influenced me slightly. This wasn't a fast read for me, as the book is packed with detail, but it's all part of the overall story. Mr Bragg comes across as a geuine and sincere, decent all round bloke. The type of man you'd love to have a chat with down the pub, not only for his anecdotes, but on the basis that he just seems like someone you could have a real good chat with. Ther This was a book I approached, unsure of what to expect: I'd heard all the rhetoric around Billy Bragg,and I guess it had influenced me slightly. This wasn't a fast read for me, as the book is packed with detail, but it's all part of the overall story. Mr Bragg comes across as a geuine and sincere, decent all round bloke. The type of man you'd love to have a chat with down the pub, not only for his anecdotes, but on the basis that he just seems like someone you could have a real good chat with. There are stories upon stories about all the people he's taken time to help and support, yet he doesn't come across as some Mother Theresa type character, simply a man who tries to stand up for what he believes and lives by his principles, although recognising that there may need to be comprimises made. Whilst there is genuine warmth about him, there is a recognition that he's made mistakes and is far from the previously mentioned saint like figure. This is an honest appraisal of someone who has tried his best to do the right thing (as he sees it) and someone who recognises that his views aren't everyone's cup of tea, but is willing to stand by them. A rare commodity in these days.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

    Really interesting and not my usual sort of read at all. The pop culture history in particular is great for anyone with a vague love of punk and old pop.

  4. 5 out of 5

    russell barnes

    It's taken a few days to settle in, but I think I've got a handle on what I think of this biog beyond the 4 stars. Biographies are hard to judge as they are balancing acts of sucking up to the protagonist and dishing the dirt, between being entertaining and sifting facts. There are good ones out there, but there are far more bad biogs cluttering up the shelves. In theory this feels like it's in the latter category: there's little dirty washing on display, it's entertaining and Collins clearly lo It's taken a few days to settle in, but I think I've got a handle on what I think of this biog beyond the 4 stars. Biographies are hard to judge as they are balancing acts of sucking up to the protagonist and dishing the dirt, between being entertaining and sifting facts. There are good ones out there, but there are far more bad biogs cluttering up the shelves. In theory this feels like it's in the latter category: there's little dirty washing on display, it's entertaining and Collins clearly loves Bragg to the extent he admits that they are friends, making objectivity a concern. As it turns out, these are all by-products of the Bragg persona rather than a poorly-written biog. What comes across is that the Bard of Barking is just so bloody ace, to the extent even the few people who could bear a grudge still clearly love and respect him. Take out the dirt and you're left with a highly amusing, in-depth and inspiring life-story. Okay it won't appeal to those who can't see beyond his Tory-baiting media caricature, but for the committed Bragg fan this is rich and fertile ground to remind yourself why you loved him in the first place, and just what a bloody good bloke he is.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Steve

    If you are a Billy Bragg fan this is a great read. Wasn't sure how many stars to give this one really, in terms of the way it's written I'd say five stars. It's an engaging style and often has cross references to Billy's songs and political events. In terms of how well it kept me interested I'd say three stars so I averaged out at four, though to be fair, this is more about me than the book. The first third of the book that deals with Billy growing up and his early years is really interesting for If you are a Billy Bragg fan this is a great read. Wasn't sure how many stars to give this one really, in terms of the way it's written I'd say five stars. It's an engaging style and often has cross references to Billy's songs and political events. In terms of how well it kept me interested I'd say three stars so I averaged out at four, though to be fair, this is more about me than the book. The first third of the book that deals with Billy growing up and his early years is really interesting for a fan like me and I especially like his early stuff and stopped listening much after the mid 1980s. However, the rest of the book is well written but it's hard for the biographer to avoid the inevitable sequence of years and starting to list and cover all the events of Billy's life. Where this crossed with political or social events it was really interesting but when it was just a listing of different record deals and releases and staffing changes etc it was less so. Great for a real music buff but not my cup of tea.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Allan Heron

    There's a lot to enjoy in this biography of Bragg. It provides a more nuanced view of his music and his politics than tend to come over in the general press, music or otherwise. Having said that, Collins still fails to dig deeper into some of the inherent contradictions and paradoxes about things like the Miners strike. This was the fourth edition of the book that I read, but the additions are almost literally that. Little editing seems to have been done on earlier chapters - references to what w There's a lot to enjoy in this biography of Bragg. It provides a more nuanced view of his music and his politics than tend to come over in the general press, music or otherwise. Having said that, Collins still fails to dig deeper into some of the inherent contradictions and paradoxes about things like the Miners strike. This was the fourth edition of the book that I read, but the additions are almost literally that. Little editing seems to have been done on earlier chapters - references to what was then current remain and that can be a bit jarring. Collins' constant punning and jokes may not appeal to everyone. I'd rather he spent more time weeding out many of the, admittedly, minor errors that are noticable in the book to geeks like me.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Russ

    Earnest, warm, and easy to read, I enjoyed my time with Andrew Collin’s Billy Bragg biography and would recommend it if you’re a fan of the socially conscious songwriter or if you’re just looking for something a little hopeful and nice.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Alec Downie

    I love Billy but this book was just too safe, despite having great access and research, it was clear the author was more fan than documenting the history. Still worth the read.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Tony

    Artists like Billy Bragg need to be treasured. Not to everyone’s taste I’m sure but has always struck me as trying to do the right thing. An essential volume if you are a fan. Essential.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Tim Chaplin

    Billy Bragg is one of those blokes who could be described as a national treasure. He has entertained with his own songs influenced by Punk and Folk music. He has been involved in many political campaigns through the eighties to the present day. This book is the updated 2007 edition of the biography that describes his time in the army and the time in his early band Riff-Raff at the height of Punk. It also covers his family background and the early death of his father. This influenced him to write Billy Bragg is one of those blokes who could be described as a national treasure. He has entertained with his own songs influenced by Punk and Folk music. He has been involved in many political campaigns through the eighties to the present day. This book is the updated 2007 edition of the biography that describes his time in the army and the time in his early band Riff-Raff at the height of Punk. It also covers his family background and the early death of his father. This influenced him to write the song ‘Tank Park Salute’ on’ Don’t Try This at Home’. He emerged in the 1980s in the days of Margaret Thatcher and the Cold War, just before Glasnost and the fall of the Berlin Wall. Bragg was influential in the formation of Red Wedge and suggested the name from a poster by the Russian constructivist El Lissistsky (Beat The Whites With The Red Wedge). This was the group of comedians and musicians who were attracting the youth vote for Neil Kinnock and The Labour Party. Red wedge included performers such as Porky The Poet – better known today as Phil Jupitas, The Style Council, and amongst others Tom Robinson and Jerry Dammers. Red Wedge was successful in upping the youth vote but it was also a victim of the in-fighting at the time between those trying to elect a Labour government after years of conservative rule, and those like Militant and The Labour Party Young Socialists who were more obsessed with ideology that could sometimes be counter productive. This is best summed up by Paul Weller who was unsure whether to be involved in Red Wedge. In one amusing story he said he was made to feel guilty for talking about each other’s shoes, as clothes are a ‘bourgeois trapping’. The term ‘Champagne Socialists’ was later used in a similar way a dig at MPs with Upper Middle Class lifestyles and socialist convictions. Weller became apolitical after this and went on to a solo career but Bragg continued his involvement in various political campaigns. The early days of Bragg on Go-Discs includes label mates the Housemartin's. The Housemartin's managed to mix pop with politics but Bragg became concerned about the attention that fame can bring. This kind of attention led to the decline of the Housemartin's when the press started to run celebrity type stories, particularly The Sun who ran a story that two of the Housemartin's were gay (a crime in the eyes of the tabloids at this time). The story was untrue but it was a warning about the price of fame. Bragg though managed to survive this world and left Go-Discs when it was in the process of being taken over by the major label Polygram. Bragg’s performances on Top of The Pops stood out against the world of DJs like Steve Wright and the false party like atmosphere. He made sessions for Peel in the BBC studio and Peel Mansions, and made appearances on Question Time and even The Weakest Link (surprising himself by getting to The Weakest Link Champion of Champions). Although he disagreed with Tony Blair’s support for the war in Iraq he continued to work with Labour MP’s realising that it’s difficult to work with politicians to try and change things without getting your hands dirty. He became involved in Lords Reform and Charter 88. He made a DVD to send to MPs called ‘Apathy into Action’ and suggested reforms in ‘a Democratic Lords: The third stage’ this was in association with the Fabian Society. He has supported tactical voting and helped the Liberal Democrats in 2001, arguing that voting for a traditional party wouldn’t change things and it would unseat Oliver Letwin. He more or less took over the stories in the local newspaper the Bridport news during the elections. Bragg also got into book writing. He had been disillusioned by the way people in his old home town returned BNP members into power in Barking, After writing the album English Half English and the single ‘Take Down The Union Jack’ he later wrote the book ‘The progressive Patriot’ to continue his obsession on English identity after appearing on TV discussions about this subject. Bragg continues to make music. He still loves Woody Guthrie after his association with Woody Guthrie’s daughter Nora and the band Wilco recording songs with them. He is also hosting a Woody Guthrie Centenary shortly at The South Bank Centre. He continues to write for The Guardian and for his own blog. He still supports many causes such as electoral reform and he supports new artists like Frank Turner who continue the tradition of libertarian pop singers. This is a great book and makes me glad that we still have people like Billy Bragg who continues the tradition of protest singers.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Kimberly

    Just finished reading this bio for the second time. I'm glad I re-read it - there's a lot I hadn't remembered. It was thoroughly enjoyable. Definitely for the Bragg fan, though, not for a general audience. And for the Bragg fan, it's just GREAT. Bill comes off as such a nice guy, *genuinely*. I mean, the book's definitely written by a fan, but Collins (no relation, btw) does try to get across to his reader that this is no hagiography, and he includes criticisms of Bragg as well as accounts of so Just finished reading this bio for the second time. I'm glad I re-read it - there's a lot I hadn't remembered. It was thoroughly enjoyable. Definitely for the Bragg fan, though, not for a general audience. And for the Bragg fan, it's just GREAT. Bill comes off as such a nice guy, *genuinely*. I mean, the book's definitely written by a fan, but Collins (no relation, btw) does try to get across to his reader that this is no hagiography, and he includes criticisms of Bragg as well as accounts of some prickly situations professionally and personally. And still, Braggy comes off as a really nice guy (tm). He could've been a millionaire, too (is one of the things that really stuck w/me upon the re-reading) if he'd simply cashed in his shares of Go!Discs and kept the money...which he thought he hadn't earned & wanted to give away to the RSPCA, but luckily Pete Jenner (his manager) said, (according to Collins), "Let's be a little more creative" and they came up with a trust that would give the money from selling his shares in the record company to Go!'s employees, should the record company ever lay off employees and/or sell out to a bigger company (both of which DID happen) or go bust...and the money from Bragg's shares was a secret (for the most part) that employees didn't even know about...until they received windfall severance checks from the trust! So, yes. He's a socialist who (as all socialists SHOULD) understands capitalism AND puts his money where his politics are! Go Billy. If only more people in the record business were like him.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Glorious

    They say that James brown was the hardest working man in music, but the Bard of Barking, Billy Bragg gives him a run for his money. It's quite breathtaking to read about Billy's constant gigging and fundraising on the road. The man toured constantly for the best part of ten years (and still does today) and his work ethic should be an inspiration for any musician wanting to make it in the music industry. Still politically motivated, the self-proclaimed 'One-Man Clash' will continue to vote Labour They say that James brown was the hardest working man in music, but the Bard of Barking, Billy Bragg gives him a run for his money. It's quite breathtaking to read about Billy's constant gigging and fundraising on the road. The man toured constantly for the best part of ten years (and still does today) and his work ethic should be an inspiration for any musician wanting to make it in the music industry. Still politically motivated, the self-proclaimed 'One-Man Clash' will continue to vote Labour but is no longer a member of the Labour party. When I saw him in Glasgow three years ago he said "I'm not New Labour... i'm not Old Labour... i'm organised labour." His support for any cause no matter how small is admirable and to see him go to such great lengths really makes me ask myself what I should be doing. Sure, I don't want to change the world...

  13. 4 out of 5

    James

    Billy Bragg, a punkfolkanrachosocialistpunter, may not be known to many in the US, but if you know him, you know how much he matters. Collins writes a thorough, engaging biography of an artist growing through the decades, from punk to Cool Britannia and beyond.Billy's very involved, but that only hells the reader get a better sense of him. And helps him pop any pop star mystery bubbles that might form. This is for fans, if not the faithful. Well worth the read.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Nick Sheridan

    Entertaining and endearing, although beginning and end chapters can be a little slow. Paints a good picture of British music and the UK at the time, while maintaining the sense of Billy's character throughout.

  15. 5 out of 5

    matt

    whether you're a fan of billy or not, this is the official story of bragg; history, politics, and music. "the story of post-war britain, of punk rock and thatcherism"

  16. 5 out of 5

    Ciaran Finnegan

    Everyone needs to rekindle their love for Billy Bragg every now and then, as Paul Heaton once said, and this book is the perfect source.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Haylee

    All about BB. I loved it!

  18. 5 out of 5

    Sticks Phillips

  19. 5 out of 5

    Mark Armstrong

  20. 5 out of 5

    Dan Shea

  21. 5 out of 5

    Severus Tenenbaum

  22. 5 out of 5

    John

  23. 5 out of 5

    Keith

  24. 5 out of 5

    Mike

  25. 5 out of 5

    jennet wheatstonelllsl Proc

  26. 5 out of 5

    Norman Oxlade

  27. 5 out of 5

    Keith Shankland

  28. 4 out of 5

    Sean Roe

  29. 5 out of 5

    Paul England

  30. 4 out of 5

    Darrien

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