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Blog: Billy Bragg Mastertapes

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I met Mr S Hewitt last night in leafy Maida Vale (actually nearer to Warwick Avenue station, and thus I STILL have the song "Warwick Avenue" in my BRANE this morning) for a swift pint before heading up to Maida Vale Studio to see the recording of a new Radio 4 series called "Mastertapes", where they talk to musicians about the making of one of their albums. This was the first one, and would feature Billy Bragg discussing "Talking To The Taxman About Poetry".

We arrived at the studio to find a queue - we didn't really need to ask whether it was OUR queue, one GLANCE told you this was a Billy Bragg audience. After the traditional Slightly Too Long A Wait we shuffled in, and everyone took it in turns to dash to the LOO - being the aforesaid Billy Bragg audience AGE GROUP we'd all got a bit anxious in the queue!

The show was due to start at 7.30pm, and the tickets said it would be over by 10.30pm, which seemed a LONG time. The main "Mastertapes" show is half an hour long, and would feature the main interview (with some songs performed), but there'd be ANOTHER show, also half an hour long, broadcast featuring audience questions. I know they record more than they USE for this sort of show, but surely we'd be done by 9pm at the latest?

Of course, what I hadn't factored into my calculations was the fact that this was BILLY BRAGG, who is not exactly TACITURN. He had a LOT to say - every question got not only a full answer BUT also a couple of other full answers to questions that ought to come next. Just like at gigs he was THORT provoking, and also funny - there were loads of GAGS and a couple of really interesting NEW IDEAS. When someone asked him about the apparent lack of young political popstars he said that part of the reason was that there are so many MORE outlets for political activism these days. When he started out your only option was to write a song and go and do gigs, but now it's much easier to go on Facebook, or twitter, or make a YouTube video or ANYTHING. I hadn't thought of that!

What was especially lovely was how NERVOUS he clearly was without his usual prop of a SONG to go to after every remark. He did perform a couple of songs during the interview, and on nearly every occasion forgot the words and had to start again. It's nice to see a Proper Musician getting THE FEAR like this, also ENDEARING!

The second half of the show featured audience questions - we'd been asked to send in questions before we went, and I hadn't been able to think of anything... until the interview got going and I thought "I wonder how he works out his tracklist orders?" LUCKILY this very question was asked by Mr Phil Jupitus, who got a bit excited and KEPT asking questions!

At the end Billy was asked to do an extra song... and did FOUR! He was clearly RELIEVED to be able to return to What He Does (even saying so at the end) and at one point it seemed like he was NEVER GOING TO LEAVE. He did a whole batch of songs from the album, ending with "Greetings To The New Brunette" and it was BRILLIANT. It's a really good idea for a show, though goodness knows how they're going to edit it down to two half hours, there was a TONNE of stuff!

Afterwards we nipped to The Warrington for a cheeky pint before last orders. This was my brother's local when he lived in Maida Vale, and the last time I'd been there had been just after OUR Maida Vale session - something which, with ENORMOUS self-control, I had only mentioned ONCE the whole time we'd been there!

The programme is on at the end of October, I think - i wonder who they're getting on for the rest of the series?

posted 5/10/2012 by MJ Hibbett

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Once??? Pushing it! Let the record show it was three times but mainly in a self-deprecating kind of way...
posted 5/10/2012 by S Hewitt

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