Ma­ligned mu­sic move­ment of the 1950s. But Tower and seis­mic po­lit­i­cal shifts back home

Irish Independent - Weekend Review - - FRONT PAGE - Roots, Rad­i­cals and Rock­ers: How Sk­if­fle Changed the World pub­lished by Faber & Faber is out now

evolved by the time they came to record­ing any­thing. And some of them were a bit dis­mis­sive of it later, sim­ply be­cause they didn’t want to think about the sort of songs they had writ­ten when they were 14 or 15. I’m not sure I’d want any­one to hear what kind of mu­sic I was do­ing then.” The book fo­cuses on the genre’s most suc­cess­ful pro­po­nent, Lon­nie Done­gan. Mu­sic his­to­ri­ans of­ten dis­miss Done­gan as a nov­elty act — he topped the charts in 1960 with ‘My Old Man’s a Dust­man’, a fact that does not help his cause — but Bragg in­sists that he was a proto-rock star who was enor­mously in­flu­en­tial. “For a time, he was up there with Elvis and Tommy Steele,” he says. “I spoke to Van Mor­ri­son for the book, and he told me what an im­pact Done­gan had had on him when he was a boy of 12 or 13.” Years ago, shortly be­fore Done­gan died, Bragg got to meet him. He was in the com­pany of the late BBC DJ John Peel, and was struck by how awed Peel was of the ag­ing star. “He was silent for much of the meet­ing and told me later just how much Done­gan had meant to him. When you hear peo­ple like John Peel talk of an­other so rev­er­en­tially it makes you want to re­ally dis­cover them, and Done­gan was a very sig­nif­i­cant fig­ure. He doesn’t get the credit he de­serves.” Bragg, who turns 60 later this year, was born in 1957 in Es­sex at the height of sk­if­fle’s pop­u­lar­ity, al­though it would be many years be­fore the genre had an im­pact on him. He was in his late teens when punk came along. At­tend­ing a Clash gig in 1977 would be an epiphanic mo­ment as he saw how ef­fec­tive it would be to ar­tic­u­late rage in song. He’s been do­ing that ever since the re­lease of his po­lit­i­cally charged de­but al­bum Life’s a Riot With Spy Vs Spy, even if he’s some­times known by that damn­ing so­bri­quet, Song­writer’s Song­writer. The night be­fore we meet, Bragg had been in Lon­don to un­veil a plaque to David Bowie out­side Tri­dent, the stu­dio where both Hunky Dory and The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Star­dust and the Spi­ders from Mars were recorded.

Bragg bought both those al­bums shortly af­ter they came out in the early 1970s and he would soon be be­sot­ted by a third Bowie al­bum, Aladdin Sane. “One of the great things about him was that he showed the world what mas­culin­ity could be,” he says. “You didn’t have to be a rugby player, you didn’t have to be Char­lie Ge­orge [an Arse­nal foot­baller from the 1970s]. You could be your­self, or what they used to say in the school­yard back then, ‘A bit bent’. Bowie was his own man and the mu­sic... well the mu­sic was great, wasn’t it?”

De­spite his book on sk­if­fle, Bragg says he does not like to be nos­tal­gic about the past, but talk of Bowie has got him to lament one thing about mod­ern cul­ture. “Mu­sic isn’t to the fore­front for kids the way it used to be,” he says. “It used to be all-en­com­pass­ing, be­cause for many it was mu­sic or noth­ing. Today, there’s an abun­dance of choice and mu­sic has been squeezed.”

But he says his pas­sion for new mu­sic re­mains as charged today as it was when he first picked up an elec­tric gui­tar. “I don’t want to be one of those old guys talk­ing about how ev­ery­thing was so much bet­ter in my day and, any­way, peo­ple have rose-tinted specs on when they think of the past. “Today, you’ve all th­ese peo­ple talk­ing about how great Abba were, but many didn’t see that at the time. I’ll ad­mit that ‘SOS’ is an in­cred­i­ble song, but a lot of it was dis­pos­able pop. There’s great mu­sic out there today. You just have to be will­ing to try a lit­tle

harder to find it.”

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