|Billy and his band on stage in a converted church|
First off, thank GOODNESS I went to this concert with someone had a newish cell phone. Not me, I hasten to add, my cell phone is too antiquated for such innovations. There was a sticky moment when the person sitting next to the person taking the photo expressed her disapproval that the person with the cell phone was taking photographs. "It's wrong," she said, with a look. Fortunately, our need to document the moment prevailed. Me, I don't think it's wrong at all: I think of it as free publicity for Mr Bragg and his Marvelous Musical Tour. Who knows, maybe the sight of that lovely set (in what was once a Methodist church) will spur people to snap up tickets for the concerts soon coming their way.
Which they should.
I suppose I should preface this review by saying that while I have long had a crush on our man Bill, and even own several cassettes (CASSETTE: a rectangular box with magical tape that plays music) and CDs of his music, I do not know the words to every single one of his songs. Last night I wished I did, because at several points he offered up the mike to the audience, who, being nice polite Canadians, obliged as much as they felt able (softly and very politely at first, later getting a little more courage to sing louder).
While we were waiting for the concert to start my cell phone mate and I discussed which songs we'd like to hear (me: Life With Lions, The Great Leap Forward, Valentine's Day Is Over, The Boy Done Good; him: The Short Answer, The Price I Pay). Richard amused himself with his Billy Bragg London Accent imitations, which I find charming but which drive Max nuts ("Why does Dad keep DOING THAT?" he says to me). We shifted around a lot in our pews in the balcony, which got hotter and hotter as the night wore on. There was even A Moment, 45 minutes after the concert should have started, when some of the nice polite Canadians started clapping, rather pointedly and hopefully, but being nice polite Canadians, soon stopped in case they offended someone.
Then Billy came out, to enormous applause. He was, like his audience, a little older and a little greyer, but it was obvious that we were the Emma Thompson to his Love Actually: We love him, and true love lasts a lifetime. He sang, he chatted, he appeared bemused by the presence of the Queen on our currency, he swore (I was heartened to see that he liked saying "fuck" and "shit" as much as I do), he made pointed remarks about a soccer player-turned-manager in England, he told a funny story about the Queen ("there are not very many things I've done in my life that impress my mum"), announced the demise of the goatee and the resurgence of the full beard ("my beard is a middle-aged face lift...hiding a multitude of chins"), and generally charmed the socks off everyone in the theatre. We even cheered when he mentioned the fact that he was drinking Throat Coat tea to soothe his throat (told you we were nice and polite).
And along the way he complimented us in the way we like best: by telling us that Canada is markedly different from America (we're more European AND we know how to make a decent cup of tea). We didn't get to hear Life With Lions but we did get an updated version of The Great Leap Forward ("One leap forward, two leaps back, we've got to free Pussy Riot!"). We also got a brief lesson in how alliteration trumps grammar when it comes to song writing, before he launched into Nobody Knows Nothing Anymore.
And when he said goodnight we stomped and clapped and hooted until he came back and gave us a few more songs. Then we all walked smiling into the night. Be still my beating heart.