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Billy Bragg in Holmfirth

Last night I went to Holmfirth to see the 'Bard of Barking', Billy Bragg at the Picturedrome.

A lovely sunny evening, I caught the 310 from Huddersfield Bus Station and after a surprisingly pleasant journey through the heavily-wooded Holme Valley, arrived in Holmfirth, which is gearing up for the Grand Depart, as indicated by the many little yellow bicycles and posters around the town.

The great thing about Holmfirth is the compact nature of the centre. Within a hundred yards or so of the Bus Station there are pubs, places to eat, and the town's main venue, the Picturedrome. A former cinema, it hosts a regular stream of popular and often established artists. Coming up in the next few months are acts like Gary Numan, the Levellers and Ian Hunter and the Rant Band, interspersed with names like Think Floyd and Let's Zep, who, I assume, are tribute acts. 

The Picturedrome, Holmfirth
First things first. A pint of Spotland Gold at the Brambles, pleasantly quiet for once, where I caught a bit of the football. Starting to feel decidedly peckish, I wandered on to Hollowgate Fisheries, which is up there as one of my favourite chippies of all time.

Hollowgate Fisheries, Holmfirth
Duly fed, I walked the 50 yards or so to the Nook, which despite extensions, its own brewery and a river terrace at the back, is still as Bohemian as it was when I first visited it back in the '70's. I decided to give the Nook beers a miss and opted instead for a pint of Black Iris Centennial, which was excellent, as have been all the beers I have tried from this Derby-based outfit.

I headed off to the Picturedrome to collect my ticket for Billy Bragg. Wristband on, I wandered next door to the Old Bridge Inn and was amazed at how it has been transformed from a fusty old small town hotel into a bright and vibrant venue which clearly attracts a fair proportion of the Holmfirth glitterati. A pint of Copper Dragon later, I went back to the Picturedrome in readiness for the appearance of Mr Bragg, catching the tail-end of the support act, Tristran somebody, who was OK.

I'd not seen Billy Bragg live before, but have been listening to him on and off for 30 years or so, first becoming aware of his music on 'Life's a Riot with Spy vs Spy', a 7 track LP with the sticker 'Pay no more than 99p for this album' on the sleeve.(I recently came across it, now re-issued as vinyl becomes trendy again, in HMV, Manchester, selling for £16.99. Needless to say, that sticker had disappeared!). Then, as now, it has generally been just Billy and his guitar, usually electric, and his voice, although he has collaborated with the likes of Wilco and Natalie Merchant.

With Billy Bragg, politics and ideology have always been closely entwined with the music. A left-wing activist to this day, he was involved with the Red Wedge alliance and has campaigned for countless causes over the years, from busking to stands against merchant bankers and more recently fracking. But whilst in songs like 'There is Power in a Union', this comes to the fore, his manner between songs is passionate without preaching and comes laced with much humour. His story of how Woody Guthrie wrote a song about Ingrid Bergmann with talk about 'tumescent manhood' had the audience in stitches. Somebody had also asked him why he had grown a beard to which he replied 'A full beard covers up a multitude of chins'.

We were treated to stirring versions of old favourites like 'Levi Stubbs' Tears', 'Greetings to the New Brunette' and 'Sexuality'. Ironically, his best known song 'New England' is more commonly associated with the late Kirsty McColl, who added an extra verse, and as Billy performed this as his final song, he sang this extra verse too to much applause from the crowd. He had been on for an hour and three quarters and the time had flown by. Well worth the admission money, and at one of my favourite venues too.

From there, it was a couple of minutes back to the bus station, and the 310 duly arrived to take us back to Huddersfield....

And here is Billy Bragg, performing 'Waiting for the Great Leap Forward', though not in Holmfirth....


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