The Lexington is a beautiful venue: one of the old-style London pubs with enormous windows that I would love to draw, no less live in. It was about a 15-minute walk from St Pancras, then through a side door and up the stairs into a very small venue - about half the size of where I saw Nick Cave, though about the same number of people made up the audience in the end.
Billy's fans are so clearly the kids of the Eighties. There were a few younger people, but the vast majority of us were mid-forties. Mainly male, actually; many with beer bellies and bald heads, many dressed in pristine gig t-shirts in shades of khaki, and many who spent the gig in a state of reverence, eyes closed, lip-syncing to the music.
Without any pushing at all on my behalf, I ended up in a position front and centre; it was a well-behaved audience, and it was simply that no-one else had taken that spot. Andrew Collins was DJing, but as I'm clearly not up on my cultural icons, I'm afraid this meant nothing to me until I got home to Wikipedia.
Bragg's newly-assembled band took their places on the small stage, and he welcomed us, apologised for having a nasty chest infection, and we were off with Ideology.
Now, I don't know much about musical theory, or playing music, but the instruments on that stage were a delight to watch and listen to. Apart from Billy's several guitars, including the ones that make his trademark early-career clunking chords, there was one of these - apparently called a pedal guitar, and really a couple of guitar necks laid horizontal, and plucked.
And something that looked like a double bass after it had been on a severe diet.
Billy's particularly adept at affable chat between songs, and the anecdotes ran free - from when he met the Queen, largely to confound people's expectations and to please his mum, to how Johnny Marr was the hands-down nicest person he met in the whole of the Eighties. And you get the feeling niceness counts for a lot in the Bragg universe. He was basically as twinkly-eyed, beardy and jokey as you'd want your middle-aged icon of pop to be.
Here's the set list - where I haven't mentioned the album, it's from the new one that this tour is promoting:
Ideology (Talking with the Taxman about Poetry)
No One Knows Nothing Anymore
Way Over Yonder In The Minor Key (from Mermaid Avenue)
Do Unto Others
All You Fascists (Mermaid Avenue vol II - not a song I particularly enjoy normally, but great live)
Swallow My Pride
The Space Race Is Over (William Bloke)
My Flying Saucer (Mermaid Avenue vol II)
Valentine's Day Is Over (Workers' Playtime)
There Will Be A Reckoning
Sexuality (Don't Try This At Home)
I Ain't Got No Home
and then, for an encore:
Waiting For The Great Leap Forwards (Workers' Playtime)
As I mentioned [friends-locked post], my first brush with Billy was back in the Red Wedge days; his work on Woody Guthrie songs put him firmly back on my radar, and these days his work is particularly familiar to me because of two things: several of his more upbeat tracks come round routinely on my running playlist; and he also features quite a lot on Item's go-to-sleep playlist.
The very final track was great for me, because every lyric accords with a distinct part of Sheepcote Valley, and it's not overstating the case to say that some of those lines have distracted me well enough to push me to greater heights when I really just want to come to a halt.
How funny it must be, releasing music into the world, and imagining people taking it out on their little devices and listening to it in all sorts of different circumstances, from lonely, late-night bus rides, to sweaty runs across fells, to who knows where and with what emotional backdrop.
I mean, that must have been true of vinyl, and radio, too, but I imagine the potential circumstances were a little more limited: nightclubs, bedrooms, and shops, with perhaps a play as the background music in the cafe in Eastenders about as noteworthy as it got.
As a final treat, we were all handed a t-shirt as we left. Khaki-coloured, of course. ;)
A couple of hours later, as I went to get into bed, I found a card on my pillow. Item had made it for me to say that she'd missed me, and she'd drawn a picture of Billy.
Not a bad likeness at all, actually, so it's funny that it was done entirely from imagination.