Call up the craftsmen, bring me the draftsmen
Build me a path from cradle to grave
And I’ll give my consent to any government
That does not deny a man a living wage
Go find the young men never to fight again
Bring up the banners from the days gone by
Sweet moderation, heart of this nation
Desert us not, we are between the wars
from Between The Wars by Billy Bragg
I’ve been a huge fan of Mr Bragg ever since I saw him standing alone with his guitar on Top of the Pops in 1985. He struck the opening chords of Between the Wars, launched into the first line with that extraordinary voice, and that was it. I was instantly hooked. He was wearing ordinary jeans and a shirt, the sort of thing that anyone might wear. And the song was about something, something important. You’d have to be familiar with what an episode of TOTP typically looked and sounded like in 1985 to realise quite how extraordinary this was.
Goodness, he looks so incredibly young. If that clip doesn’t break your heart, I declare that you have no heart to be broken.
Fair enough you’re probably saying, she has a thing about mournful young men with guitars (which is undeniably true), but what has this to do with National Poetry Day?
Well, for me, the words of Bragg’s songs have always been an important part of his appeal. They’re clever, and witty, and sometimes incredibly moving. Just like poems, in fact. Rather thrillingly, Faber and Faber have recognised this, and they are publishing a collection of his selected lyrics.
Look! It looks like a proper poetry book and everything. I can’t tell you how excited I am about this. My copy is already on pre-order, and I’m anxiously awaiting publication on 4th November.
The lines I’ve chosen are from Between the Wars, in recognition of that first encounter with something extraordinary . I think they’re probably as relevant and important now as they were back then, in the midst of the miners’ strike. Happy National Poetry Day.
*For those who do not worship at the altar of Bragg, the pint of beer and the new tattoo feature in the lyrics of his 1986 single Greetings to the New Brunette: “I’m celebrating my love for you with a pint of beer and a new tattoo.” One of my favourites, to the extent that it was played at our wedding. Yes, really.