national poetry day: between the wars by billy bragg

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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’m celebrating UK National Poetry Day not with a pint of beer and a new tattoo*, but with some lines from one of my favourite singer-songwriters, 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.

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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.


3 thoughts on “national poetry day: between the wars by billy bragg

  1. I do worship at Billy’s altar and I thank you for reminding me that no week should pass without playing him. Chapeau to you for having Greetings to the new Brunette at your wedding – inspired! By the way do you know/lke Patrik Fitzgerald?

  2. I do not know of Patrick Fitzgerald, but will do some googling forthwith – thanks for the tip.

  3. Thanks for posting this and effectively kick-starting my playlist for today. I loved Billy Bragg since a boyfriend introduced me to ‘Talking to the Taxman about Poetry’. The boyfriend has long gone, but my love affair with Billy Bragg (or at least his creativity) continues and his lyrics have become a huge part of the soundtrack of my life. Cheers, Su.

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