Live: Billy Bragg & Joe Henry @ The New Theatre Royal 12/11/2016

With xenophobia, sexism and the hatred spread by right-wing extremists an escalating problem once more within society, voices such as Billy Bragg have never needed to shout louder. Having spread his messages from picket lines to arenas, Bragg has affixed himself as a household name for those looking to escape political imbalance.

2016 saw Bragg join ranks with American singer-songwriter Joe Henry, boarding the Texas Eagle for a four-day, 2,700 mile rail journey, stopping at ticket halls, waiting rooms and at trackside to record what would become their album, Shine A Light.

Taking to an eerily silent theatre stage, the two men take no time addressing the crowd before powering into a cover of the traditional American folk song, ‘Railroad Bill’. The two musicians work almost effortlessly together, the contrast of Essex and North Carolina drawls seamlessly blending into an entrancing spectacle.

The pair alternate between sharing the stage and claiming the spotlight for themselves, with Bragg going solo to play some crowd favourites such as ‘Accident Waiting To Happen’ and ‘There Is Power In A Union’ and Henry taking the time to introduce a mostly unfamiliar audience to his folk influenced style.

The night is a triumphant celebration of protest, and with jokes about Trump’s recent presidency claim and Brexit taking commonplace in the set, a more delicate moment is taken to pay tribute to the late Leonard Cohen. When Henry admits he wouldn’t even attempt to cover a Cohen track, the laughs of the theatre are tinged with sadness at the loss of a great.

In such an increasingly troubled political climate with no imminent promise of improvement, Bragg and Henry’s performance brings a glimpse of hope to a room filled with those who need it.


Words by Maddy Howell

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