Concert review – Billy Bragg

Twenty five years on from the release of his debut album, Billy Bragg was in Stockholm at on Saturday night for a sell-out concert at Södra Teatern. David Bartram was there.

Concert review - Billy Bragg

Quite who should be going to a Billy Bragg concert even Billy Bragg probably doesn’t know. The audience at the old Södra Theatre in Stockholm seems equally confused, and for every kid dreaming of revolution there is a middle-aged couple looking for a quiet night out.

Södra Teatern is a long way from his roots – busking in a London Underground tunnel – but it is as tall as it is deep and creates the sort of cosy venue he thrives in, even if he does look a little perplexed by the surroundings as he takes to the stage alone.

When Bragg belts out opener “The World Turned Upside Down,” a song about 17th century English radicals the Diggers, one suspects that the audience only relates to part of the lyric: “We are free men though we are poor.”

One over exuberant youngster tries to sing along with the refrain, but is swiftly told to pipe down by a man sitting adjacent. Perhaps after 25 years on the road, the old maxim that you don’t go to a Billy Bragg show to hear him sing no longer applies.

Bragg jokes that, “you don’t get this in a shitty rock and roll club,” after the fully seated crowd politely applauds, but as he sips a cup of tea in between songs there is little to suggest he misses much about them.

New material is interspersed throughout. “People tell me that the new album is a lot more soulful, but actually it is just because I recorded it in my bathroom,” he quips before launching into a song about faith. The audience has to pinch themselves that it is Bragg and not a Christian rock act before them.

Of course the message has always been more important than the music as far as Bragg is concerned, but long diatribes between each pair of songs gets tiresome, even though he is as comfortable chatting behind the microphone as he is singing.

A ten minute ramble about Woody Guthrie, clearly a hero of Bragg’s, precedes a cover of “Ingrid Bergman.” The song, a patent attempt to curry favour with the Swedish audience, goes down well but the show fails to gather momentum as songs are sacrificed for chatter.

At least Bragg has maintained a sense of humour during a career of protest, and at times you could be forgiven for thinking you were watching a stand-up comic in action, especially given the surroundings.

The biggest cheer of the night comes when Bragg turns the fade out of “There is Power in a Union” into the opening chords of the White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army” – something which perhaps betrays the true loyalties of those in attendance.

But the crowd becomes more receptive as the evening reaches a climax, and by the time of the encore – a rousing rendition of “A New England” – Bragg leaves it to the audience to sing the chorus, and at least some of them comply.


Malmö performance of Mahler’s Fifth ends in brawl

A fist fight broke out at a performance of Gustav Mahler's Symphony No.5 in Malmö on Thursday night, after a listener was sent into a rage by another rustling a bag of gum.

Malmö performance of Mahler's Fifth ends in brawl
Andris Nelsons and Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra. Photo: Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra
The conflict began shortly after the renowned Latvian conductor Andris Nelsons brought the bombastic introduction to the fourth movement to a shuddering halt, leading his Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra deftly into the movement's slow, atmospheric adagietto, wrote the Sydsvenskan newspaper.
At this point that the rustling on the second balcony became apparent, ruining the effect of the gently soaring strings and softly plucked harp for all sitting nearby. 
After a few minutes, a young man sitting next to the woman with the chewing gum lost patience, snatched the bag from her hands and threw it to the floor. 
A witness told the Sydsvenskan that the woman had appeared chastened, sitting in silence throughout the rest of the 70-minute romantic epic, the performance of which has been likened to climbing Mount Everest. 
The moment the music stopped, however, she took her revenge. 
“When the applause broke out, the woman turned towards the man and said something,” Britt Aspenlind, who was sitting two rows behind the pair, told the newspaper. “The woman gave the younger man a slap right in his face. He became angry and started fighting back.” 
Another witness said that the blow had been powerful enough to knock the man's glasses from his face. The woman's companion, an older man, then seized him by his shirt, and began to throw punches in his direction. 
Olof Jönsson, who was sitting in the row behind, described the onslaught as “a violent attack”. “It was very unpleasant actually. I've never seen anything like it,” he told Sydsvenskan. 
Eventually, the other audience members managed to calm the two sides down and they went home. 
After news of the brawl was published in Sydsvenskan, the concert venue Malmö Live posted a light-hearted list of concert etiquette. 
“Everyone thinks it is wonderful to sit at a hockey or football match and drink a beer or coffee and eat little snacks…” it said. “In a concert hall with world class acoustics it is not however suitable to bring rustling bags of crisps.” 
Anna-Maria Havskogen, the venue's communication chief, said she had felt that this was a rare moment when the venue could bring such matters to the public's attention. 
“We seized the opportunity and felt that it was a good situation to write something up about etiquette and correct behaviour,” she said. “Normally we have no such misbehaviour, you could say, but we realized the news value.” 
Asked whether the venue had other concerts planned which might be considered high risk, Havskogen initially said there were none, before following up with a text message sent to the newspaper. 
“Possibly Verdi's Requiem on November 1st and 2nd could be a high-risk concert actually,” she wrote. “Extremely powerful, will awaken strong feelings….”