About Billy Bragg - One Step Forward, Two Steps Back
Stephen William Bragg is an English singer-songwriter and left-wing activist. His music blends elements of folk music, punk rock and protest songs, with lyrics that mostly span political or romantic themes. His music is heavily centred on bringing about change and involving the younger generation in activist causes.
Bragg was born in 1957 in Barking, Essex, one of the sons of Dennis Frederick Austin Bragg, an assistant sales manager to a Barking cap maker and milliner, and his wife Marie Victoria D'Urso, who was of Italian descent. Bragg's father died of lung cancer in 1976, and his mother in 2011.
Bragg was educated at Northbury Junior School and Park Modern Secondary School ) in Barking, where he failed his eleven-plus exam, effectively precluding him from going to university. However he developed an interest in poetry at the age of twelve, when his English teacher chose him to read a poem he had written for a homework assignment on a local radio station. He put his energies into learning and practising the guitar with his next-door neighbour, Philip Wigg ; some of their influences were the Faces, Small Faces and the Rolling Stones. He was also exposed to folk and folk-rock music during his teenage years, citing Simon & Garfunkel and Bob Dylan as early influences on his songwriting.
Bragg was particularly influenced by the Clash, whom he'd seen play live in London in May 1977 on their White Riot Tour, and again at a Rock Against Racism carnival in April 1978, which he admits was the first time he really stepped into the world of music as it is used for political activism. The experience of the gig and preceding march helped shape Bragg's left-wing politics, having previously "turned a blind eye" to casual racism.
In 1977 Bragg formed the punk rock/pub rock band Riff Raff with Wiggy. The band decamped to rural Oundle in Northamptonshire in 1978 to record a series of singles which did not receive wide exposure. After a period of gigging in Northamptonshire and London, they returned to Barking and split in 1980. Taking a series of odd jobs including working at Guy Norris' record shop in Barking high street. Bragg became disillusioned with his stalled music career and in May 1981 joined the British Army as a recruit destined for the Queen's Royal Irish Hussars of the Royal Armoured Corps. After completing three months' basic training, he bought himself out for £175 and returned home.
Bragg peroxided his hair to mark a new phase in his life and began performing frequent concerts and busking around London, playing solo with an electric guitar under the name Spy vs Spy .
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