We all know the story. Stephen William Bragg, former leader of punk band Riff-Raff (whose song I Wanna Be A Cosmonaut conspicuously fails to turn up in Channel 4’s 100 best-selling singles list), bought himself out of the army (calling it the wisest £175 he’d ever spent), grabbed his guitar and amp, and gigged for just about anybody, releasing an LP on Charisma’s Utility label (Charisma being home at one time to those radical cut-throats Genesis) called LIfe’s A Riot With Spy Vs. Spy.
One night, JP happened to mention on air that he was hungry. Showing the ultimate in initiative, Bragg made his way to the BBC with a mushroom biryani for the hungry DJ, who reciprocated by playing a track from the aforementioned platter at the wrong speed (uncharacteristically, it had been pressed at 45 rpm, something also done by the Cocteau Twins on Victorialand, I think). Peel later insisted that he would have played the track without being fed, and to prove it, played it again (at the right speed). John also invited him to record a Peel session, and the rest…
In 1986, Talking With The Taxman About Poetry was a Top 10 album, mainly due to the success of the single Levi Stubbs’ Tears (FF 1986 #24) which made no. 29 in the UK charts. This was the first single I ever bought of his (the Four Tops metaphor extending to a cover of Walk Away Renee on the flip side), and my opinion of him now is the same as it was then: flat singing combined with finely-wrought lyrics makes for compelling storytelling. It is an allegory of how Stubbs’ voice (which always sounds on the edge of tears) mirrors the tragedy in ordinary people’s lives (‘With the money from her accident she bought herself a mobile home/So at least she could get some enjoyment out of being alone’). Greetings To The New Brunette (FF 1986 #41) is a more cheerful and undeniably catchy number that opened the album.
Buy: Billy Bragg, Talking With The Taxman About Poetry