Sometimes your awesome songs aren’t enough to get the attention of the people whose attention need getting. Sometimes you might need to employ a hook, or perhaps, even a crook, in order to grab them by the ears.
Welcome Billy Bragg! Or perhaps I should say….Stephen William!!
Yes, along with adopting a nom de troubadour, our Mr. Bragg utilized great duplicity, and later, Indian food to achieve his dreams. By any means necessary — isn’t that right, Stephen? By any means.
Billy Bragg started his first band in 1977, along with millions of other hopeful young ones in the UK at the time who had seen The Sex Pistols or The Clash. After achieving no success despite three years of hard work, the band folded and Bragg had to find odd jobs to make ends meet. Unsure of what else to do, he decided to join the Army — which lasted for about three months, until he bought himself out of his enlistment (which is a thing you can apparently do in the UK).
Picking up his guitar again, Bragg began busking on the street for change and recording demos. He sent tapes out to all the record companies in London, but after receiving no replies, decided stronger tactics – devious tactics, even – were necessary.
Posing as a TV repairman, Bragg managed to bluff his way into the offices of Peter Jenner at Charisma Records (Jenner had previously managed Pink Floyd and T. Rex, among others). Jenner liked Bragg’s songs but unfortunately had no money to offer since Charisma was going bankrupt. Luckily, Bragg had a deal with a publishing company to record demos of his songs (just his voice and electric rhythm guitar), so without the need to pay for studio time, Jenner offered to release these demos as Bragg’s first record in 1983.
So far, so good. But releasing a record for a company with no money also means you need to get creative with promotion. While listening to top indie DJ John Peel’s radio show one day, Bragg heard Peel mention that he was hungry. Immediately grasping the opportunity, Bragg grabbed a copy of his record, picked up some Indian food, and talked his way into the radio station, where a surprised Peel thanked him for the meal by playing a track off of his debut.
This song is not that track. By 1988, Billy Bragg had firmly established himself on the UK indie scene with his outspoken leftist politics and his powerful songs about the need for social change and about love gone wrong. Working with a full backing band for the first time, Bragg recorded Workers Playtime, a more fully-produced and sonically rich album of powerful songs about the need for social change and about love gone wrong.
The album also contains his signature ballad, “Must I Paint You A Picture.” But the only reason we’re even talking about this song, or about Billy Bragg, is because young Stephen William Bragg employed deception and bribery to get what he wanted. But hey, when you find yourself placed in a room with no doors, you must make your own door, whatever shape it may take.