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Tracing the Post-War History of British Pop and Rock

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Singer and songwriter Billy Bragg is on a music and book tour with his history of Skiffle.  (Photo: Courtesy of the artist)

Billy Bragg is a British punk, roots rocker, and political and union activist, who this week’s Do List co-host Matias Tarnopolsky remembers for his eloquent protests when the conservative Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister. Now, he’s also a historian of the roots of pop music with his book Roots Radicals and Rockers: How Skiffle Changed the World. So he’s touring bookstores, and playing music gigs as well. It doesn’t seem fair that one man can do so much so well, and with so much charm.

Bragg was on Fresh Air a few weeks ago, and made the case that skiffle (this Lonnie Donegan video above is a prime example) was born in the 1950s, when, he says, British schoolboys started playing songs by Leadbelly, laying the foundation for British invasion bands like the Rolling Stones and the Beatles.

“For young men,” Bragg told Terry Gross, “what defines them as different from their parents is the guitar — picking up the guitar and playing this predominantly African-American roots music. And it defines them as completely different from what their parents are listening to and what’s on the radio at the time because youth culture was mediated by the BBC with a rather staid, kind of schoolmistress-y kind of attitude towards young people.”

Bragg appears at Book Passage in Corte Madera on Oct. 4; details here. And then he’s at the Crest Theater in Sacramento on Oct. 5, at Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Oct 6, and in a sold-out show at the Great American Music Hall Oct. 8. Details here.


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