Since the arrival of his 1983 debut LP, Life’s A Riot With Spy Vs. Spy, Billy Bragg has carved a singular path through England’s songwriter landscape. With songs such as “A New England,” “Levi Stubbs’ Tears,” and “There Is Power In A Union” Bragg draws equally from Woody Guthrie’s working-class Americana anthems and Joe Strummer’s indomitable punk spirit to flesh out his own distinctly British take on love songs and left-wing politics. His songs are bound by punk’s instincts and intellect, but every melody resonates with warmth and human compassion.

Bragg is also the author of several books, including his two most recent titles, The Three Dimensions of Freedom and Roots, Radicals, and Rockers: How Skiffle Changed the World (Faber & Faber). The Three Dimensions of Freedom functions like a good power-pop song. Bragg strips away any unnecessary verbiage to riff on the nuances and responsibilities that freedom of expression requires in a healthy society: liberty, equality, and, most importantly, accountability. It’s a Pocket-sized counterpart to Roots, Radicals, and Rockers, which offers a deep dive into the phenomenon of skiffle—the U.K.’s proto rockabilly phenomenon—that swept over the U.K. in the wake of World War II.

Although each of these books delve into wholly different realms of writing and research, each one is connected by a subconscious arc that is the need for human expression, from the personal to the political—from Lead Belly writing songs to governors in the 1920s begging for a prison pardon in Roots, Radicals, and Rockers, to exploring how post-Internet perceptions of freedom of speech have evolved in the U.S. and the U.K.

After calling off an Australian tour to help slow the spread of the COVID-19 outbreak, on May 6, Bragg joined me via Zoom for an A Cappella Books-sponsored conversation and audience Q&A. Press play above to view our discussion about the influence of punk rock on Bragg’s music and writing, the idea of separating the art from the artist, and the enduring power of empathy.

A Cappella Books has a limited supply of each book with signed bookplates. Check the shop’s website for details.

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