Billy Bragg talks freedom, skiffle, and the enduring power of empathy

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.

Rad/ATL’s Hidden Hand podcast: An interview with Randall Frazier of Orbit Service

Orbit Service photo by Matt Condon

Welcome to another episode of Rad/ATL’s Hidden Hand podcast.

The music you’re listening to is “The Coldest Nights,” taken from Orbit Service’s sixth and most recent album titled The Door to the Sky.

Currently based in Bailey, Colorado — a small town in the mountains near Denver — Orbit Service is the name under which Randall Frazier has created music since the early aughts.

Over the years, Frazier has crafted a spacious and drifting sound that’s bound by a singular and textured quietude. His voice blends with atmospheric drones, improvisation, elegant post-rock songwriting, and musique concrete to a psychedelic effect.

I spoke with Frazier on October 16, 2019, shortly before Orbit Service shared the stage with the Legendary Pink Dots at the Masquerade in Atlanta — his fourth tour with the group. For this conversation we talked about creating space with music, life in Colorado, and our shared affinity for the Legendary Pink Dots.

To learn more about Randall Frazier and Orbit Service look online at orbitservice.bandcamp.com.

Thank you for listening.

Rad/ATL’s Hidden Hand podcast: An interview with Thom Fuhrmann of Savage Republic

Savage Republic was born amid the Los Angeles punk scene of the early 1980s, when former UCLA students guitarist Bruce Licher and drummer Mark Erskine formed the band Afrika Corps. Before releasing their 1982 debut LP Tragic Figures, the group’s name changed and a menacing post-industrial clatter took shape around Middle Eastern imagery and surf rock ambiance. Savage Republic’s sound was contemptuous, noisy and politically-charged, settling in with song titles such as “Kill the Fascists!,” “Mobilization,” and “Attempted Coup: Madagascar.” They shared the stage with groups such as Sonic Youth, Public Image Ltd., Swans, Fugazi, and more.

Amid lineup changes, songwriter and guitarist Thom Fuhrmann joined Savage Republic in 1983, and first appeared playing keyboards on the song “Trek” from the group’s 1985 EP, titled Trudge (Play It Again Sam Records).

Over the decades, Fuhrmann has assumed a leadership role in Savage Republic. In 2019, he fronts the group, standing alongside drummer Alan Waddington, bass player Kerry Dowling, and long-standing guitarist and percussionist Ethan Port.

In 2014, the group released a full-length LP, titled Aegean, with songs such as “Arab Spring,” “Victory,” “27 Days,” and “Peloponesia” placing Savage Republic’s original aesthetic into a modern context. A 2018 7-inch single featuring the songs “God & Guns” and “Tranquilo” further sharpen the group’s stance against right-wing influences gaining a stranglehold on modern America.

After wrapping up a late summer Midwestern tour en route to record new material with Steve Albini at Chicago’s Electrical Audio, Fuhrmann made his way to Atlanta where we caught up over breakfast.

For this second part of my breakfast conversation with Savage Republic’s guitarist and frontman Thom Fuhrmann, we talk about the origins, evolutions, and tragic circumstances surrounding the work he’s recorded under the name Autumnfair, and more about what the future holds in store for Savage Republic.

To learn more about Savage Republic and Autumnfair look online at www.mobilization.com.