Bragg had it all thought through. No doubt, this wasn’t his first talk after the release of his new book, Three Dimensions of Freedom. Without fuss, he navigated the waters of trying to promote both a product and radical ideas.
In fact, one of Bragg’s repeated comments of the evening was that his concerns are not on the left/right scale. They are about everyone having a voice in the political sphere, and a voice that has effect. This aim of a general access was carried out in the conversation, in which he covered complicated political and economic concepts in a way that satisfied the interviewer and this inexpert audience member; he spoke incredibly well. I often feared for the end of a sentence as he tried to round off an idea, wondering how he could possibly finish as eloquently as he started. I sat with bated breath as he developed his comments on the inflated role of music in political and social change. Points on the place of the musician as agitator, and as the centre of shared feeling – not necessarily anger or disillusionment – were given the perfect cadence of how they rarely have much direct impact beyond the ‘cultural discourse’. Cultural discourse. Excellent.
Perhaps some of the audience were disappointed that Bragg didn’t get his guitar out. On joining us, however, he did tamper with the PA system to great applause. He goes on to tell us that he has chosen to write a book ‘because there are only so many words that rhyme with accountability’, and because music has ceased to be the only way that someone can influence an audience. The book promises to be direct and open to engagement. When questions were open to the floor, Bragg ensured that he was directly responding, often repeating the question for the audience before answering it. This sat well with his claim that he is not presenting us with the ‘answers’, simply with a perspective. He took on terms that many of the audience were likely to take issue with: nation; Brexit; socialism. He used his platform, however, to discuss these terms in a sensitive, and enlightening way. He gives his definition of a nation as simply a space. By virtue of sharing the space of England you share a nation, and so have power to help each other. His ideas are radically non-exclusionary.
As always, Blackwell’s provided the perfect space for an event like this. Bragg gestured to the book-filled room towards the end of the evening, saying ‘give me twenty minutes’ and he’ll prove that the course of history changed when Charles I was beheaded in 1649. I think I believe him.