Billy Bragg celebrates 2023's best-selling UK Americana album: "What's next? Abolish the House of Lords!"

The Roaring Forty recently picked up a gong at the AMA UK awards.
billy bragg interview

Billy Bragg's latest LP, The Roaring Forty, recently won big at the AMAUK awards; picking up the gong for the best-selling Americana album by a UK artist for 2023. 

The singer, songwriter and social activist's compilation album - taking in tracks from 1983 - 2022 - reached a peak of Number 29 on the Official Albums Chart, his 12th album to enter the UK Top 40.

In a chat with Official Charts to celebrate the achievement, Bragg speaks on the response to The Roaring Forty, his favourite up-and-coming artists right now...and what just might be next for 2024 and beyond.


You claimed the Best-Selling Americana Album by a British artist at the AMAUK Awards recently, you must feel proud?

It’s an amazing achievement after forty years of making records. As a series of releases celebrating my entire four decade career, the Roaring Forty has been a massive project that involved me delving into my archives to find out who played what on which track and when. The box set contains over 300 songs, some of which have never been released before. Others saw the light of day on obscure agit-pop compilations back in the 1980s, often released on one-off labels linked to publications that no longer exist. Sorting out which tracks to feature and clearing the rights was a mammoth task and I have to thank my management and the extended team at Cooking Vinyl for their dedication to creating something really special.

Looking back over The Roaring Forty, which songs are you most proud of and why?

Oddly, it’s the most recent ones that I feel most strongly about. It’s probably best not to fixate on what you were writing in your twenties when your situation was totally different to how it is now, both personally and politically. Having said that, one of the songs that I’m most proud of - I Will Be Your Shield from my most recent album, The Million Things That Never Happened - is more or less expressing the same sentiments as the opening track on my debut album, The Milkman of Human Kindness.

Some struggle to define the Americana genre – what does it mean to you?

Having been to Nashville during the Americana Music Association’s annual award ceremony and looking at the artists they chose to honour, I’ve come to the conclusion that Americana is anything that takes its inspiration from American roots music. It doesn’t have to come out of America - skiffle is a good example of how Americana found a home in the UK back in the 1950s. My most obvious connection to the genre would be my work with the Woody Guthrie archive, the Mermaid Avenue records that I made with Wilco back in the late 90s. But my love of soul music is audible on my records, so I would probably have qualified anyway. 

You’ve contributed to Jamie Webster’s latest album – how was it working with him?

I’m a big fan of Jamie Webster. He came to Left Field, the stage that my manager, Juliet Wills and I curate at Glastonbury and he filled the tent with a massive singalong crowd. Being invited to make a contribution to his new record 10 For The People was a real buzz for me, as he is someone who shares my view that music should be about something more than just entertainment. His songs address the challenges that people face after years of austerity, but they’re uplifting too.

You’re a strong advocate of trans rights – how important is it to you that you show support to the community through your lyricism and actions?

Back in the 90s, I had a hit with a song called ‘Sexuality’, a song of allyship with the gay and lesbian community who were stigmatised at the time.

The Tories passed a law banning the discussion of gay and lesbian lifestyle in schools and the right wing press promoted the idea that gays were a threat to society as they were spreading the AIDs virus. We’ve come a long way since then. Gays and lesbians are accepted now to the extent that everyone respects their right to equal marriage.

Yet the right wing need their scapegoats, so now it’s the trans and non-binary communities who are in their crosshairs. The deputy chair of the Conservative Party said last year that the Tories will be fighting the next election on trans rights and culture war issues. For anyone like myself who witnessed the homophobia of the 1980s, this is history repeating itself.

The trans community need cis allies if they are not to be the target of transphobia, so having written ‘Sexuality’ all those years ago, I feel I would be betraying the intent of that song if I didn’t tweak the lyrics to make it a song of allyship with our trans and non-binary siblings. 

Which other artists inspire you right now?

I’m drawn to artists who, like Jamie Webster, sing about the pressures that young people feel under. Benefits, Seb Lowe, Billy Nomates, Bob Vylan. These are people who grapple with the harsh realities of life, rather than looking to distract the listener from reality - there are plenty of people in the charts doing that anyway.

How’s 2024 looking for you? Can we expect more shows? New music?

After a really busy and successful 2023 - dates in Australia, New Zealand and Europe topped of with a sell out UK and Ireland tour - I’m mostly concentrating on Canada and the US this year, with three North American tours planned. I have some UK festival dates too, but mostly I’ll be working across the Pond. 

You’ve achieved so much already – is there anything still on your bucket list you’re yet to tick off, but are desperate to?

Yeah. Abolish the House of Lords.

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