Best Known For
Billy Bragg is best known for his progressive folk rock music, making several hit albums in Britain.
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Singer-songwriter. Stephen William Bragg was born on December 20, 1957, in Barking, England, to Marie D'Urso and Dennis Bragg, an assistant sales manager at a local small business. In working-class Barking, a suburb on the northeastern edge of London, Bragg grew up with the understanding that unless he did something drastic, a career at the local car factory was waiting for him. "To get out of it, it seemed I needed to be a boxer, a footballer or a rock star. I didn't want to get punched in the head," Bragg later recalled, "and I'm not that good at football, so I went for music."
The future star's chosen escape plan started with punk rock, as Bragg joined the band Riff Raff in 1977. After devoting four years of his early 20s to earnest and heartfelt rebellion with Riff Raff playing at local pubs and clubs, Bragg more or less gave up on the band, which showed little promise commercially.
In an effort to hit the reset button on his life, the 20-something rocker went in a different direction by joining the British Army in 1981. Inspired in part by his father's tales of the Second World War, Bragg hoped to make a difference. He would later admit, "Most of all, I'd run out of options." He lasted just a few months in Her Majesty's armed forces before deciding that the soldiering life was not for him. He bought his way out of service for a mere 175 pounds.
Deciding to give music another shot, Bragg sought to break back into the London rock scene as a soloist. His big break came when he was playing football near BBC headquarters and heard the famous deejay John Peel lamenting his hunger pangs on the air. Still wearing his cleats, Bragg ran off to fetch Peel a mushroom biryani with hopes of gaining access and a little airplay. He succeeded on both accounts and Peel played a song from Bragg's first album, Life's a Riot with Spy Vs. Spy.
Soon after this rather serendipitous radio triumph, Bragg signed a contract with Virgin Records and put himself on the path toward a real career in music. Virgin re-released Life's a Riot With Spy Vs. Spy in 1983 and followed with a new record, Brewing Up With Billy Bragg, in 1984. The latter album contained a host of political songs, establishing the style that would come to be the singer's bread and butter over the next three decades. Bragg had first become convinced that politically charged music could change the world at Rock Against Racism, a 1978 music festival headlined by The Clash. Ever since, activism has been a crucial part of his creative repertoire. Bragg's political views lean strongly to the left and he has committed himself to advocating worker solidarity and a broader socialist platform.
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