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26 of 30 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Socialism and the English genius
Billy Bragg is not so much a national treasure as a national hero in my eyes. This semi-autobiographical work is flawed but is deeply charming (like the man himself). It's certainly no sex, drugs, rock 'n'roll and football affair (which is a shame as I'd have liked to hear Billy's take on that) but a history lesson and a polemic from the radical tradition. The self-styled...
Published on 5 Nov 2006 by Paul Wellings

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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Nicely written, but an uneven mixture
I only know Billy Bragg from a few of his songs (the terrific "A New England", of course, plus his lesser-known third album "Talking To The Taxman About Poetry"), and a vague idea about his political activism. So I had a few preconceptions about what this book (lent to me by a friend) would be about - the usual musician's story, supplemented by a side order of polemic...
Published on 17 Aug 2007 by Jeremy Walton


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26 of 30 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Socialism and the English genius, 5 Nov 2006
Billy Bragg is not so much a national treasure as a national hero in my eyes. This semi-autobiographical work is flawed but is deeply charming (like the man himself). It's certainly no sex, drugs, rock 'n'roll and football affair (which is a shame as I'd have liked to hear Billy's take on that) but a history lesson and a polemic from the radical tradition. The self-styled Big-nosed Bard of Barking has swapped lyric writing for prose writing and as he admits in the introduction it's a totally different discipline. The Progressive Patriot is part of his ongoing attempt to reclaim English patriotism from the neo-nazis. Woody Guthrie might have said 'this guitar kils fascists' but Billy is hoping this book will kill fascists ideals on patriotism. I must confess I found the the history of Barking a tad tedious (despite knowing the area well as a long-time West Ham fan)and the Charles 1 material about the declaration of rights felt like a school history lesson (and urgently needed some of Billy's extremely dry humour), but his idolisation of Simon and Garfunkel is immensely entertaining and the book comes alive when he's writing about the rise of Rock Against Racism.

This is an absolutely essential read for any Billy Bragg fan and has moments, that like his song 'Between The Wars', are a thing of beauty and a joy forever.

Paul Wellings, author of 'I'm a journalist...get me out of here', 'Spend It Like Beckham' and 'Sex,Lines and Videotape'(Progressive Press)
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Nicely written, but an uneven mixture, 17 Aug 2007
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Jeremy Walton (Sidmouth, UK) - See all my reviews
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I only know Billy Bragg from a few of his songs (the terrific "A New England", of course, plus his lesser-known third album "Talking To The Taxman About Poetry"), and a vague idea about his political activism. So I had a few preconceptions about what this book (lent to me by a friend) would be about - the usual musician's story, supplemented by a side order of polemic. He'd thrown me off the scent by the end of the first chapter, which is a careful - even scholarly - account of the history of Barking (his birthplace). He follows that with a discussion about the Anglo-Saxons, the story of his ancestors' involvement in the London Docks strikes of 1889 and 1911 and the history of his family. It's not until the fourth chapter that he starts telling - in a very roundabout fashion - how he got interested in music.

So this isn't your standard musician's book, although he gives a very good account of the relationships between British and American folk music in the 60's (an early influence was Paul Simon, and BB makes the fascinating suggestion that "The Boxer" was inspired by a Essex fighter named Billy Walker) and the way he got swept along with the arrival of punk in 1976. In addition, he writes very well (he memorably describes the difference between writing a song and a book, comparing taking a photograph to "painting in oils on a twelve-by-twenty foot canvas"). He's clearly put a lot of work into this book (though I think the first name of the historian he calls Charles Babington MacCaulay was really Thomas), but the overall point he's trying to make remains obscure.

First, as others have pointed out, there seems to be a confusion about nationalism, patriotism and xenophobia, which get used interchangably. More crucially, he doesn't appear to draw a distinction between Britain, Great Britain, the United Kingdom and England, which is both a standard source of bewilderment for foreigners and a touchy subject for many inhabitants of these islands, although it should be handled carefully in a book which is supposed to be about national identity.

His proposals for how to go about setting up a Declaration Of Rights seem a little naive - indeed, his argument for why such a thing is needed (which includes the contention that it would be a great way to celebrate the anniversary of the 1707 Acts Of Union) is unconvincing. But, leaving his call to action aside, this is still a good book - well written, wide-ranging and (for the most part) stimulating.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Uneven but interesting take on English identity, 21 Aug 2010
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This review is from: The Progressive Patriot (Paperback)
Billy Bragg is a well known singer songwriter and activist, and this is a very personal account of English identity. He examines both the history of dissent in England and his own family history as a way of examining how he came to his own views, and rounds it off with a passionate plea for a proper, modern Bill of Rights in this country as a way of countering the rise of fascist organisations like the BNP (British National Party), who have been particulalry successful, until recently, in his own East End of London. It's an interesting account of Englishness (rather than what it is to be British, for the Welsh and Scots seem more secure in their own identity), but it is rather uneven in the way it is written. At times the account becomes too personal, almost autobiographical, with long sections on the rise of Punk music and his part in the music scene of the time. Interesting in itself, but too much detail compared to the more measured historical analysis of English identity. Perhaps I was expecting more of the latter and not expecting the depth of autobiography, I certainly enjoyed that part more, and became restless when the focus switched back to his own family. Probably this should be two books not one, each one a litle more focussed...
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The bard of Barking writes, 18 Aug 2010
This review is from: The Progressive Patriot (Paperback)
Billy Bragg's Progressive Patriot is part autobiography, part attempt to define and understand modern Britain. Like many people Bragg feels a huge mix of emotions towards the country that he lives in. Anyone even vaguely familiar with Mr Bragg's ouvre will know from the outset that his starting point is not 'my country right or wrong' and that Billy Bragg is a socialist. Bragg's work is-of course-steeped in 'Englishness'; evident in songs such as 'St Swithun's Day' and his reworking of 'Jerusalem'. It was good to read a book by a songwriter who was able to write and not merely think in terms of slogans and emotive phrases. To his credit Bragg writes well and much of the book is a highly informative trawl through English history from pre anglo-saxon times to the present day.

Bragg's own working class credentials are impeccable. Middle class socialists irritate me, especially when they adopt fake cockney accents and pretend to be something they're not but Billy is the real deal; no doubting it. Turns out that radicalism runs in the Bragg family. Bragg helpfully includes a wonderful photograph of his grandfather-an eastend dockgate radical-squaring up to a policeman. His formative experiences are clearly the key to understanding the man himself; growing up in Barking as part of the cockney disapora. Many liberal commentators write of the working class as though they were part of the problem rather than part of the solution; Bragg quotes a particularly dispiriting example of this from The Guardian. Broadly speaking Bragg's analysis is spot on and he casts himself in the role of a 'critical friend' of the working class. Bragg does sterling work reclaiming George Orwell for the left and reminding us that the post war welfare state was a huge leap forwards for British society.

Any criticisms? Well, Bragg tries to do too much in this book and ultimately no national identity (especially one as complex as that as modern England/Britain's)can be ever completely defined or reduced down to a fixed set of attributes. There will always be differing (and competing) versions of 'Englishness' and some (such as Bragg's) will be more benevolent and inclusive than others. Also, Bragg starts by expressing understandable alarm about the rise of the BNP is his native Barking (and by implication in similar working class communities across the country) but he seems reluctant to even posit a suggestion as to why this might be. Bragg also gives New Labour an easy ride. Indeed, many people have suggested that New Labour's abandonment of its core constituency has created a vacuum which the BNP have been able to exploit. I was also surprised that Bragg mentions 'Rock Against Racism' (which awakened Bragg's political conscience, as it did for many other people) but not the Battle of Cable Street when thousands of working class eastenders turned back Mosley's Blackshirts in 1936. These criticism aside I enjoyed the book and never doubted that Bragg's heart was in the right place.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars National Treasures Search for National Identity, 22 Mar 2008
`The Progressive Patriot' is Billy Bragg's first book but I suspect it will not be his last. Following on from his previous album `England, Half English' he is continuing his theme of what is national identity in a multicultural society, fuelled by the far right BNP being elected onto the council of his native Barking and the realisation that the London suicide bombers were British Nationals, Billy is looking for an inclusive patriotism that welcomes all under the National Banners.

The contradictions of what is traditionally considered to be British Patriotism from the Whig histories and the fact that the mother of all democracies did not have universal suffrage until the twentieth century do not make this an easy subject and Billy attempts to bridge the gap of his own ancestry and experience and how although that it could alienate him from the English genius instead it shows how it can give us an inclusive citizenship. Billy leads us through his family history and fits this into the history of both Barking and the Nation. Coupled with this Billy shares with us his formative years and shows us how, somewhat bizarrely, Paul Simon and Bob Dylan informed his love of English folk music and The Clash informed not only his politics but also his internationalism.

The book is very timely and while the government considers such ludicrous suggestions as to introduce citizen tests and school children pledging allegiance to the Queen, Billy Bragg is taking the lead with realistic ideas that are not impositions but a realistic appreciation and inclusiveness.

Reading this book made me think of my own ideas on patriotism and my ancestry with a similar stand point to Billy Bragg with our both being lovers of George Orwell's `The Lion and the Unicorn' and having both being politicised by music. I brought to mind my Grandmother rushing home in the thirties to avoid Oswald Mosley's Blackshirts marching through Leeds. She got the heel of her shoe stuck in the tram lines and had to break it off to get away. History has never felt so relevant.
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42 of 52 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Guardianista speaks, 26 May 2007
By 
John Johnston (London) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Progressive Patriot (Paperback)
The great thing about Billy Bragg's attempt to piece together a progressive narrative for how the people who call Britain their home today came to be here, is that he isn't nearly as impressed with his erudition or cognitive powers as Amazon reviewer Mr Neil Saunders.

In his review Saunders is so pre-ocupied with grandstanding and giving people ample chance to enjoy his self-important opinions on the "sociocultural" left and right, postmodernism and Mrs Thatcher's intellectual limitations that he pays scant regard to what was actually written. When he does turn to the book itself, for instance the section on the Venerable Bede and the "myth" of our Anglo-Saxon ancestry he utterly fails to grasp the point Bragg makes. It's as if his intellectual narcissism has left him too dazzled to see clearly.

That's not the only part where Mr Saunder's rabid point-scoring leaves him exposed. At no time does Bragg present a "Celticist interpretation of English history". At the broadest level his book is a "bottom-up" response to the traditional Whig interpretation of history where the inexorable march of "liberty" has been facilitated by a generous patrician elite. At the lowest level, and this is where the book is so engaging, it's a deeply personal family history, firmly rooted in Barking, that humanises the great events of British constitutional development. Bragg clearly feels that Magna Carta, the Civil War, the Glorious Revolution, the Chartists, the social changes of WW2 and the post-war settlement affect his life and shape the nature of living in Britain today. His interpretation may be optimistic and at time naive but it is honest and clearly stated in a way that is worthy of our consideration.

You'll also never read another book that slides from Joe Strummer and the Clash, to Churchill and the Blitz, to Charles I and the Petition of Right so easily. Rather than evidence of Bragg's "endemic ignorance" of his history, it's the work of someone who is passionately engaged with our island story. As a history graduate who loves punk I was in hog heaven!

Billy Bragg's book is a timely call to rexamine our history and a kick in the shins to those trendy lefties who can't stand to see the flag of St George flying from car windows. The left's refusal to discuss questions of identity and nationality has ceded the field to the likes of the BNP and the Daily Mail to determine who does and who doesn't belong here. The Progressive Patriot does not present all the answers: it merely asks it's readers to consider these question anew, all with the passion and self-deprecating wit that fans of Billy Bragg's music would expect.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars passionate patriot, 25 Oct 2010
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This review is from: The Progressive Patriot (Paperback)
I've always felt that flying the Union flag should be for us as flying the starts and stripes is for Americans, an uncomplicated show of pride in the country. I've also felt that the national front and the bnp have stolen that from me.

So reading Billy Bragg's book has been a pleasure for me - discovering that a favourite musician has thought deeply about this and written a book.

The history is explained well and personally. I loved that, but I have to say I thought the book lost its way a bit about 2/3 of the way through. I can't be sure if that's because it was where Bragg's narrative and my own memories were almost the same...

Well worth reading, as a perspective on punk if nothing else!
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8 of 11 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A New England, 29 Oct 2007
This review is from: The Progressive Patriot (Paperback)
The Progressive Patriot is a brave attempt to mix politics, history and biog, in light of the BNP's recent emergence in Braggs hometown of Barking. The result is an ambitious but flawed book, which is crying out for guidance from a good editor/publisher.
While its is a joy to read of Bragg's first love of Simon and Garfunkle, it suddenly turns into a history of folk music, which is neither interesting or exciting.
The long drawn out history of Barking is so dull that I had to skip large parts of the book. When Bill gets excited the book suddenly springs to life, like the Clash, Rack against Racism and his family history. But all too quickly we're back to the lecture theatre, to listen to Bragg meander on about English history, lacking passion and investigation.
The main point of the book is, yes the BNP had won seat ins in Barking, and to be patriotic you should not be racist or vote BNP. This is an interesting point, but Bragg refuses to really accept why his people (white working class) are voting for these awful thugs in Barking, Oldham and Beckton. They were voting for them as a protest, as these people have been disenfranchised by the main parties. New Labour is as distant as the Tories, if anything they were betrayed by Blair and Brown. The problems they face on a daily basis are not being addressed by the main parties. Schools, hospitals, jobs, benefits and housing. While its fine for the political establishment to say everyone must be tolerant and enjoy the benefits of multi cultralism, there are flashpoints between cultures and races, and we can't talk about it as its racist and un PC. Remember many of those white working classes who the BNP are attracting are of the same stock who fought the Nazi's in Germany and fascists on Cable street. These are also the same people who danced to the Clash in Victoria Park, but lost their idealism during the 80's along with their homes and jobs.
I also happen to know I'm part of the problem I happily employ a polish cleaner, a Russian plumber and I marched with the Muslims during the stop the war marches ( and I ignored their anti Semitic banners) . I laughed as Little Britain taking the p**s out of the white working class chavs, and I hate sun readers, and white van drivers. This is Britain today, no wonder the BNP are winning seats.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Billy Bragg for Prime Minister !! Very interesting and informative read., 11 Jan 2014
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Excellent read, by one of England's greatest singer song writers. This book shatters many of the myths and lies peddled by the right wing press of this country.
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5.0 out of 5 stars An unexpected serving from the Billy Bragg, 14 July 2012
This review is from: The Progressive Patriot (Paperback)
I was impressed with this as it was not what I was expecting. Musicians are not necessarily good writers or particularly clear eyed enough to capture social history under a bigger lens than than that of their own carear. This is not a great book but it deserves all five starts because it is a genuine search by someone trying to make sense of being and belonging rather than lip service to New Brittania. The litmus test appears to be Billy Bragg's own life, how he was shaped, how he made sense of the currents flowing through the times following punk and the big ticket item of Thatcher and the final strangulation of a working class that was likely to be the only opposition to free market doggerel. Mr Bragg reminds us of many eras of British history where people have taken a stand for beliefs and paid dearly for those stands. He lived through the centre of the miners strike. He made music that reflected these struggles but also captured the heart of their idealism. What is so wrong with wanting all people to have access to quality education, health care, meaningful work, emancipation in all forms and arts and culture that extends thinking. Instead socialism that caught and worked with such aspirations is now a dirty word. Greed is greed because it has always been so and for that reason we shouldn't try and change it. What bollocks. So thank you Mr Bragg for the passion you bring to thinking this book through, for you comittment to tell stories of struggle, truth and of the many small communities around the world who continue to work against the odds to make this a better world to live in.
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The Progressive Patriot
The Progressive Patriot by Billy Bragg (Paperback - 1 May 2007)
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