The Progressive Patriot - A Search for Belonging

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 07 October, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 07 October, 2007, 12:00am

The Progressive Patriot - A Search for Belonging

by Billy Bragg

Black Swan, HK$136

It took two Jewish guys in New York to open Billy Bragg's mind 'to the beauty and power of my own native culture'. The Bard of Barking says in his memoir/meditation, The Progressive Patriot, that his sense of Englishness was awakened by Simon & Garfunkel's rendition of Scarborough Fair. Bragg has evolved from caustic polemical songwriter tilting against the inequities of Thatcherism into a classic figure in British music for a new generation of songwriters, up there with Paul Weller and Joe Strummer. Some reviewers of The Progressive Patriot were put off by his meanderings into history, culture and autobiography - 'surrender any expectations of coherence'. But Bhiku Parekh, writing in the Times Literary Supplement, praises the way Bragg 'beautifully weaves together his personal and familial story with that of Britain'. Parekh particularly likes Bragg's 'conditional and critical' take on patriotism. It is not unpatriotic to feel ashamed when one's country fails to live up to claims of fairness. Bragg is good on England's rich history of dissent, and he champions a multiculturalism that began with the Jutes, Angles and Saxons. Listen to his version of Jerusalem. Nationalism has many voices, and Bragg's has resonance.