Festival fans will be blown away as renowned folk/punk/protest singer Billy Bragg makes his Wickham debut. Known for his left-wing views and political activism, Billy’s lyrics deliver a punch as powerful as any of his speeches.
Songs such as Between the Wars and It Says Here seem as relevant today as they were when he recorded them but perhaps his best known tune is New England which was a top 10 hit for Kirsty MacColl. Since her premature death, he has always performed it with an extra verse in her honour.
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It’s a moment I’ll never forget, perhaps the most historic TV broadcast ever made. After a hypnotic fifteen minutes of nothing but grey moonscapes passing the camera, a long black finger appears out of the top right corner of the screen - the shadow of the Apollo 11 Lunar Module’s landing gear reaching out to make first contact with the surface of the Moon.
For the past few minutes, the only voice audible has been that of astronaut Buzz Aldrin, relaying data to the pilot of the LM, Neil Armstrong, standing beside him. It has been a litany of numbers concerning the height and angle of the craft and its rate of descent. From the window in front of him, a 16mm camera is broadcasting the view from his window to a worldwide TV audience hanging on his every breath. Though the dark superstructure of the LM obscures much of the left hand side of the picture, the procession of craters big and small is mesmerising. Armstong and Aldrin are the first humans to have seen the lunar landscape so close and we’re watching it over their shoulders in real time.
At 70 feet from the surface, another voice interjects: “60 seconds”. Around the world, people assume this signifies how long it will be until the vehicle lands, but Aldrin knows that Mission Control in Houston are telling him that the LM has only one minute before it will run out of fuel. The on-board guidance system had missed the original target, causing the craft to overshoot by 4 miles, taking the LM towards a landing site in a boulder-strewn crater.
To avoid this calamity, Armstong took manual control of the LM at 600ft and, for the past two minutes, he has been searching for a smooth area in which to land the spacecraft. Now he has 60 seconds to either complete this task or abort the mission.
Aldrin begins to pass this information to Armstrong, briefly saying the word “siii” but thinks better of it. He knows his commander can hear Mission Control as well as he can and the last thing Armstrong needs now – hovering above the Moon with untold millions watching live - is a backseat driver telling him what he already knows. In Houston, the worried flight controller has initiated a countdown to a ‘bingo call’ – the moment when he would order the two astronauts to abort and return to Earth without completing their mission.
At 30 feet above the surface, a long, thin, black line begins to protrude into the top right corner of the screen, the shadow of the 1.5m probe dangling below the LM’s front right footpad, reaching out to confirm contact. When it touches the ground, a light will come on in the cabin. The shadow grows as the whole landing gear comes into frame. From 240,000 miles away, the other voice says “30 seconds”
Slowly, the shadow of the LM fills the screen. Aldrin says “Contact light” – the feeler has found the ground - then “Engine Stop”. With just 17 seconds of fuel left, Armstong has set the LM down on the surface of the Moon. The Eagle has landed and this was the signal that we were to be packed off to bed. I was eleven and a half years old and this moment would prove a watershed in my life.
1969 was already a year of changes. The money I made from my paper round was beginning to be diverted from 1:72 scale Airfix models and figures that focussed on the Second World War towards something more contemporary. Without an elder sibling to guide me, I had no idea what was cool and what wasn’t, beyond the scraps I could pick up at school from my peers. I knew a few older boys, but only to play football with in the park.
Then I started hanging out with a kid who was just a year older than me, but seemed to inhabit a world beyond Subbutteo and soldiers. He had a stack of Marvel comics, which I was familiar with the black and white reprints of Marvel characters that ran in UK comics like Fantastic and Pow!, but these were the real thing – full colour artwork and adverts with prices in US dollars. They could be bought second hand at the local indoor market for 9d each and, soon, that was where my pocket money went.
My new friend also had his own record player, something my family had yet to acquire. My only access to pop music was via the radio, so catching a particular song I liked was a hit and miss affair. His taste had developed beyond the Top Thirty and his favourite record was the Beatles ‘Magical Mystery Tour’ EP. It’s fair to say that hearing it blew my eleven-year-old mind.
Even today, the woozy opening of ‘I Am The Walrus’ takes me back to a time of discovery, of finding something that I knew was radically different from the pop I was hearing on daytime radio, the thrill of initiation into a new way of hearing pop and, through that, a new way of seeing the world. It was both familiar – my dad sang “Oompah, oompah, stick it up yer jumpah” to us as children – while at the same time being excitingly strange – “Goo-goo G’joob!”
In the summer of 1969, I was thrown into a world that was both familiar and excitingly strange when I was sent to live on a farm in Warwickshire. My mother had to undergo surgery and convalescence and, as my father was working full time, the decision was made that my brother and I would live with our aunt and uncle and four cousins for several months, an arrangement that necessitated enrolling us in the local school.
We had spent most of our childhood holidays at the farm, a place of adventure and mystery, outside of our ordinary urban experience, where children drove cattle, stacked bales and rode motorbikes down farm tracks for fun. A shotgun hung above us on the kitchen wall while we ate dinner. Like all rambling houses it could be spooky, especially if you’ve grown up, as I had, with a street-light outside your bedroom window, but I loved being there. My cousins fizzed with the energy that comes from living close to the land.
Their grandmother was an amazing woman who had travelled widely. She had been a governess to an aristocratic family in pre-revolutionary Russia and had farmed in South America. Her room was like a museum, full of exotic objects and classical figurines, presided over by sepia photographs of long-dead loved ones. It also contained the only TV in the house.
It was there that we gathered to watch the Moon landing, with special permission to stay up past bedtime to see this historic event. In my memory, it was gone midnight when we saw those first close up images of the Moon’s surface from the window of the LM, but looking at the record, I find it was actually 9.17pm in the UK when Armstrong touched down, which in July would be sunset.
What I am sure of is that we didn’t stay up to see the first moonwalk, which occurred at around 4am. On a farm where folks have to be up at 5 for milking, I imagine everyone, not just us kids, would have been in bed by midnight.
The world we woke up to in the morning was a different place. A paradigm shift had taken place – the new way of thinking that had inspired the Beatles psychedelia had now entered the mainstream. Everybody who had watched Armstrong and Aldrin walk on the Moon had experienced a shift in their sense of reality.
The world I came home to was a different place too. At the end of the summer holidays, I began secondary school: new friends; new subjects; new environment. At Christmas, when my parents bought me a tape recorder with which to capture the music I heard on the radio, my focus had shifted from toys to popular culture.
And now, 50 years later, I realise that the Apollo 11 moon landing marks the point where my memory becomes linear. Before 20th July 1969, my recall is fragmentary - events stand out but are unconnected with one another. I remember things happening but I don’t really know when it was or how it fitted in with whatever else I was doing. After that date, a chronology begins to emerge and my memories thread together into a narrative form, each year having a distinctive flavour, a notion of who I was and what I was about. Before, the world seems black and white – TV, photos, newspapers; afterwards, it’s in colour.
The space race may be over but, for my generation, it still looms large in our memories. The sense that we were part of a fantastic adventure that we watched play out in real time over the course of our childhoods has not faded with the passing years. The Apollo 11 landing was perhaps the greatest communal experience that humanity has ever witnessed and we were there, looking out of Aldrin’s window, hearing the same data as Armstrong, nervously holding our breath like they were in Mission Control - on the night we landed on the Moon. ... See MoreSee Less
Made Nettie get up & watch it at 3 a.m 😂
You brought the moments back to me in a way none of the tv coverage has. I was only 9 and you’ve returned me to where I should have got it in a bigger way and I can re-get it. Thank you for magnifying that moment in time for me.
Beautiful Billy, today was my 50th Birthday born on the day of the moon landing, thanks for such a wonderfully written piece x
Billy, thank you for writing this. My mum woke me up for the landing and the subsequent moonwalk (I was 4). It is my earliest memory and began a lifelong fascination with outstanding human achievements. Such a beautifully written testament. Thank you ❤️
Excellent read Billy. It's wonderful reading what music helped shape or influence your future, these links helping to influence ours. I started listening to you way back when you saved us all a few bob with back to basics etc, and these timeless classics helped, along with a few other fledgling bands, shape my whole life. I'm grateful. 👍
I’m a day older than you Billy... this beautiful piece of writing takes me back to the same 1969 and the same excitement of this amazing feat, along with being the time I also started to grow up musically. Thanks for sharing!
I was alive, but only just as I was 9 months old. I wish I had been old enough to have witnessed it, as it is one of our greatest human achievements in a sea of mistakes! Watching the footage has been amazing and mind blowing. I still can’t believe we did it! And how must it feel to stand on the moon and look at everything you know and love, so far away? And to know you have a very slim chance of making it back. Incredible.
I am a little older than you and can remember the moon landing well. Thank you so much for this wonderful piece of writing.
I was only 4 when it happened and have no recollection of the actual event. Thank you for sharing the vividness of your memory - lovely! ❤️
Your song "The Space Race Is Over" is simply beautiful. It remains one of my favorites to this day.
What a great read Billy. I was in Australia and we were sent home from school to watch the landing on tv. How trusting to expect that from young teens, but everyone I knew did just that! An amazing experience. Thanks for taking me back.
How beautiful! Thank you for sharing this!
50 years on and it's no less awe inspiring than it was then. Great read, Billy. My favourite song about the moon landing is unfortunately not one of yours, but it sits you back in a living room on that day and oozes with the same nostalgia that I got reading your piece just now. I'll be listening to Static and Silence by The Sundays tonight while I remember one of the greatest events in our history.
Thanks for that Billy, that’s a glorious reminiscence.
Fantastic piece, thanks Billy. Many parallels with my own childhood too.
Great memories, Billy. I stayed up with my old Dad to watch it. Special times.
Beautifully told Billy. Such a powerful capturing of a seminal moment. I was only 2 so I have no clear memory of it, but loved sharing yours.
Beautifully written, I was ten and and along with my parents and seven siblings allowed to watch this historic event.
I've read 50 things about the moon landing. This is by far my favourite. Beautifully written.
Beautifully written. Thanks for sharing Sir.
Thanks for sharing such vivid beautiful memory. So Beautifully written, what life changing moment in time. ❤️
Oh my, what a beautiful, moving memory of a coming of age. Thank you, Billy. 😊
Five and a half years old and woken up by my parents to watch the moon walk in the middle of the night and I still remember it. Also remember seeing Billy for the first time when a student at Manchester University student Union. Both great memories.
Everybody now in their mid 50's and beyond has a memory of that moment, it was a truly shared experience :)
A beautiful rendition of an amazing event. Thank you.
Can't be there but would love to be! All the best Billy. Superb work you are doing! The massive booming voice of a nation doomed in to silence ✊🏼
Loved this Billy - fantastic, made my day 💕
Had a great day on the march. Missed Billy as we had to drop into a pub for refreshment
Saturday Tolpuddle, if you can't make it Sunday evening Tolpuddle is just for the hard core volunteers and saddoes. It's so much fun, you'll love it
Know that millions of us are with you Billy, in spirit and intellectually if not in person tomorrow. Sing loud and clear for all of us xx
It is fucking insanity that this week this man will be PM. Insanity. Poor poor you people south of be wall and ruled by Westminster. He will be the last Tory leader that is for fucking sure.
“There is power in a factory, power in the land Power in the hands of a worker But it all amounts to nothing if together we don't stand There is power in a union.” Let’s capitalise that last line ... THERE IS POWER IN A UNION.
We’ve got our own problems here in the US and I can’t be there. I will never forget seeing you in a pub garden, 12 feet away, admission was school supplies as the Ferguson uprising was going on. Thank you sir.
I have adored you for so long and I’m always lifted when I see your posts. Billy’s still fighting the power, I think, and so must I.
Please sing the diggers song bruv! Remind the people how long we have been at this! A common treasury for all! 💜🕉💙☯️💚
From your appearance on TOTP with that amp and guitar doing "Between the Wars" - I knew you were on my side. Living in Cyprus now, but 100% with you in spirit. Thank you Billy.
Thanks for taking a clear stand on this - It's the most important issue of the day
I apologize:It is a to long distance from Germany.Good luck✌✊
Singers and entertainers should stick to what they do, living in their big houses earning loads of money from gigs and music sales and still think they are working class, Bragg, Bono, Geldof all sticking their nose in for free publicity, then dissapear into their upperclass lifestyles again
Billy thanks and it’s great to see you voicing something so vital. UK is in a mess
O what tangled web we weave. Our country is split and a fear nothing will join us back together. What happened to the UK ? So so sad 😞
By all means say no to Boris but until EU gets their house in order financially ie the books that have not been verified because no reputable accounting firm would touch them.
I know so many reluctant remainers, myself included, thatvwould now vote leave I don’t no a single leaver that would now remain
Love your music have done since the 80s and still do but totally disagree on your politics now . But thats the one thing good about the UK freedom of speech
Did you see Boris being interviewed by Peston on Weds night? There was a lot of Latin and half witted cobblers but he pretty much said “soon as I’m in no.10 I’ll keep us in the EU”. Got to love the guy who was for remain then for leave and is now for being in no.10. There is no way Bojo will take us out of the EU. My fear was that the skinny bloke who nobody had heard of before would win and take us out by accident. Boris will keep us in the EU. Hurrah. I think he’s a bit of a berk, but the berk who will keep us in is a berk I can accept.
Billy Bragg .... if you could get that message to Corbyn, and put Labour back on track as a 100% Revoke/remain party that would be lovely.
Where were you in the last 3 years Mr Bragg? standing up for all the majority who voted to leave in a Democratic, legal, voting process?? Or you are another who thinks the working class, fed up with being trodden on, do not have the intellect to know what they wanted, without having propaganda thrown at then from all directions. This Country was never going to collapse the day after a leave vote, and that was the biggest lie that if less people had taken notice of would have resulted in an even bigger Leave vote.
I'd love to be there but can't. When are you coming to the North of Ireland?
Best of luck Billy. Hope you and others can stop the insanity that is brexit.
Way to go Billy. Can't be there in person but always in spirit.
The new Reasons to be Cheerful podcast features hosts Ed Miliband and Geoff Lloyd discussing my new book The Three Dimensions of Freedom with me in an attic in Stoke Newington.
Listen here ➡️ play.acast.com/s/reasonstobecheerful/31dbba5e-d392-4b85-b1e3-f301b2e0bd5a ... See MoreSee Less
I'll check the podcast. Also, swing back through Iowa City anytime. It was the day of the Boston Marathon when you were here last. You took time from your show to speak a few words of condolence and strength and perseverance, and I don't know if you know how welcome that was.
Love you Billy. Keep fighting the good fight! Tank park salute is one of my favorite ever songs.
Sounds a lot more uplifting than the podcasts I've been listening to lately. Yes!
Bill you've finally got a ukulele! Amazing. Congratulations.
My favourite podcast. Politics is about inspiration not just moaning!
Really interesting ideas from Billy. How does Billy formulate these ideas i wonder. Much food for thought. I like the tempo and relaxed nature of this podcast . Cheers. Oh yeah and was i mistaken or did you only mention brexit once ?
Really interesting podcast. I agree that we need to make politics more effectual and engaging, we need to change the current voting system to give people more investment in the system, maybe bring an end to the 2 party system which has dominated the last couple of hundred years.
Blimey! Keane have let themselves go a bit...
Not to dis your Mahalo but Billy, you are good enough to have a better ukulele.
How I wish Ed Milliband was still leader of the Labour Party 😢
Yeah, well done Ed, you’re a diamond mate. Helped make labour unelectable, and fucked your brother over. No thanks.
You should check out Geoff on Adrift, his other podcast for socially awkward folks. podcasts.apple.com/au/podcast/adrift-with-geoff-lloyd-and-annabel-port/id1271201450
Oh look, three Red Tory millionaires...
Ed Milliband? Brother of Steve Miller Band, yeah? Fly Like an Eagle, and Abracadabra, yeah?
Ed Milliband? Why would you associate with such a self serving member of the political elite?
Billy, you've washed that guitar too hot, it's shrunk!
well i guess we must all kiss a few frogs Bill😊
Geoff Lloyd is a legend
I saw the rot set in when Ed went for PM & the lies machine began -
A rose between two thorns there Billy lad 😂👍😎
Ed 'I neither condemn the strike, nor condone the strike' Milliband. Never forgiven him....
Ed's still hawt