ALBUM GENRE: ROCK (FOLK…?)
BEER STYLE: ALE
Wibblers: Daft Name, Great Beer! This second bottle (not of fresh mango juice, unfortunately…) from this month’s mystery box is from a relatively local brewery to me, brewing out of Southminster, Essex. Wibblers’ Vanguard is a light brown ale, brewed in aid of a good cause: the restoration of ‘little ship’ Vanguard which was recently recovered from Canvey Island by a determined group of Burnham locals and nautical experts.
Of course, it’s difficult, when drinking Essex ale, deciding which records to listen to on a stereo system from the early 1980s, not to find your finger on the spine of a Billy Bragg album. Who better to represent the ability to rally behind a cause of the good people of Essex than The Milkman of Human Kindness himself, Billy Bragg?
Billy Bragg holds something of a special place in my heart, having grown up forcing my palms into my ears to avoid the sound of his voice, while my dad determinedly kept Must I Paint You A Picture, a Bragg CD compilation in the car’s CD player. Nowadays, I’m glad he did, having broadened my interests slightly further beyond Slipknot and Metallica.
Hearing tracks like The Milkman of Human Kindness, The Man in the Iron Mask, not to mention A New England, bring back many memories of morning school runs and trips to Wickes.
Life’s a Riot with Spy vs Spy was Billy Bragg’s first and last debut studio album, though at just under sixteen minutes long, playing at 45rpm, you’ll be quickly forced to stand and change the record if you don’t want to be plunged into a suddenly very left wing thought stream in the silence. Not to fear, however, Bragg, now 60 years old, has a back catalogue of 12 studio albums, 5 live albums and likely countless compilation albums complete with clenched fists on their sleeves, so as long as the beer keeps running, Billy will too.
Traditional certainly isn’t the correct word for Billy Bragg’s music. Not, at least lyrically. A man unafraid to speak out about injustice and to pose his political views. However, I think it’s unfair to put a complete political blanket over the artist as a whole. If you don’t happen to stand on Billy’s side politically, his discography contains plenty of material other than politically charged tunes, from romantic ballads to love songs written from the eyes of a DIY inept man.
Time for the tenuous link to beer. Billy Bragg’s voice, to many, frankly… isn’t great. It isn’t perfectly in tune. He doesn’t necessarily raise hairs on the back of your neck simply by belting out a love song. But it’s his voice. It works so well with his lyrics, with his movement and with the people he’s trying to reach with his music.
Now, admittedly, I am something of a novice when it comes to malty, heavily hopped ales, so when I poured the Burnham beer to discover it looked much like the water the Vanguard once docked on, my hopes for a light, easy drinking ale were tarnished. Every sip reminded me that I’m drinking something both very English and very likely to intoxicate me with unbridled haste. But much like Bragg’s voice, despite the surface level suggestions that it’s about to be a difficult ride to the end of the bottle, I found myself soon very much appreciating the beer’s malty, strangely almost sweet flavours. With very subtle carbonation, eventually, the beer was going down like squash, its more bitter hops taking a back seat to allow sweeter malt, caramel flavours to poke through, making this one very enjoyable bottle, despite my initial reservations.
So, even if you have your own initial reservations to Billy Bragg, be it his voice, his political views or whatever. I insist, as with most things in life, including dark brown beers, that you persist. Because lying beneath the surface is one of Britain’s best songwriters, and dare I say it… Singers.