September 7, 2009

The labor movement has a soundtrack as rich as its history. "Which Side Are You On" was written in 1931 by Florence Reece, the wife of a union organizer for Kentucky mine workers and has been a favorite for generations. The Almanac Singers (Pete Seeger, Lee Hays and Millard Lampell) included it on their 1941 classic Talking Union and Other Union Songs along with Woody Guthrie's "Union Maid" and of course, "Talking Union". When Billy Bragg generously lent his guitar, voice and talents to the cause of striking British mine workers, he rewrote the song's lyrics to reflect the plight of striking miners struggling to keep up the fight in the face of extreme poverty from forgone wages and a largely indifferent public. This performance is from May 1985, shortly after the end of the strike.

Bragg stopped by Brave New Films studios in LA last week to tape an intimate concert and conversation and told stories of going into the fields in England where the mines are located and playing for striking workers, talked about Jail Guitar Doors, an organization he founded that brings guitars into UK and US prisons, and of played a few choice cuts. There were about 20 of us in the room for the taping and it was humbling and inspiring. We'll have video soon.

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