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"A New England"
Kirsty MacColl
Kirsty MacColl

The protest singer songwriter Billy Bragg is probably best known for this song that Kirsty MacColl made into one of his biggest hits.

During the Eighties Bragg became well-known for his socialist stance appearing at various leftist political rallies and these views were fully promoted in his songs. In a recent interview he revealed the reasons behind why he wrote: "Either trying to write love songs like nobody else or trying to pick up on political issues that I feel are important." A self-confessed angry young man this passion urged him to communicate his views through song:

Billy Bragg
"that's what it's all about this job"

"A New England" was inspired by Bragg seeing two satellites flying alongside each other. The irony lay in that he was desperate for some romantic inspiration but had to make do with 'space hardware' instead.
Always one to speak in plain English he sees his "job as a songwriter is to reflect the world around me" which indeed he does. This love song perfectly illustrates this by looking closely at the reality behind romance and detailing the small print of relationships. Lyrics aside the melody is inspired by Thin Lizzy as Billy Bragg revealed in this interview with Alan Thompson:

Billy Bragg
"I actually stole it from Thin Lizzy"

Another songwriter Kirsty MacColl was the singer who ended up taking the song into the charts. She was a kindred spirit - Bragg referred to her as a friend and comrade at her funeral - and the daughter of esteemed folk singer Ewan MacColl. To make it more radio friendly Kirsty asked for another verse and Bragg, who had never had one of his songs covered before, kindly obliged. The record was then produced by Kirsty's husband Steve Lillywhite who had worked on U2 albums amongst others. The extra verse and Lillywhite's production that included full band backing helped make it a #7 hit in 1985. The relationship between Lillywhite and MacColl worked well on both levels, but did they argue much?

Kirsty MacColl
"we tend to work quite well together"

Still sounds bright as a button - ah, the lasting power of the sixties beat combo style. The C verse melody kicks off on a shiny fifth like the Merseys’ "Sorrow" and there’s a great "Help" era E7 in the middle of the chorus on ‘Girl’. Kirsty pays tribute to her beloved Beach Boys in an unexpected Bb choral section, and outros in lush D over a psychedelic drone. Oh, behave! 
Dominic King

More than a few years have passed since the song was written and Bragg's life has obviously changed, at a recent gig he revised the lyrics to "I'm 38 now" instead of 22 and instead of looking for another girl he's "just looking for a decent babysitter"!

... you don't have to be a musician ...

Billy Bragg 

  Billy Bragg on songwriting

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