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Billy Bragg on the importance of arts funding: ‘Music has the ability to stop isolation’

“Encouraging kids to engage themselves in music at school, I think, is really, really important.”

By Nick Reilly

Billy Bragg by Jill Furmanovsky

Days before the general election, Billy Bragg has told Rolling Stone UK that he’s got a message for the new government about the importance of arts in schools and giving children the chance to play music.

The legendary punk singer and activist spoke to Rolling Stone UK at Glastonbury, just a week before Labour is expected to secure a landslide victory about the current Tory government.

Explaining how music can provide all-important therapy for youngsters, Bragg explained: “It’s not just arts funding. I have a message for the government about arts in schools, about music in schools AND about giving kids the ability to self-therapise. Because playing music is a form of therapy.

“My boy was a big Ramones fan when he was growing up and if he came home from school and went upstairs, plugged in his electric guitar and started playing Ramones songs really loud, I knew he was dealing with what had happened at school that day. That was his way of getting it out of his system because when he was upstairs in our front bedroom in Dorset, he was actually in his head on stage at CBGBs with the Ramones. That’s where he was.

“He was in a place where he really felt that he and his identity was accepted everywhere, and music gives you that space. It also allows you as a punter, to come into a space where a lot of people are expressing solidarity for things that you believe in.”

Bragg then went on to compare it to some of the panels held on his Glastonbury Leftfield stage earlier this day – including the Trans Liberation Now debate.

“There were a lot of allies there, but there was a lot of trans people there too,” he said. “The last question they were given was about feeling isolated and being 17, not being able to vote. And the response in the room to that person’s question was really, really positive. I hope they took not just some solidarity away from that, but some sense that they’re not alone.

“They’re not alone as they think they are. Music has the ability to do that. So encouraging kids to engage themselves in that at school, I think, is really, really important.”

He added: “It’s not a stem subject, I know that, but there’s more to life than just making money. There’s more to life than just getting a good job out of going to university to get qualifications.

“There’s the the joy that you can find in self-expression because if you’re comfortable with who you are and you feel like you’re in the right place doing the right thing, you’re halfway there. And if then you can find a way to make a living doing that thing that you love doing. Whether you’re on the pyramid stage or someone who’s playing up at the underground piano bar, you’re already so far ahead of everybody else who’s stuck in a job they they hate, you know?”

Bragg went on: “Tonight in Britain, I would imagine 90% of the people who are doing gigs have got day jobs and they get together with their mates at the weekend and they play Oasis songs or whatever it is, and they live for that.

“That’s when they get their shitty job out of their mind. And those people are as much my peers as anyone who’s on the Pyramid Stage. They’re as much doing what I’m doing. It’s just I’m in that very privileged position that I get to make a living from it. I never, never forget that, but the the ability of music to help people to deal with the things that they face self expression, being able to get up on stage and and and get the appreciation from an audience is so much cheaper than actually doing real therapy.”