U.K. musician Billy Bragg is widely known for his long career in music and activism, which includes a blend of grassroots forms, such as punk rock, folk music, protest music, and heritage traditions. In addition to a recent tour with Joe Henry in support of their collaborative album, Shine a Light, Bragg has written a forthcoming book on the history of a lesser-known roots movement called skiffle. Argued by Bragg to be the oft-overlooked transition between American blues and jazz and the wildly popular rock and roll bands that fueled the British Invasion of the 1960s, skiffle was a largely subterranean culture, inhabited by jazz fanatics and purists, trying to breathe new life into the stagnating post-war U.K. music scene.
Bragg’s book: Roots, Radicals & Rockers: How Skiffle Changed the World (Faber & Faber, out July 11) traces skiffle down to the detail, beginning with a history of the railroad in the United States, which laid down the pathways for jazz and blues as it connected the country to its crucial musical epicenter: New Orleans. In anticipation of his U.S. book tour, which includes a stop hosted by Literati Bookstore and the Ark in Ann Arbor on Tuesday, July 18 (the event is ticketed, and includes a copy of the book), Bragg connected with Metro Times for a Skype interview on the subject of skiffle, the practice of translating complex history into exciting and approachable language, and the empowering process of viewing history from a personal, rather than an academic, perspective.