Billy Bragg is on track for a very different North East gig

Billy Bragg and Joe Henry play at Whitley Bay Playhoue on 25 January.
Billy Bragg and Joe Henry play at Whitley Bay Playhoue on 25 January.

Protest singer Billy Bragg is taking a different track for his latest live shows.

Instead of espousing change through his music, he has teamed up with US singer-songwriter Joe Henry to celebrate the great American railroad tradition.

In September they released the album Shine A Light, a collection of railroad-based songs recorded during a 65-hour journey from Chicago to Los Angeles.

Now they are to play it live, along with some classic cuts from their respective back catalogues, at a sold-out Whitley Bay Playhouse on Wednesday, 25 January.

Bragg and Henry recorded the album during a 2,728-mile journey which began at Union Station in Chicago in March last year.

They set up their recording equipment, and performed classic railroad songs in waiting rooms and at the trackside in St Louis, Fort Worth, San Antonio, Alpine TX, El Paso and Tucson, before jumping back on board just before the train left for the next town.

Bragg said: "Railroad songs provided the bedrock of American popular music, from Jimmie Rodgers, the Singing Brakeman, to Lead Belly, whose repertoire provided several of the songs for this project.

"In this country, Lonnie Donegan’s 1956 hit Rock Island Line sparked the skiffle craze, inspiring a generation of British teens to pick up guitars and form the groups that invaded America in the '60s, from the Beatles to Led Zeppelin.

"With this project, we wanted to explore the transformative power that the coming of the railroad had on the lives of ordinary people, by taking these songs back to the places that inspired their creation.

"Travelling on the train and recording the songs as we went allowed us to both visit places that were important 125 years ago when the lines were laid, but to also explore the viability of the railroad as a means of transport in the 21st century."

Henry added: "The emergence of the railroad in America boasted of our might and sprawling enormity, yet signalled a deep desire for close community, connectivity. The songs that grew out of and alongside this innovation remain to tell this story of collective national character."

Billy Bragg has been a recording artist and peerless political campaigner for more than 30 years.

Henry is a well-respected singer-songwriter in his own right, as well as making records for Bonnie Raitt, Hugh Laurie, Lisa Hannigan, Elvis Costello and Solomon Burke, among others.