I don't know if journalism is supposed to be like the Stanislavski school of acting, writes Helene Cacace. Should a journalist experience the feelings and emotions of the interviewee, like a method actor and his part? Well, by the end of a recent interview with Billy Bragg I almost felt I was Billy Bragg... (well sort of).
Billy Bragg's new book 'The Progressive Patriot, A Search for Belonging' is a personal journey; a search for his own identity and the meaning of being English. Interwoven in the novel are his musical influences, from Dylan to the Clash and then musings about his own family tree - his ancestors' involvement with the Unions, with long chapters on great events in British history - the Magna Carta, the Reformation, the creation of the Welfare State.
It's probably the type of book you read over a long period alongside another, so you can digest and contemplate his theories - a luxury I didn't have as a journalist. I condensed reading into the 24 hours before meeting the author.
The interview took place in a leafy hotel in Ilkley near Leeds where he was to give an evening talk to 300 members of the Ilkley Literary Festival. We bumped into Billy as we were checking into the hotel and as expected he was charming. The arrangement was to meet after he had had a nap (poor guy was jet lagged from a trip to the States).
Because the report was to be the voice of Billy Bragg the interview was less of an inquisition and more of a prompt to regurgitate the principle ideas in his book. When it was over I felt quite an expert on Billy Bragg's philosophy on Englishness.
Billy couldn't get enough of us More4 news groupies. Even after the interview the poor man had to forget any plans to put his feet up, away from journalists. We bumped into him at the hotel bar in the hour we had to kill before his festival speech. What could be more English than bonding with Billy Bragg watching the Croatia-England game with a beer in his hand?
The 300 or so Ilkley Bragg-enthusiasts piled into the hotel conference room and listened to Billy read from his book and explain it's main tenets. With a stage and an audience I think it was a wasted opportunity not to get his guitar out and belt out a song. A few verses from 'England, Half English' , the sing-along version of his argument may have got the Ilkley book club dancing in the aisles and sold him a few more books. A question and answer session only helped to fill in the gaps on the chapters he had not already covered. By this point I think I was guessing his answers and finishing his sentences in my head.
Any pride we had left as journalists went out of the window when we joined the queue to get our books signed. It was probably a good idea that we left the hotel to catch a bite to eat and avoided hassling him further in the hotel restaurant.
To be honest with the prospect of listening to the interview again, several times over, and to edit it down for the programme I was Billy Bragged-out. However I couldn't help but feel slightly disappointed when he wasn't there the next day to join us for the hotel breakfast.