Attila the Stockbroker: The Ultimate Hooligan
Lynden Barber, Melody Maker, 19 June 1982
Standing against the kind of pastel sea and sky only seen in Turner paintings and south-coast resorts is a dog-eared set of leather and denim containing the world’s unlikeliest poet.
Viewed from this perspective, Attila The Stockbroker looks slobbish, out-of-place, a rude intrusion into a serene landscape, but walk around and look at him again and you’ll find his stocky figure, silhouetted against one of Brighton’s two piers, a more fitting backdrop altogether.
Close your eyes and concentrate; you can almost see Attila on stage at some pier variety show, verse spuming at a fair old rate, eyes bulging and mouth widening in a cheeky-chappy grin.
“I consider myself to be a cross between stand-up comedy, poetry and slap-stick; sort of a cross between George Formby and the 4-Skins,” he says. It almost fits.
Bearing absolutely no resemblance to a Hun, Attila is as British as football scarves, Sooty and Sweep and cups of tea, though not red-white-and-blue as in Prince Charles, racist cops and the Daily Mail. Call him a patriot and he’d probably clock you one sharpish and spit in your face for good measure. It would serve you right.
Though widely described as “poet”, Attila snuggles more usefully into the tradition of the British music hall than he does the bookish world of poem-reading owls and their straight-faced recitation. His favourite self-definition is “ranter”.
The term will do as a rough and ready description of the man’s stage style – caught in mid-verse he’s a sight, all leathery tongue and crimson flush – though it fits his everyday speech more accurately.
To say that Attila The Stockbroker has the gift of the gab is like saying that John Lee Hooker can sing, or that Adolf Hitler didn’t like foreigners much. When the Stockbroker tongue is silent it means he’s in bed, probably snoring. At all other points of the day this pink, supercharged lump of mouth muscle works on piece rate, pumping furiously as if in the middle of an attempt on the world record for non-stop jaw movement.
The “interview” begins when Attila meets the journalist and photographer at Brighton Station and immediately (and without prompting) starts recounting various episodes from his life history. It ends approximately six exhausting, ear-blitzed hours later.
Name any topic and you can guarantee old Attila has a fair few things to say on the subject. Let us dip our toes in the verbal water, so to speak, and throw this one at him…COCKTAIL MENTALITY!
Like a streak he’s away: “The whole cocktail ethic, dance-and-forget, Blue Rondo, Spandau, Haircut One Hundred and white funk and new pop is absolute dross, it makes me sick,” he spits with considerable urgency.
Barely a pause for breath and he’s off again: “I’m doing this poem at the moment about taking Club For Heroes and the Barracuda, you know, flame thrower, stun grenades, come through the door like this, krkrkr!krkrkrkr!” He imitates a burst of machine gun fire.
“I went to Club For Heroes once and I couldn’t believe it. I went downstairs and there was the most incredible bunch of parasites and poseurs and just the dross of humanity…it was just awe-inspiring. I felt like getting a few pints of beer and pouring it over the head of one of them and in fact this is what I did. He just preened his hair and didn’t do anything…he looked a bit pained.
“The tradition of rock or pop is that it is an alternative and progressive and looks forward to some sort of change, it doesn’t celebrate the pampered, sickening nausea of the established order, it’s supposed to be against it.
“These preening poseurs in their nightclubs, they’re celebrating nothing, and as far as I’m concerned they’re the enemy, as much as the Tories or whatever, they are the people I regard as legitimate targets for anything.”
He’s really getting worked up now, quickening the pace for the final lap: “The other thing I find even more sickening is the lie that’s perpetrated that working class kids go to these places. How does an unemployed kid who gets £16 a week manage to spend £3.50 of that on entrance to a club and stay there for a whole evening with drinks at about £1.30? It’s for the rich elite, the private income bracket.”
He adds, almost cheekily: “Of course, I’ve got nothing against people having fun.”
This is all very entertaining – exaggerated maybe, though with several hard grains of truth – but that doesn’t explain why Attila is necessary, why his ranting is a tonic for the times, why it matters. Here’s why.
On that grim, overcast day when London Transport jumped playfully around Lord Denning’s ankles and decided that the soft, welfare state pampered commuter would have to take out a bank loan to be able to get from Tooting Broadway to Tottenham Court Road, this weary but angry passenger refused to play ball with a bus conductor and won. I was lucky.
“This conductor was okay, but the last one I had was disgusting,” said a frail Indian woman, turning around from the seat in front. “When I refused to pay the full fare he stopped the bus and the police came and arrested me.” They’d held her for two hours, she said, finally releasing her with no charges after subjecting her to a strip search and accusing her of being “fooled by the Trots”.
At that point, latent violence foaming to the surface, I thought of Attila The Stockbroker. I thought of his poem ‘Awayday’, a sharply barbed snipe at the stupidities of the fares decision based around the cheerfully optimistic and plainly ridiculous notion that commuters of all shades, from pin stripe to paisley, might just decide they’ve had enough, and revolt.
That daft, ludicrous, funny poem somehow cheered me up, made the negotiation of life’s minefield of trivial and serious frustrations more bearable, expressed my exact feelings with succinct wit and candour.
That’s why Attila The Stockbroker matters.
Attila’s pieces are no-holds-barred assaults on the various symptoms of this ill nation, not so much savage missiles as poisoned arrows guided onto their brittle targets by a saucy humour and mean way with words. In Monty Python’s “Piranha Brothers” sketch a victim of gang boss Dinsdale Piranha complains that he is not so much intimidated by the possibility of having his head nailed to a coffee table as by the thought of being exposed to Dinsey’s greatest weapon – sarcasm.
Like Dinsdale Piranha – a “smashing bloke”, by all accounts – The Stockbroker knows all the tricks; hyperbole, irony, you name it.
Angered by the recent, infamous case where a rapist was convicted without being sent to jail, Attila composed a piece called “Contributory Negligence”, a tale concerning a High Court judge who gets beaten up by a hitch-hiker that manages to be both pointed and rib-crackingly hilarious.
It’s a clever piece, but to quote it in print would lose the flavour, spoil the impact and come across as flat second best. A major slice of Attila’s appeal lies in his deliciously wicked delivery; listen to ‘They Must Be Russians’, a missive on the bigotry of the average Fleet Street-fed bore, and you can almost see his delighted leer of irony spreading across the room.
The first break for Attila came when he and his verse-speaking skinhead pal from Bradford, Seething Wells, turned up uninvited at last year’s Poetry Olympics at London’s Young Vic and asked organiser Michael Horovitz if they could appear. He agreed.
“Our contributions were totally unscheduled and we wiped the floor with the others,” relates Attila modestly. “People said to me ‘it’s like punk hit poetry’, ‘cos Cooper-Clarke was never like that. He had a different delivery and a very original style and he was funny, but JCC was never threatening, he was always nice, safe entertainment. Me and Swells aren’t. We are controversial. People get angry when they see us.
“Everything started after that, it really took off. People like JCC and Linton Kwesi Johnson have had the scene to themselves for so long. Me and Swells and People like Little Brother from Bradford and Mark Mywords from Sheffield are determined that LKJ and JCC are gonna have their monopoly bust open sky-high. There’s room for more than them.”
Despite Attila citing Lenny Bruce and Monty Python as his two main influences and his competitive digs at Cooper-Clarke, the Mancunian insect man stands as one of his most important spiritual forebears, The Man Who Made It Possible. Popular poetry, rock poetry, call it what you will, in the dark days BC (Before Clarke) meant the cool flip of the Beats, the clever-dick Mersey gang or the self-conscious, oh-so-serious brow-furrows of Jim Morrison, Patti Smith, Marc Feld, Leonard Cohen. You know, “This Is Art, And If It Isn’t Being Read From A Leather-Bound Volume, It Should Be”. Check MM’s “Poet’s Corner” for the up-date.
The thing that changed most abruptly in The Year Of Our Clarke was the delivery; fast, manic, yelled, irreverant, rude, crude and crazed, all words that now fit comfortably around the flow of verse that emanates from Attila The Stockbroker’s ever energetic gob.
Listen to the Poetry Olympics LP and the difference between the JCC, ATS and Swells faction and Heathcote Williams, Michael Horovitz, Roger McGough et al is almost painful, like hearing the Sex Pistols in the middle of a Leo Sayer LP.
Horovitz has recently been taking Attila and Swells to task in the pages of the London listings mag City Limits, criticising their failure to give credit to poets on the “official” scene, though for all his “reasonableness” he seems to be missing the point completely. The major difference between the new, Bolshie poets and all the rest is that the likes of Attila possess the urgency and power to seize the moment and grasp the imagination of the young. Not just the circles of traditionally poetry-oriented middle-class adolescents, but the panoply of youth writ large across the face of Britain.
“I want to get across to everybody, but especially to the sort of people who until now have not thought of poetry as anything to do with them, like punks and skinheads,” says Attila. “I play everything from reggae, punk, posh poetry people, Oi gigs, the whole lot. I don’t want to be categorised as one thing or another.
“For example, because of my support for certain aspects of ‘Oi’ there’s been a few people saying ‘this Attila, he’s got a huge skinhead following’. It’s crap. One of the worst aspects of the music business is that you have to be in a nice, safe box.”
Attila (his real name is not for public consumption, but it consists of two syllables, the first being an extremely common English boy’s name) is in Brighton visiting his mother on the day of the interview, but his home is the bleak Essex new town of Harlow. An oldish looking 24, he represents the jagged remains of a body that has been thrown around a violently curious mixture of experiences.
He played in an “archetypal political pre-punk band” called English Disease. He played bass with Brighton Riot Squad during the punk era. He was a student at Kent University. He went to Brussels and joined a punk band called Contingent (pronounced Con-Tan-Jhon) for a year. And then came possibly his life’s most galvanising experience.
“I came back to London, and because I can speak fluent French I got this job as an interpreter-cum-dogsbody in the Stock Exchange,” relates Attila, fixing the journalist with a slightly disconcerting cross-eyed stare. “I thought sod it, it’ll be good experience to see how the other half lives, so I went into that and it was incredible.
“The people at the top there made sure that I’d be a convinced, totally dedicated fanatical socialist for the rest of my life. I’d like anyone who ever apologises or believes that capitalism is a morally justified system to go and watch the hideous vultures of the Stock Exchange in their everyday work.
“It’s said that those people are the pillars of society, the people who should be looked up to and respected; I don’t know what the difference is between yer average stockbroker and yer average East End gangster. In fact East End gangsters are probably nicer as people.
“I worked in this firm that specialised in gold shares in South Africa, and I found out a load of lovely people who had gold shares in South Africa who weren’t supposed to have, like trade unions.
“I used to blow my top quite regularly, ‘cos while I’ve never been into gratuitous violence, I’ve always been quite short-tempered. I used to take copies of Socialist Worker in and read it, and they couldn’t handle it. Anyway, one day I had this argument and knocked this coffee over and they called me ‘Attila The Hun’, and I said ‘No, Attila The Stockbroker’, and I thought ‘That’s a great name’.”
He adopted the name more regularly when he first started “pissing around on stage” with Harlow punk band the Newtown Neurotics, singing and playing mandolin and gradually letting verse take over as he realised it was being better received than the music.
“The name ‘Attila The Stockbroker’ is supposed to convey the reality, which is that I am a piss artist loony, and if people come to see ATS they’re not going to see a conventional poet at a poetry reading, they’re gonna see some drunk hooligan slob around the stage and rant. The name ‘Attila The Stockbroker’ is two extremes – the name Attila, the ultimate hooligan, and the stockbroker, the ultimate pillar of society, and that in itself is satire.”
Walking past the Brighton Centre, where a hoarding announces a forthcoming Spandau Ballet concert, young Attila has even the journalist – not a Person exactly renowned for his love of the group – slightly worried when he remarks that he’d “like to take an iron bar to Spandau Ballet”. I mean this “ultimate hooligan” business seems okay when tongue-in-cheek, but he keeps on about it, continually playing it up. Cue the confrontation. Does he actually relish violence? Attila interrupts before the sentence is even half up.
“No…no…of course not. Violence is horrible and nasty, with people bleeding and hurt, it’s terrible. In a situation where it’s a choice between violence or allowing people to ride roughshod over you – if people come after me looking for violence – I don’t sort of give in my principles because they’re threatening me, you know, I stand up to them. You have to, otherwise you’re totally useless and you might as well not bother.”
It’s easy to say that, but Attila means it, as a frightening incident that takes place a few weeks after this interview proves. Appearing on a double bill with the Newtown Neurotics at a venue called Skunx in an Islington pub, Attila is confronted by an organised gang of that mentally disabled species known as Fascists.
One of them jumps on stage and tries to smash him over the head with his mandolin, then about 20 of them storm the stage in what appears to be a pre-meditated attack. Luckily he manages to escape, shaken but basically unhurt. It seems that Attila is offending the right people.
The decision to go ahead and play the gig, despite received information that he would be attacked, stands as gritty testimony to his stated intentions concerning principles and threats. Afterwards he’s reluctant to say much about the incident, saying that he doesn’t want to appear as “some kind of anti-fascist hero”, but he does explain why he feels it’s important to play that kind of venue.
“I wanted to show that socialist performers are not afraid of playing the place. I want to perform in front of British Movement kids. I want a dialogue – to a lot of these kids it’s just a rebellion.”
TO THAT end The Stockbroker is putting his ‘Awayday’ track on the third and final Oi album, a controversial move, perhaps, but one at least partially motivated by a desire to counteract the more questionable aspects of the cult.
“I think ‘Oi’ is a powerful medium, it’s got a lot of potential,” he says. “I believe that for all its drawbacks, it’s worth supporting. I’d prefer to side with something that at least has its nose in reality, and argue against the people in it who are negative.”
It would be easy to pounce, vulture-like, on some of Attila The Stockbroker’s dodgier pronouncements, to lay into him because of his tendency to see the working class in cliched terms – rough, tough, relentlessly yobby, etc – and to romanticise machismo, but it would be pointless. These faults are largely absent from his verse, and that verse is explosive.
The next time you pick up a copy of The Sun, the Daily Mail, or any of the other Thatcherite stalwarts of Fleet Street and feel like kicking over the news-stand, tearing up the papers and delivering a swift upper-cut to the vendor, pause. Attila The Stockbroker, self-styled “alternative newsreader”, could bring cheer to your spleen.