The Voices Of Britain – Garry Johnson

The second part of a Sounds 2 page feature.

Sounds, Jan 29th, 1983

Garry Bushell demands poetic justice for S.Wells, Little Brother and Garry Johnson.


Garry Johnson understood, just like I knew anyone at all sussed would, that my already infamous and undebatably great ranting piss-take ‘This Punk Is No More, It Has Ceased To Be, If You Hadn’t Safety-pinned It To The 100 Club Stage It’s Be Pushing Up Daisies’ was meant entirely as a boot up the eighties.
Ninety-nine per cent of so-called contemporary punk is about as alive and kicking as Arthur Askey, RIP (Rest ‘Is Pegs). Like old queen Gene the ‘scene’ sucks, baby. It ain’t riding any tidal waves of rebellion and excitement – it’s floundering in a puke-promptingly cosy complacency bloated on indie-orientated small-minded tunnel vision conformity!
Y’know, “Our Spike’s a real punk – he’s been gobbing ever since the Apocalypse tour. . .” That sort of sap deserves to get his nappy changed regular in Monotony Maker.
Garry Johnson’s a real punk, he hasn’t spiked his hair for six years. . .
“If Oi/New Punk is gonna mean anything in the future it’s gotta be free of all the rip-off fashions you were talking about in Sounds,” the thin wise dude opines. “The uniform will fade away and the attitude will take over. The attitude and style will be flash, trash, rebellious. . . Punk IS dead, yeah, but only the fashion, never as an attitude. Rebellion is forever, angry but smart. The attitudes of punk, real punk, are the attitudes and ideals of working class rebellion.”
Ah, gal, Gal. . . few people have that clarity of vision, which is why the man’s long absence from these pages and Britain’s stages has been so distressing.
Garry you may recall was the seminal street poet, the man who best articulated Oi’s socialistic dream. His sussed stanzas stood out a mile on the massively misunderstood ‘Strength Thru Oi’, while the real feel of that whole beat of the street movement was best captured in his Babylon book The Story Of Oi. He wrote as he spoke, with a straight-forward simplicity, a street level point of view, and a natural sense of rhyme and rhythm.
But for a year now Garry has been AWOL in self-imposed exile, a drastic response to a right-wing attack and his own largely drug-induced illness. It’s been a year of recovery, re-appraisal and bloody hard work. Under the guiding wing of Paul Weller protégée playwright Tony Marchant (author of the great Jam-inspired London Calling) Garry’s written his first play, a 2-Tone riot story called The Clash which he describes as a “realistic black comedy”.
He’s half-written a novel that he’s intriguingly keeping schtum about, and written enough poems for two concept collections, one called The Fall Of The British Empire the other Not The Promised Land. He’s also been writing songs and plans to launch his own band soon, McLaren style.
Still the right side of 25, the prodigal son of East Ham is threatening to return – and soon, which is good news for anyone who prefers his stars o have a touch of common (sense and feel). Not that his absence has meant he hasn’t kept an eye on the state of play, indeed his view of Oi’s degeneration is pretty much spot on.
“What Oi meant to me and I know it did to you was working class anthems – not mindless violence or dodgy politics but the logical continuation of ‘Anarchy in the UK’, that attitude. It was songs of rebellion, words of revolution, an attitude of contempt and anger. Not fighting each other in the streets, but fighting the system, challenging the establishment through words and music.
“I got depressed by the state of New Punk cos it was being attacked by those on the outside and let down by those on the inside, the ‘enemy within’. I mean they didn’t care about the music or the lyrics, to them it was just like football violence with a musical background. Nothing to do with rock’n’roll.”
Do you identify with the current punk-poetry onslaught?
“Well, not a lot really. Swells for example, he’s the sort of thing Militant would turn out if they had a toy shop. Y’know, ‘Militant Action Man’, a clockwork soldier. I like a couple of the things he’s done, but not much. I reckon he’d be a star if silent movies ever came back.
“And Attila, well, nice bloke shame about the dress sense. Them turn-ups eh, my life! Yeah, I like Attila the serious side, but I don’t like his comic style. I like poets who can really write like Bobby Dylan with ‘Hurricane’ or ‘Joey’, before he went religious. To me Paul Weller’s lyrics are my favourite poems, he’s a poet genius! I like Linton Kwesi Johnson and John Cooper Clarke before he got boring, and early Elvis Costello as well. I like lyrics that are poems and poems that are lyrics.”
But although he criticises his fellow stanza bandits, Garry has to concede that they’ve done been doing what he patently ain’t – gigging like fury.
“Yeah, well as you know I’ve sort of had a drug problem – I couldn’t get enough. No, bu really I’ve been a bit paranoid and a bit manic depressive and had a sort of nerous breakdown with a touch of anorexia thrown in . . . the Lena Zavaroni of Oi, eh? But I’m more or less alright now, the best I’ve been all year and looking forward to ’83. It could be a good’un, Broadway or Broadmoor, whadyareckon?
“Benefit gigs I’m not sure about cos politically I’m as confused as ever, cos I’m political in my writing but not party political. I ain’t got a party I can support, I’ve never voted. But if it was law I’s votr Labour cos of it’s tradition and what it stood for when it was formed – power too the people, defenders of the poor and all that.
“But it ain’t that now, it’s not working class, it’s a middle class social club! I’m a Militant at heart. I like their policies like the abolition of the House Of Lords and monarchy, but I don’t like their leaders. They ain’t working class are they? They might be in Liverpool but not in London. It’s the difference between the Clash and Crass. If I lived in Liverpool I’d join. But not in London where they’re all like middle class social worker types like Peter Tatchell.
“Labour candidates should be like Yosser from Boys From The Blackstuff. But there ain’t been a really working class Labour Party for years. I’ve seen ’em on the TV right, they’re all liars and posers.”
Now Gal Johnson on the TV and gigging and recording again that would be worth seeing. In his own words, ‘Where is the new wave of angry young men? – poetic rebels, be angry again!’ Gal, that means YOU too!


One thought on “The Voices Of Britain – Garry Johnson

  1. Pingback: We’re Gigging At The Roundhouse | standupandspit

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