Monthly Archives: February 2015

The Matchgirl’s Song

In 1888 the match women from Bryant and May’s East End factory were on strike for the right to organise a union.
In Roy Palmer’s 1974, Poverty Knock, Roy Palmer collected songs and ballads, along with contemporary accounts of industrial life in the 19th century.
I recently met with Louise Raw who wrote a history of the strike, Striking A Light.
Tim Wells, Emily Harrison and Janine Booth will be reading at the Matchwomen’s Festival in Canning Town in 2015.

Recollections of Samuel Webber (born 1874) in a 1971 interview with Roy Palmer from Poverty Knock…

“When they went on strike they walked through Bow, all the way up Mile End Road, Whitechapel Road and Leadenhall Street, and straight through to Trafalgar Square. And all the way through Leadenhall Street particularly they used to sing (to the tune of John Brown’s Body):

We’ll hang old Bryant on a sour apple tree,
We’ll hang old Bryant on a sour apple tree,
We’ll hang old Bryant on a sour apple tree,
As we go marchin’ in.
Glory, glory, hallelujah, glory, glory hallelujah,
Glory, glory, hallelujah,
As we go marchin’ in.

And while they were marching along, the people in the offices overhead would throw some coppers (coins) down; and then there’s be a scramble among the girls to get these coppers up. That caused a bit of an interlude from the singing; and when they’d picked up all the coopers, on they’d go again, singing and marching.”

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Tim Wells and Louise Raw

Suedehead Times

Suedehead Times was one of the sussed skinhead ‘zines that proliferated after Hard As Nails had set the tone. It ran from 1985 through 1986.
It was put together by Tony Smith from Chesterfield, Derbyshire. As most of the ‘zines had it focused on good reggae and soul music with a dash of Oi, smart dressing and a distaste for glue sniffing gumby racism that much of the punk end of skinhead had descended into.
I was a young suedehead myself, making me one dapper ranting poet.
Suedeheads were the smarter, stylish end of the skinhead fashion; brogues and crombies rather than boots and braces.
Cheers to Matt McAteer, keep on keepin’ on.

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from Suedehead Times, No.2, 1986

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from Suedehead Times, No.3, 1986

Asher Senator – Abbreviation Qualification

from Sounds, Sept 29, 1984. Singles reviewed by Tibet.

Asher Senator ‘Abbreviation Qualification’ (Fashion)
My introduction to the world of MC-rapping, and an eye-opener it is too. I swear to Jah I’ve never heard anyone sing as fast as this – excepting Steve Ignorent of course – and I admit to being mightily impressed.
Even better: I only noticed one mention to The Weed.

LKJ and the British Black Panthers

In the Past Tense pamphlet In The Shadow of the S.P.G Racist Policing, Resisitance, and Black Power in 1970s Brixton, 2014, there is quite a bit about the British Black Panthers, who included Farrukh Dhondy and Linton Kwesi Johnson.
The quotes below come from a section looking at how the Panters educated people.
Farrukh Dhondy has an active career in which he has written a biography of CLR James, the comedy series Tandoori Nights, translated Rumi, written children’s stories and the Bollywood film Mangal Pandey and been commissioning editor for Channel Four.

“I had the idea, right at the beginning, that culture was the only way out of this mission to complain. The mission to complain was , you know, ‘we are poor, sad blacks, beaten down, you discriminate against us, racism, racism, racism, complaint, complaint, complaint”, and that wouldn’t end until one said ‘Look, forget about the sadness, here’s what I can do.’ We could have an intellectual culture, and I’ve always thought that was the way forward…” Farrukh Dhondy

Militant as it was, Black Power activities also had a strong cultural element – dances, with sound systems, poetry groups… On the one hand this helped to draw people in, but the participation in the movement also opened people’s eyes to their own cultural heritage, as Linton Kwesi Johnson relates:
“My real interest in poetry began when I joined the Black Panthers. Joining the Black Panthers was a life-changer for me because for the first time I discovered black literature, because going to school here I had absolutely no idea whatsoever that black people wrote books. In the Black Panthers they had a library and all of a sudden I discovered all these wonderful books written by black people. One book in particular was a book called ‘The Souls of Black Folk’ written by an African American scholar by the name of W.E.B DuBois. And this book was not a book of poems, it was prose, but it was a very poetic prose and the language was very moving. And that book just stimulated my interest in poetry, and made me want to discover more poetry, and made me want to try to articulate in verse how I felt, and how the black youth of my generation felt about our experiences growing in this racially hostile environment.
I learnt a lot about my culture and I was able to locate myself in the world, and to understand myself more fully. Who I am, where I am coming from, and why I am where I am now.”

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Provisional Southend Poetry Group

This inspired lads were a couple of sussed skinhead herberts, Paul Barrett and Ian Fry.
Paul had previously sung with The Sinyx.
Ian did a few ranting gigs and was a pretty good cartoonist. Paul and he were responsible for crucial skinhead ‘zine Hard As Nails, which set the tone for smartly dressed, good music loving, anti-racist skinheads.

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The Railway Hotel, Southend, Saturday May 7th, 1983

Ian says: “I remember that ‘Railway’ gig particularly well – the “real” Southend Poetry Group turned up (all beards and real ale) and we had them jumping around to the bands by the end of the evening. Also recall some scooter-boys and psychobillies who’d turned up to “get the skins”, now that’s what I call edgy poetry!”

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Paul Barrett

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Ian Fry

Adrian Henri at the ICA

I visited the ICA’s exhibition of Adrian Henri poems, collages, art and recordings. Glad I went, not least ‘cos it was a delight to see Miss Vera Chok as ever, but also because Henri was part of the Mersey Sound poets. His work with the band the Liverpool Scene is a precursor to a Tiswas style of poetry.
Whilst us ranters did kick against the Mersey Poets to an extent, Henri is important in that he was the writer that brought pop culture and working class life into 60s poetry in a way that worked.
The exhibition is on until March 15th 2015. Details here.

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Abiezer Coppe

Abiezer Coppe, Selected Writings, Edited by Andrew Hopton, Aporia Press, 1987.

by Steve Ely

The class divisions among the different groups in the English Revolution, and the differences between their goals and intentions, are striking. At the top of the revolutionary class pyramid you have the emergent capitalist class of powerful yeomen, landed and mercantile interests, symbolised by Ireton and Cromwell in more conservative mode.

What they wanted was for the King to move aside a little so their growing economic power could be matched by the increased political power to which they thought they were entitled. This was not a progressive agenda, a demand for liberty and justice for all. These magnates simply wanted more power for their class, the right to rule alongside and moderate the power of the king in a constitutional monarchy. The radical rhetoric was a means to achieving this end and the limitations of their agenda were rapidly demonstrated by the relapse into reaction in the years after the execution of the king, with disbanding of New Model Army, the suppression of the Levellers and the institution of the Dictatorship. Power achieved, there was no need for liberty, equality or justice.

Below this group was a second group comprised largely of smaller-scale businessmen, farmers and professionals. This group were more radical in their agenda and sought a more fundamental revolutionary change, arguing for the abolition of monarchy and lords and the introduction of universal suffrage for men of property ( ‘servants’ (that is, employees) as well as women were excluded from the levelling franchise). This petit-bourgeois group is represented by the Levellers and their leaders Walwyn and Lilburne. Their radicalism was real, but the extent of it has been exaggerated, it being closer the position of the capitalist, slave-owning ‘founding fathers’ of the U.S.A. than anything that resembled socialism, for example.

Below this group and largely comprising artisans and working men, were Winstanley’s Diggers, who, influenced by the millenarian religious beliefs that proliferated in the revolution, advocated a quasi-anarchist communal ownership of land and property, and envisaged an egalitarian world with no servants or masters, hence their alternative name of ‘true-Levellers’ — as we’ve seen, the Levellers weren’t really levellers at all. The Diggers were a genuinely radical group but despite their economic and political radicalism, were at pains to stress their respectability in regard to conventional morality — especially in regard to sexuality and drinking, for example.
Below (To the left of? To the right of? Ignorant of? Careless of?) the Diggers were the Ranters. Caught up in the chiliastic fervour of a period in which all values and conventions seemed up for grabs, the Ranters, who rose from similar social and occupational groups as the Diggers, espoused a freethinking and deliberately provocative anti-nominianism, rejecting all authority and advocating an absolute egalitarianism and freedom of conscience. The most characteristic expressions of Ranterism were libertinism, excess and a Tourette’s-like commitment to obscenity and swearing in a precursor of the attacks on bourgeois values mounted by the hippies of the 60s and the punks of the 70s. Eschewing work, discipline and the expectations of their ‘betters’, the Ranters lived free, itinerant lives, smoking, drinking, enjoying multiple sexual partners and preaching their chaotic jubilee in taverns (and, as gatecrashing preachers, in churches). In Christopher Hill’s words, the Ranters threatened to ‘turn the world upside down’.

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Perhaps the most notorious of the Ranters was Abiezer Coppe, author of the astonishing ‘A Fiery Flying Rolle’ and several other tracts. Regarded as the ‘Ring-leader’ of the Ranters, Coppe was renowned for (and repeatedly arraigned and imprisoned for) ‘wicked blasphemies … belching … cursing … imprecations’, lying with ‘two women at a time’ and many other ungodly practices’.

Coppe, like others called Ranters (there was no organised group, organisation being anathema to the charismatic, spontaneous character of the movement) had seen in the execution of God’s anointed king the end of the previous dispensation of Christianity and the inauguration of a New World in which, ‘the spirit of Christ would cast down the mighty and the wealthy and sweep away the hypocrisy of formal religion’ and usher in ‘true Christianity’ characterised by ‘universal love’, liberty — and license. Of course, the license of the Ranters was identical to the license anticipated and enjoyed by the inflamed yokels of the Peasants’ Revolt — ‘a revel’ — the chance to eat, drink and be merry; and destroy the property and persons of the rich, the same license that periodically erupts in our inner cities and culminates in marauding gangs of hoodies wheeling off flat-screens in hijacked Tesco shopping trollies.

Like Elijah, Jeremiah and Jesus before him and David Koresh, Jim Jones, Camilo Torres and Malcolm X afterwards, Coppe did not hesitate to speak in God’s name. And Coppe’s God was very much a revolutionary, levelling God: ‘THUS SAITH THE LORD — I overturn, I overturn, I overturn’ His message to the powerful — be they MP, merchant, minister or Prince — was unambiguous. ‘High mountaines! Lofty cedars! … enter into the rocks … hide you in the dust … for the lofty looks of man shall be humbled and the haughtiness of men shall be bowed down … everyone that is proud and lofty shall be brought low … bow down sturdy oaks and tall cedars, or by myself I’ll break you’. Coppe’s God declares class war in the most unambiguous terms.

But, having overthrown the social order, what alternative does Coppe’s God posit? Winstanley’s yeoman-anarchist collective? Lilburne’s prot0-Abrahamic property-owning democracy of (almost)-all-men-created-equal? Most certainly not. Coppe’s end-of-days vision remains absolutely a peasant vision, rooted in the same utopian dreaming visually expressed in Pieter Brueghel’s masterpiece The Land of Cockaigne, for example; ‘ we had be dead drunk every day of the week, and lie with whores in the market place’. However much based on the reality of Coppe’s proto-Haight-Ashbury ethic and lifestyle, there is a pointed and sarcastic hyperbole in these remarks, deployed as they are against the rapacity of his ‘respectable’ opponents, the former revolutionaries of the Civil War, who now take the ‘abused’ and ‘enslaved’ ploughman’s money from him via ‘tythes’ and ‘taxes’ and oppress him with forced military service.

Coppe’s theology is also an anticipation of twentieth century liberation theology, proleptically exercising Gutierrez’s ‘preferential option for the poor’ and threatening violence against the rich from ‘eternal God, the divine Leveller’. In further solidarity with the poor and oppressed, Coppe exhorts his readers to ‘kiss beggars, prisoners, warm them, feed them, clothe them, money them, relieve them, release them, take them in to your houses, don’t serve them as dogs, without door … make them one with you’. As ever with Coppe, there are consequences for the rich and respectable who fail so to do: ‘or else go howling into hell, howl, howl for the miseries that are coming on you, howl’.

Abiezer Coppe is a criminally neglected figure in English writing and the English radical tradition. Andrew Hopton’s selection from his writings — now almost thirty years old — is an excellent introduction to this remarkable man and his even more remarkable works. Coppe’s writing is incandescent and inflammatory — it crackles from the page. The unquiet ghost of John Ball animates Coppe’s discourse, and we — malcontents, subversives, woebegone workers, disaffected bourgeois — could do a lot worse than invigorate ourselves in his unregenerate, turbulent spirit. In these darkened days of plutocracy’s triumph, of discipline, respectability, punishment, and control, pugnacious poets, rude ranters all: fly your Fiery Flying Rolle.

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