From Punk Lives, 8, 1983
Emily Harrison is a young poet who has read at many Stand Up and Spit gigs.
She wasn’t even born when us ranters were gigging but her work and reading style makes her a most welcome addition to the bill. Emily writes about class, and in particular about mental health. She does this with honesty and humour and has quickly become a favourite wth audiences.
Emily says that, “Spoken word owes so much to ranting poetry. If it wasn’t for these working class geniuses, poetry would still largely be inaccessible waffle that never changed a thing. I had the pleasure of reading at the Stand Up and Spit events with some of the greats: Linton Kwesi Johnson, Phill Jupitus, Joolz, Ginger John amongst others. I knew these poets individually but was unaware of the ranting scene of the 70s and 80s. Poets, it would seem, are not just born out of thin air, and Stand Up and Spit – the gigs, blog, and joie de vivre – has done a lot to document the poets and poetry as well as the context and climate of the times. It’s also managed to link all that and make clear comparisons to the poetry and political situation of my generation.
“I was surprised that those branded ‘angry poets’ could also be so welcoming and supportive but it was clear we had something in common – we want change. Each ranting poet in their own right recognises that there isn’t time to waste when you have someting to say and you’re given a stage. And when they do speak, it bites. The performances were unforgettable. Being part of the event gave me immense confidence and taught me a thing or two about how to engage your audience. It is important for us newbies to recognise the hereitage of spoken word, and ranting poetry’s part in it, and be wholeheartedly thankful for it.”
Quinoa Is Only Spelt Like That to Out the Working Class
The junior doctor
doesn’t need to prove anything to the dinner table
He says it all when boasting
“I now have the power to section people.”
I see the child
to drop the priceless vase
with over dramatic unstable hands.
The rich kid showing off his remote controlled
whatever it is.
The big red ‘press me but you really shouldn’t press me’ button.
He’s one of those
filling up my wine glass without my permission,
drowning my food in gravy
when I specifically said
just a little bit.
Someone actually laughs.
And I sit in my highchair
all oblivious smiles with food face
the only one who had to ask for a napkin
The fork in the right hand, the knife in the wrong hand,
stop hitting yourself.
At least if someone chokes on their food
or, God forbid, their words
we’re in safe hands
I force in another profiterole.
revenge is a dish served best to whoever prepped it.
Vinnie Jones is acting badly on the telly
slamming someone’s head
in a car door
over and over
when you shoulder-barge in with
‘I know how to hit you and not leave a mark’
I dream of giving you
the fastest red card in history
Vinnie keeps slamming
and thoughts splinter
Vinnie keeps slamming
reducing memories to dust
The room clenches its teeth
Vinnie Jones is acting badly on the telly
and your intentions are
blunt hooligans’ fists
your intentions are
claret on a sovereign ring
I never thought I’d learn
that covering your face isn’t instinct
and that violence
is only ever slow motion
Ginger John, Emily Harrison, Tim Wells at Bang Said The Gun, 2015
Emily Harrison, John Cooper Clarke, and Rhoda Dakar at The Big One, 2015
I asked Nathan Penlington to mark our 500th post and look back at the blog to date. There’re plenty more to come and we’re working on more gigs for the summer.
I met Tim Wells twenty years ago. He was standing in the doorway of an upstairs room of a pub just off Carnaby Street. Blu-tacked to the wall was a photocopied poster in the cut & paste style of ransom notes of old that spelled out the enigmatic words The Hard Edge Club. A huge man wearing an eye-patch took my £2 entrance fee. I’d arrived.
This was back in 1995, when there was only a handful of regular nights in London that you could go and hear poetry performed, that is aside from the nights that branded performance poetry with dual capital Ps, and those nights that mumbled with the writers’ group energy of self-serious reading. The Hard Edge Club was a love child of alternative comedy and ranting poetry, a venue that allowed writers and performers to wear those influences proudly, but in combination formed something new. Something funny, brutal, honest, absurd, and democratic. At times the poetry was terrible and brilliant simultaneously. Sometimes it was just terrible. That was its joy.
It makes sense that I’d meet Tim Wells there. At that point Tim had already been involved in live poetry for almost 17 years, the kind of poetry that isn’t afraid to get itself dirty, fight back, and use funny to sucker punch you with truth and emotion.
Stand-up and spit is a continuation of that spirit, a look back at the influences and influence of ranting poetry. It is a history of a movement that was never a movement, run in the margins of music zines and on photocopied flyers, performed at music gigs and sold on tapes and records.
In the past 499 posts Tim has unearthed a huge and important collection of material, much of it helps to rewrite the conventional histories of UK poetry, and bridges that gap between the influence of punk and the rise of Hip Hop. Thanks to Tim’s ongoing research the significance of rant can no longer be ignored, and has become especially relevant in the current political climate.
Tim asked me to delve in and pick out some highlights – so, in the style of music zines everywhere, in no particular order, here is my Stand up and Spit top 10.
1: John Cooper Clarke and Frank Sidebottom do karaoke – this an absolute joy, somehow conjuring up the spirit of music hall.
2: Michael Smith Documentary – filmed a year before he was killed, the documentary features Linton Kwesi Johnson and CLR James. The influence of Michael Smith’s album Mi Cyaan Believe It continues today.
3: The Big One – putting its mouth where its money is, or something like that, this was Stand up and Spit’s glorious live celebration of rant – including Cooper Clarke, Mark Thomas, Ginger John, Linton Kwesi Johnson, Joolz, John Hegley, Attila the Stockbroker, Porky the Poet.
4: New Cross Fire – the tragedy, the response by the police, and the rise of race tensions in the face of National Front hatred, were tackled by many ranting poets including Benjamin Zephaniah and Linton Kwesi Johnson.
5: Gladys McGee – This is great. Tim writes, “Whilst not a ranter she did gig with us and was a genuine working class voice”.
7: Guttersnipe zine documentary – from a time when the BBC would take a risk with its community programming, an in-depth look behind the scenes of a Telford punk zine.
8: The Poetry Olympics – a review from the NME, 5th December, 1981, sums up the divide between poetry factions. A lot hasn’t changed over the years.
9: The collier’s rant: Cecil Sharp House – Tim writes, “whilst ranting poetry isn’t folk music, it is working people having a voice. It wasn’t lost on 80s ‘zine writers that the broadsheets and songs of the Georgians and Victorians were also the voice of ordinary people”.
10: Sleaford Mods – 2015: Cameron’s and the Tories’ utter disdain for the populace; cuts to welfare, arts and education; the dismantling of the NHS; tax evasion and corporate greed; police brutality and the erosion of human rights. If there was ever a time for new rant it is now.
Feel free to rail against my choices. Post your top Stand up and Spit picks in the comments.
Fascinating post about 2 women being hauled up to their congregational church in 1650 for ‘scandalous & stubborne walking’. You can read it here.
This is a very rare look at the lives of the Ranters of the English Civil War period, all the rarer for being about women.
One of the women had been caught reading Abiezer Coppe’s A Fiery Flying Roll.
Norwich was strongly Parliamentarian during the civil wars.
‘Song for the Luddites’ was included in a letter to Thomas Moore dated 24 December 1816, but was not published until 1830 when Moore included it in the second volume of his biography of Byron.
Byron’s maiden speech in the House of Lords, 1812, was against the Frame Breaking Act and in defence of the Luddites:
“As the sword is the worst argument that can be used, so should it be the last. In this instance it has been the first; but providentially as yet only in the scabbard. The present measure will, indeed, pluck it from the sheath; yet had proper meetings been held in the earlier stages of these riots, had the grievances of these men and their masters (for they also had their grievances) been fairly weighed and justly examined, I do think that means might have been devised to restore these workmen to their avocations, and tranquillity to the country.”
“…Are we aware of our obligations to a mob? It is the mob that labour in the fields and serve in your houses – that man your army and recruit your navy – that have enabled you to defy the world, and can also defy you when neglect and calamity have driven them to despair.”
The weavers, he asserted: “were not ashamed to beg, but there was none to relieve them: their own means of subsistence were cut off, all other employment preoccupied; and their excesses, however to be deplored and condemned, can hardly be subject to surprise”. Nor was this simply the reaction of those frightened by technology but of men “willing to dig, but the spade was in other hands”.
“[S]uppose one of these men, as I have seen them meagre with famine, sullen with despair, careless of a life which your lordships are perhaps about to value at something less than the price of a stocking-frame; suppose this man surrounded by those children for whom he is unable to procure bread at the hazard of his existence, about to be torn for ever from a family which he lately supported in peaceful industry, and which it is not his fault than he can no longer so support; suppose this man – and there are ten thousand such from whom you may select your victims, – dragged into court to be tried for this new offence, by this new law, – still there are two things wanting to convict and condemn him, and these are, in my opinion, twelve butchers for a jury, and a Jefferies for a judge!”
Song for the Luddites
As the liberty lads o’er the sea
Bought their freedom, and cheaply, with blood,
So we, boys, we
Will die fighting, or live free,
And down with all kings but King Ludd!”
When the web that we weave is complete,
And the shuttle exchanged for the sword,
We will fling the winding sheet
O’er the despot at our feet,
And dye it deep in the gore he has poured.”
Though black as his heart its hue,
Since his veins are corrupted to mud,
Yet this is the dew
Which the tree shall renew
Of Liberty, planted by Ludd!
Some booze fuelled pages from the second issue of Coventry’s Ded Yampy ‘zine, 1980.
See some of the first issue here.