The second of the Oi compilations gets an interesting review in Sounds, 23 May, 1981. Alongside some decent punk from the likes of Cock Sparrer, The Strike and 4 Skins, and some grimmer gumby bands, there’s poetry from Barney Rubble and Garry Johnson.
Garry Johnson’s poems find their way to Sounds, 7 February, 1981. Soon after he’d be a regular turn on the Oi albums.
Phaze One ‘zine also gets a mention. An interview with Infa-Riot from their first issue can be found here.
From the NME, 25 July, 1981
The Oi stood on the burning dreck . . . ?
Mick Duff talks to Oi the poet Garry Johnson
In the space of three short weeks, all the worst misgivings concerning Oi have been conformed.
Firt, The 4-Skins, The Last Resort and The Business played a gig which was a catalyst for a race riot. Since then, the 4-Skins’ manager Gary Hitchcock has been exposed as a former member of the British Movement “leader guard” – along with Nick Crane, the now imprisoned skinhead pictured on the front of Sounds’ and Deram’s ‘Strength Thru Oi’ LP.
But if there has ever been any good in Oi, poet Garry Johnson is its personification. Swept along on a tide of misguided propaganda, and believing he was participating in some noble punk crusade, Johnson was initially attracted to Oi simply because it shared his affinity for social protest through aggresive music. Like many Oi fans Johnson only recently saw cause for apprehension.
“At the gigs of late, I started to notice a lot of people I’ve never seen before. They weren’t the regular Oi followers – they were a lot older an’ you could spot they were trouble makers straight off. Some were fascists, NF or BM, but the kids didn’t want nothin’ to do with them – but they were still there, menacin’ like.”
Chatting to me in a West End pub, Johnson naively maintains that the ordinary music fans involved in Oi are a strong enough force to drive the fascists out.
“The NF and the BM are the enemy. They wanna spoil it for us an’ we ain’t gonna let them. If they do take over, they’ll have all the kids to put out their propaganda an’ that would be terrible – so we’ve got to stop them!”
Ignoring them in the hope they’ll go away seems to be Johnson’s shaky solution; certainly words are the only weapons he’d use to fight an enemy whose power, conviction and organisation he clearly underestimates.
“But Oi can’t survive in its present form,” he adds. “Only the best people – the good people – will win throiugh an’ develop somethin’ a lot better.”
Garry Johnson deserves better and it’s easy to be won over by his youthful optimism, however gullible. But his poetry, in contrast, is more despairing – reflecting the awful dilemma of the million unemployed young people under 24, black and white, who’ve been dumped on the scrap-heap of Thatcher’s Britain with first hand experience having been out of work for over 18 months, in common with many of his generation, Garry feels he has no future in this country unless radical political changes are made and existing social structures / barriers are broken down.
“That’s why I sympathise with the rioters in a way, except it’s happenin’ in the wrong areas. They should all get on a bus an’ go to Twickenham or Tunbridge Wells. Hit the rich – it’s the only way this government will take notice. It’s no good lootin’ your own people an’ damagin’ your own area.”
Johnson’s poems appear on both ‘Oi – the Album’ and ‘Strength Thru Oi’. What they lack technically is easily compensated for by his insight and depth of feeling: an essential statement of working class youth’s struggle against oppression and the recession.
A collection of Garry Johnson’s poems, entitled Boys of the Empire, is available in pamphlet form from Manchester’s Babylon Books – phone 061-834 8296.
As part of a series of 40 Years of Punk events, we did a poetry gig at The Roundhouse, scene of many a decent gig back when Her Majesty graced the cover of the Sex Pistols’ God Save The Queen.
Proceedings kicked off at one in the afternoon with a discussion panel talking about what punk had done for them.
Richard Boon (easily the world’s coolest librarian), Rhoda Dakar, Tim Wells, and Danny Fields were the panel. Dennis Bovell was due to be there but was stuck on a train or somesuch. Professor Matthew Worley chaired and kept things flowing.
Talk ranged over art school v hooligans, the Bowie precursors to punk, reggae, the politics (or not in Danny’s case) of punk, as well as a mantion of the Foxton’s ‘punk’ Minis currently ferrying gentrifiers to ruin London. Talk was sparky, Richard Boon was his usual wry self and Rhoda made some pertinent observations about people finding thier own space, or spaces in fact, as well as throwing in some good laughs.
There was time for a quick beer and then the packed house settled in for the poetry. Blistering poetry it was too. With so many poets on the bill, sets were tight and the turnover quick. Singles not albums, kids!
The more than capable Salena Godden started things on the right note poetic public service announcements that Women Are Doing What The Hell They Like With Their Own Tits and Women Are Doing What The Hell They Like With Their Own Vaginas. Salena aways delivers and is deft and showing up the wrongs of this world but with a dash of sauce and plenty of humour. Her set got the crowd laughing and she continued host the day’s runnings.
Phill Jupitus, Kate Fox, Sophie Cameron, Salena Godden, Tim Wells
Phill Jupitus‘ first poem was suitably about the first band he’d seen: Blondie. Phill was an original Ranter, as Porky the Poet, and is still one of the best loved gigging poets today. He delivered some new work as well as Ranting classics such as They’ve All Grown Up in the Beano.
Tim Wells, another one-time teenage Ranter, was up next and gave us some observations on goths being sick on the buses as well as a snook cocked at gentrification. Wither those Foxton’s ‘punk’ Minis.
Garry Johnson and Matthew Worley
I’m not sure of who read in what order now, there was lager and I was drinking it. But Kate Fox proved why she’s known as ‘the lovely Kate Fox’, she takes a more gentle approach but undercuts notions of class, gender, and in particular, northerness with charm, humour and a definite punch when needed.
Liam McCormick was a poet I’d not heard before. He’s Scottish whippersnapper and definitely showed a lot of promise. He skewered sectarian bigotry and stood up and spat with the best of ’em.
It’s been a looong time since Garry Johnson has gigged. One of the things that is most special about the Stand Up and Spit gigs for me are getting established poets gigging alongside names we’ve not heard from in a while as well as some of the young poets today with the same bile, fire and anger.
Garry showed that from his first poem: Young Conservatives.
“… Just like the days before the war
The Tory party still stands for
Mass unemployment and poverty
A them and us society
With no free press to speak the truth
Only the voice of the Tory youth
The House of Lords the dead and old
The wealth the power the land they hold
The red the white the Tory blue
The young conservatives I hate you”
Too right Garry. Garry read some of his poems that people know from the Oi albums, as well as a couple of new numbers. Don’t leave it so long next time, Garry!
Things took a turn for the sweary with Sophie Cameron. Demure she may appear but she’s devastating. Swearing can be all too easy, but Sophie is about the imagery rather than the curseword, and she had the audience creasing up. Tindr and posh cunts were both targetted. She delivered a hilarious set, she was more shocking, and in a good way, than many of the punk bands who gigged later.
Phill Jupitus and Sophie Cameron
The Roundhouse have a team of resident poets and one of ’em is Joseph Beaumont-Howell who did a turn. Lively and energetic he kept the pace fast.
Our last poet was Linton Kwesi Johnson. He read poems from the 70s, starting with Five Nights of Bleeding from 1972. Without them being mentioned directly, you could feel the pressure of Brexit and #blacklivesmatter implicit in his words.
It Dread Inna Inglan, his next poem, is also one that resonates still. Several of us, Phill, Rhoda, Richard Boon, myself and surely much of the audience saw Linton read in the late 70s and early 80s and he’s lost none of his presence and power. His final poem really brought the point home: Licence Fi Kill, and those of us who’ve also been seeing Linton read since those early gigs have also been stood outside police stations, on picket lines and marched in protest against the police killing people. It’s wrong it’s still happening, it’s wrong it’s a battle still being fought but it’s empowering that poems like this bolster us and young people are taking to the fight.
To wrap up the night Thee Jezebel’s guitarist, Laura Anderson banged out a couple of punk hits for singalong and was joined by Tim Wells and Phill Jupitus for a messy rendition of Hurry Up Harry. From there we didn’t go down the pub but went through to the main space of the Roundhouse to catch Thee Jezebels do a proper set as the first of a run of punk bands gigging through the evening. Their glamtastic Chiswick ‘ooligan sound is a winner.
That wasn’t enough though! Joe England had a stall selling copies of the best literary ‘zine on the go, Push. It was great to see Joe’s stall shut up early as he’d sold out whilst the kewl kids found it slow going.
Sophie Cameron and Joe England
From there the lager really started flowing. So much so that Sophie Cameron did an impromptu set on the terrace as people wanted more from her now they were lubricated. Once is never enough for her.
The torrent of filth is too much for the genteel Phill Jupitus
We had a great time. The poetry was saying plenty, and it raised some smiles too. We need both.
A big thank you to all the poets, and especially to Speaking Volumes and Arts Council England for making the event possible.
On Saturday July 9th we’ve a do at the Roundhouse in Camden Town. We kick off at 1pm with a discussion on What Did Punk Ever Do For Us?
There’s a lot of mythology that comes with punk these days and we’ve former Buzzcocks manager Richard Boon (and my local librarian); London reggae legend Dennis Bovell; Rhoda Dakar, from female 2 Tone band The Bodysnatchers; prototype New York punk Danny Fields; and the man behind Stand Up and Spit, poet Tim Wells to talk about safety pins, Ramones t-shirts, Rock Against Racism and the like. Did punk kick in the doors or did it open ’em to Boris Johnson? The discussion will be chaired by Prof. Matthew Worley. In true punk style, audience interaction is very much encouraged.
After that we get into gigging proper with Linton Kwesi Johnson, Porky the Poet, Garry Johnson and Tim Wells, and a new breed of brilliant poets who have been inspired by Ranting and fully embrace it’s angry, sweary, boozy nature, including Sophie Cameron, Salena Godden, Kate Fox, and Words First’s Joseph Beaumont-Howell and Liam McCormick.
Protesting, political, working-class, humorous yet also deadly serious, Ranting poetry of the 80s was allied to the music scene, growing up alongside punk and reggae, and was the vibrant precursor of today’s spoken word. Stand Up and Spit celebrates this Ranting ethos that is still very much alive and spitting today.
The event will be finished off with a punk-singalong led by Thee Jezebels frontwoman the mighty Laura Anderson.
More info and tickets available from here.