Tag Archives: Jeff Nuttall

Tug O’ War

Michael Horovitz in Sounds, 13 March 1982, puts in a watercolour of a letter after an article on that years Poetry Olympics.
Comrade Paul Butterfield gets a mention, who was often at the Orient with his dad.

Bushell’s rampage with Attila the Stockbroker (Sounds February 27) sabotages the credibility of its promotion of Attila by being so scornful of everything and everyone else spat on in passing. Just seven examples for the record:-
1: To kill a few myths before rumour becomes ‘fact’: by Attila’s own definition of the ‘gig-crash’ – “jumping on stage uninvited and having a go, invariably half-cut”, he and Seething Wells most certainly did not “crash the Poetry Olympics at the Young Vic ‘for a crack'”.
If you ask Attila I’m sure, being an honest lad, he’ll confirm that the two of them (hitherto completely unknown to me) came up and asked if they could do a short spot. As this would be cutting into the advertised poets’ time, but not wishing to reject two apparently serious young contenders out of hand, I in turn asked McGough, Paul Weller & the rest, each of whom was gracious enough to agree.
2: It wasn’t “the blubber mountain Nuttall” over whom comrade Butterfield hurled his booze, but me. Since this anorexic seizure of the stage was merely prolonging the delay before my introduction of Bushell’s hero & mine, Attila (else why would I be presenting him at prime-time on my show?), it’s hard to see how Butterfield’s veritable gig-crash can be blown up to the stature of “the prole v-sign to the whole farcical event” Bushell’s account suggests.
And the yells of “Shame! Stinker! Lout! Off! Off!” he correctly reports came from “the offended portion of the crowd” who disliked the look of Butterfield or felt his contribution to be a crashing bore much as Bushell himself did most of the others. I found Pierre’s little vision of the Thames full of shit quite a laugh myself. But the argument against unscheduled additions is they rob the punters of their due from the performers they’ve actually come to hear.
3: Attila’s notion of busting “the gates of the Poetry Establishment with a pen in one hand and an axe in the other” is unworthy of him, and the last thing that’s going to fan “the smouldering embers of a working class poetry explosion” in Britain. The image of embers implies there’s been something of a conflagration – which there has. But if the pen is to prove mightier than Maggie’s iron-thatched farm, let alone the international capitalist military-industrial complex, it’ll be because the entrenched bully-boy Divide-&-Rule policies of the guvnors and owners are overwhelmed by the enduring power of the living ideas & voices of its opponents.
You can bet your life if it comes down to a clash of brawn, the axes that prevail will be those ground by yer ruling classes & swung by their hirelings, the brainwashed mercenaries worldwide. if the giant steps taken against that continuing direction by the likes of Joan Littlewood (Mother Courage of Stratford East), Tom Pickard, McGough, Patten, Weller & the rest are themselves assailed as The Enemy or The Establishment by would-be new wavers, the net result is surely that all true poetry & revolutionary aspiration gets that much more easily wiped out by the Tory Philistinism & economic demoralisation virtually all the oral poets are continuing to fight.
4: I chose the Young Vic & Stratford theatres for these Poetry Olympics shows exactly because they’re two of the most working class & multiracial (& least sectarian or class-ridden) venues in London. So far from representing a “bourgeois, snobby, out of touch… alien world of dirty looks” the Theatre Royal’s a deliberately community orientated anti-racist youth centre, built up over the years with the bare hands & heads of Littlewood, Brendan Behan, Shelagh Delaney, Frank Norman & loads more. This tradition of a people’s theatre was extended the night your reporter looked in & left again with his Bushell of prejudices intact – extended by Attila, but also by the black/alternative/racial/rock communicators James Berry, Jeff Nuttall, Adrian Mitchell, Pete Brown, Patrik Fitzgerald & several others.
5: OK, none of us is getting any younger, but for Bushell to assume that because a few of the above may be around their middle years, we’re necessarily also “middle-class, smug, self-satisfied, & stiflingly self-congratulatory” when he admits he only started to listen the fourth time he left the bar for the auditorium, to Butterfield and Attila, leaves him hoist by his own petard his presumed ‘radicalism’ too is gonna be ’emasculated’ if he pays attention to no-one but his mates. At risk to their self-approbation, he & his might pause to consider the possibility that to be a poet or revolutionary at 20 is to be 20, to be them at 40 is to be a poet & revolutionary – as Mitchell, Nuttall, Heathcote Williams (who didn’t get a hearing at Stratford cos of the time waste of all the aggro & interruptions) still turn out to be.
6: Bushell applauds Attila for standing at the mike “in leather jacket, football scarf & DMs, spouting forth about there here and now. If he’d been in the theatre for the others, as distinct from reacting against their clothes, he’d have been able to tell your paper what each of them read & sang about present day realities too. Why should a conformist of one kind mean more than any other – more than that it’s wearer’s mentality or desired public might be uniform – propaganda for proper geese? I wear cords cos they cost £2 on Portobello Road, whereas leather gear’s pricey these days, being chic, I’ve also written quite a lot of soccer poetry, but that doesn’t mean I wear soccer clothes to perform it in, or want to spout it to soccer fans only.
7: The Stockbroker’s claim that JCC made his forerunners “redundant in ’77” by showing that “poetry should be for the people and could be put across to anyone” is unhistorical to say the least. Coops drew on the spadework of the Beats & Dylan & Henri & all of us concerned (like Attila) with “making the audience part of it” – just as we ourselves had benefited from the pathfinding inroads of blues shouters & Dylan Thomas & the Russian revolutionary bards. No real poet is ever made redundant by any other – it’s what makes poetry more like music than say, machine-part assembly. Lennon’s Working Class Hero didn’t replace Ginsberg’s Howl any more than Elvis Costello does Presley. What’s real in art is always contemporary – though the mass of what’s contemporary is not, alas, always real.

Michael Horovitz, Poetry Olympics, Piedmont, Bisley, Stroud, Glos.

My Own Mag – Jeff Nuttall

Jeff Nuttall’s poetry ‘zine My Own Mag ran from 1963 to 1966 for 17 issues. Many good names were included, amongst them: William Burroughs, Alan Brownjohn, Robert Creeley, Allen Ginsberg (a big name rather than a good one!), Michael McClure, Brian Patten, Charles Plymell, Alexander Trocchi, William Wantling and Tonk.
During it’s run it sold for the bargain price of a penny.
His 1968 book Bomb Culture was described by Peter Fryer in New Society as an ‘anarchist manifesto’ and ‘the Underground’s epitaph by one who was in at its birth’. Indeed the book was discussed in Parliament during a debate about youth culture in 1970.
 

The cover of the first issue, November 1963. This issue was just 4 pages.

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The cover of the third issue, February 1964

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The cover of the sixth issue, July 1964

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The cover of the seventeenth and final issue.

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Oi the Poetry – Garry Bushell

It seems strange that a series of arse-kicking punk albums with a bevvy of ‘orrible ‘erbets on ’em should’ve had so much poetry on them. But they did.
The Oi! albums weren’t what people now often assume them to be. Oi! music now is pretty much piss-poor heavy metal sung by bald blokes but in the early 80s the albums had a surprising diversity and a rambunctious sense of humour. I was always on the reggae end of skinhead but the albums were hugely popular with the punks, skinheads and low lifes of the day.
Garry Bushell, who was at the heart of compiling the Oi! albums, worked on Sounds music paper, there are quite a few ranting interviews and reviews from there on the blog. The music papers came out weekly, and Sounds was the liveliest and had great coverage of punk, reggae and metal. The paper had a great sense of humour and a boisterous team of writers, in fact I think Garry WAS several of the writers.
I knew and gigged with quite a few of the bands and most of the poets. There’s some pretty sound social comment to be found in the music too: The Angelic Upstarts’ Last Night Another Soldier and their crucial I Understand, Blitz’s Nation On Fire was one of the songs of the ’81 riots that swept the country, Five O’s early poke at gentrification Dr Crippens, and both Prole and Burial consistently relevant and rocking.
What I liked about Oi! at the time, and it’s lost I think, was that it was a such of a mix of proletarian music, humour and attitude. You’d hear The Clash, Dennis Alcapone, Thin Lizzy, Gil Scott-Heron, Curtis Mayfield, Cock Sparrer, the Cockney Rejects AND the 4 Skins all played at some of the early Oi! piss ups.
I asked Garry why there was so much poetry on the albums. That there was amuses me as it pisses off both the knuckledraggers and the quackademic poets and brings a spark of joy to the pint swiggers and decent folk.
Many thanks to Garry for taking time to write a few words:

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It happened by accident really. After Oi The Album came out, Garry Johnson sent me a copy of his DIY poetry collection The Boys Of The Empire. I thought it was brilliant, crackling with attitude and smart lines: ‘Born in a city of tower blocks/Alcatraz without the rocks’…

To be honest he had me with Dead End Yobs: ‘But even if you make it, certain people will say/ “You’re still no good and you’ll be no other way/Cos you don’t talk proper, yer accent ain’t true blue/You was born in an ’ouse in ’Ackney with an outside loo.’

I had put Barney Rubble on the first Oi! album – ‘I like beans, I like sauce, I like sexual intercourse’. But that was just throw-away; just a laugh. Garry was serious, and his kind of street-poetry echoed what the bands were doing. It was a different way of saying the same thing.

He felt exactly the same about it – ‘Oi is the voice of the dispossessed’, he wrote ‘a battering ram for the oppressed.’

So I met him down the Old Kent Road in early ’81 and absolutely loved the bloke. He was a real character; a proper speed-freak, as down to earth as a manhole cover, and sharp enough to realise that class not race was the real divide.

His words were a window into a teenage world of unemployment, violence and little blue pills; of dead end yobs in stolen wheels.

Garry had been into reggae and glam rock before punk; Bowie was his real hero, but he identified with the new bands totally.

For him Oi was “about real life, the concrete jungle, the Old Bill, being on the dole, fighting back, having pride in your class and background.”

He was a bit nervous about performing live – I had to physically push him on stage once at the Deuragon Arms – but the words were always spot on.

He was also funny, and bitterly anti-establishment. His work went from The Ballad Of The Young Offenders to Suburban Rebels and threw in digs at Hitler, Churchill and the Royals along the way.

If the system was stacked against us, so what? “Sod the system,” he said. “Gotta rise above it.”

Some people did moan about having poems on a blue collar punk album, but most of the feedback was positive. The other year I had a doorman down in Bournemouth who was almost moved to tears by the memory of Gal’s contributions to those records; and I still get bands all over the world asking to get in touch with him because they want to put his poetry to music.

Including Garry on those albums inspired a lot of other street poets to come forward – Oi The Comrade, Pierre the Poet, Attila got involved for the fourth Oi album, Terry McCann, Little Dave, Jimmy Mack, Phil Sexton, Mick Turpin, Swift Nick, Dave the Boil. Not all of them were good, but we put them on to encourage others.

I loved Seething Wells too, especially for Tetley Bittermen, and included him in a spread on ranting poets in Sounds, along with Garry and Little Brother in January ’83.

As well as being an angry funny ranting genius, Steven also represented a left-wing skinhead tradition that was also generally over-looked by the mass media. He was a member of the SWP, as I had been, back when the party had a sense of humour and weren’t so keen on rapists.

When I was a kid I wasn’t exposed to much working class poetry apart from Pam Ayres.

We probably did Tennyson at school but the only proper poet I was really aware of before the brilliant John Cooper Clarke was Jeff Nuttall, the anarchist poet who wrote Bomb Culture, which I read when I was about 15 and which helped open my eyes to new ideas as well as occasionally baffling me. I didn’t discover Shelley until years later.

So why did I encourage the Oi poets? Because I thought it was worth it; because a great poem can have more impact than a thousand words of rhetoric and because I thought the best of these angry backstreet poets were part of a working class poetry tradition that dates back to the Chartists and which sadly we seem to have forgotten.

PS. The only problem with Garry was he wanted to be a singer – and he sang worse than I do. I encouraged him to give up his band (the Buzz Kids) and concentrate on the poetry, which he did, but this didn’t stop him recording ‘If Looks Could Kill’ for one of the later Oi! albums, a memory that pains the lugholes even to this day.