Little Dave in Time Out, 8 November, 1984.
Suprisingly things aren’t much different today, despite the interweb, Roundhouse Poetry Collective, and grime. The situation for radical poetry is discussed in this Marxism Today article from February, 1984.
A Spotlight feature, The Trouble With Poetry
There is a prevalent view in white culture of the poet as droopy decadent self-indulgent aesthete shrinking from political change and hiding from the real world to pen banal or unintelligible laments about eternal truths. Poetry is set up in opposition to politics; people working in politics think poetry has nothing to do with them.
The romantic image of the absinthe swilling velvet-cloaked garret-dwelling outsider separates the poet as hero and prophet from ordinary people. It also conceals the fact that most poets are poor and enjoy their poverty no more than other deprived persons. And this romantic view, while to some extent feminising the poet (so that some skinhead poets I know need to reassure their audiences that you can
remain a Real Man despite scribbling rhyming couplets), completely denies the existence of women poets, who may also be mothers hard at work in, and perhaps also outside, the home.
Poetry was once an oral art practised in public. Lullabies, ballads, riddles, curses and chants were shaped and passed on by ordinary women and men as well as by professionals. Though poetry has become, since the fourteenth century, increasingly associated with books written and read by the literate elite, the oral tradition has continued boldly on, in this country flowering anew since the war to produce a rich variety of poets.
Marxist theory speaks of man controlling nature, has no concepts to deal with gender and sexual difference, and tacitly accepts the idea of woman as part of nature to be controlled and exploited for man’s ends: literally hundreds of women break into poetry to demonstrate that by accepting we have bodies and are part of nature, we create culture and press for change. Poets like Alison Fell, Judith Kazantzis, Michelene Wandor, Janet Dube, Stef Pixner, Gillian Allnutt and Berta Freistadt perform their work in pubs, clubs, cafes, meetings and bookshops across the country.
A similar upsurge of black poets has occurred. The experience of oppression in this country backed up by whites’ attempts to deny it has led black poets to mine the riches of Caribbean culture and mix proud angry words with music to testify to their need and determination to survive racism and celebrate a history whites would rather forget. Lynton Kwesi Johnson, now internationally known through his live appearances and his albums, recently completed a successful national tour with Manchester bard John Cooper Clarke, thus proving that black and white can cooperate. He is just one among many: John Agard, Grace Nichols, James Berry, Keith Jefferson, to name but a few.
Some white working-class poets go so far as to declare that poetry is dead and long live rant. The Ranters, drawn from north and south, include Attila the Stockbroker, Joolz, Seething Wells, Little Brother, Little Dave; they draw on the tradition of scurrilous ballads in rhyme and, like the other groups, produce their own fanzines and magazines.
I emphasise that the lists of names above are short owing to the constraints of space, and apologise to all the poets whose names I have omitted. The current poetry revival challenges elitism: any selection of poets is invidious, and in this case is based on my experience as a white feminist.
The public role of the new generation of radical poets is, oddly enough, aided by the current recession. As theatre companies close for lack of funds and grants, so the actors involved have re-formed into variety acts performing at the many cabarets which have sprung up across London and other large cities and which offer a cheap night out: beer and music, mime, comedy, poetry and backchat.
This is very different from the hushed churchly atmosphere associated with traditional poetry readings where the emphasis remains on the written text read from rather than performed in a mixed-media entertainment setting. Instead of welcoming the diversity of choice now available, which reflects our multi-cultural society, some establishment poets ignore it. The recently published Penguin anthology Contemporary British Poetry, for example, caused a furore by concentrating solely on the work of a small elite group of poets (all white and mostly male) and omitting all the poets discussed above. And there are still plenty of critics happy to disdain as tainted or corrupt poetry that is in any way connected to politics, to dismiss feminist poets as shrill hysterics, and to patronise working-class and black poets as occasionally interesting minority inhabitants of a peripheral zoo.
These new poets are frightening, subversive and dangerous. Radical poetry heals the splits our culture inflicts as necessary (common-sense) wounds between intellect and body, man and woman, mother and revolutionary, conscious and unconscious, theory and ideology. Radical poetry tries to speak what has been unspeakable: working-class , black and female experience. The Left is not always comfortable with this. Nor am I: other poets give me disturbing, shifting images which don’t correspond to my yearnings for simple socialist-feminist heroism. Radical poetry allows the unconscious back in. Labelling it as irrational, opposing it to scientific theory doesn’t make it go away. Poetry makes us laugh or shudder or weep or desire when perhaps we’d rather fantasise controlling the world through a political language which is almost never playful and inventive. The Right understands the power of the unconscious and exploits it in rituals and ideology, utilises the energy of repressed yearnings and conflicts. If we on the Left want to unblock more of our creative energy for change, we need to let poetry (a way of thinking, of understanding, of being) back into our politics.
The gossipy Jaws column in Sounds, 26 February, 1983, has froth about the (rather good) film Party Party, Ozzy Osbourne, One The Juggler, The League of Labour Skins and this snippet about what had been on the previous weeks telly:
‘… An exciting weekend’s viewing on the old goggle-box just recently. In between scanning the forthcoming videos from Cabaret Voltaire‘ excellent Doublevision label a quick flick of the switch revealed numerous pop combos selling their wares.
Friday saw Paul Weller give a brief snatch of his Style Council before ranting gleefully about the new wave of British poets. The BP’s were represented by Joolz, Little Dave and Seething Wells amongst others and the whole prog came out giving a rather good report on what is, undoubtedly, a worthwhie movement.
Saturday, which was interspersed with footage of more Doublevision product namely Z’ev, TG and 23 Skidoo, had Depeche Mode on Jim’ll Fix It. Gangly Dave Gahan crooned along with a young girl fan who actually managed to out-sing the young Mute-ant…
The Camden Centre, June 18th, 2015
Now that was a gig! The main gig of our season of events. Though we say it ourselves the best line up of the year… if not longer.
Forthright poetry that wasn’t afraid to be saying something.
Mark Thomas more than capably hosted and ensured everyone kept to time – which was no mean feat.
First up was Teething Wells with one of his rants from 1981 and then a current attack on gentrification. Plenty to be angry about.
Little Dave took the stage next, for the first time in decades. It was great to see some of the old ranters, seasoned turns like John Cooper Clarke and LKJ as well as poets at the start of their career such as Emily Harrison all on stage and all on target.
Ginger John took the stage next and took it like it was a Normandy beach. Charming, funny, and deft as ever… seeing him back on stage has been one of my highlights from Stand Up and Spit.
Janine Booth did an incendiary set and her the audience were with her, joining in with ‘Mostly Hating Tories’.
Ranting centre-forward Attila the Stockbroker showed just why he’s not stopped gigging. By now everyone knew this was a unique gig. Attila’s performance was as punchy as you’d expect. He even had several of the audience in tears, the atmosphere was that good. He read one of Seething Wells’ poems Roger. That was a lovely moment.
John Hegley took the John Hegley spot and calmed the pace as only he can.
Ending the first half was Linton Kwesi Johnson. Linton read a couple of poems, his second was his reflction on the 1981 riots that swept the country: The Great Insurrection. Like all the poets the relevance of the poetry leapt into the air. Linton’s third poem was a highspot of the night, a highspot of all the live poetry I’ve ever seen come to that. He read Michael Smith’s Mi Cyaan Believe It. The room hushed as those that knew the poem soaked it up and the younger people were carried along with Michael’s words and the power of Linton’s delivery.
Next was a short interval for drinks, credit to the Class War contingent whose table at the end of the night had the highest tally of empty beer bottles. Poets old and young mingled, ‘zines did the rounds and people caught their breath. Great to see poets like Clare Pollard in the audience, spoken word is in such a healthy state it’s a good time to look at, and enjoy, it’s history.
Emily Harrison, fast building a reputation for one of the best young poets reading at the moment, commenced the first half and showed that the angry and funny style of ranting has been passed on.
Joolz took the stage next and as Porky the Poet said “Joolz was her usual spellbinding mix of hilarious and harrowing, (as a poet she’s the closest thing you’ll get to watching ‘Goodfellas’).”
John Cooper Clarke raised the roof. Quite rightly a national treasure and a bloke who’s poetry, and life, is a testament to being original, witty and (mostly) decent.
Porky the Poet was last on and was his usual genial and generous self. Like all the poets he took aim at our wretched government, and did so with humour.
“We did all the ranting, to stop things happening, and it’s got worse.”
Stepping out from the gig we moved from a space where people were positive, having fun, fighting back to pavements where people were grey and worried.
We need our ranters.
The gig was all and more that we’d wanted: top drawer poets, an enthusiastic audience, old friends, new friends, great poetry and a valuable look back at ranting poetry that clearly resonated with what’s going on today.
There’s a review at Write Out Loud
From Sounds, 1985.
The review is by journo Paul Wellings under a pseudonym.
You can read a ‘zine review here.
Best known for his ‘Being Short’ poem on ‘The Oi of Sex’ album, here’s another from Harlow’s Little Dave that was in Tirane Thrash, 2, 1984.
Garry Bushell goes on the rampage with street radical rhymester Attila The Stockbroker
Sounds, February 27, 1982
Sneers for souvenirs, or, my night of hell at the hands of the poetry establishment. Lured by the promise of an Attila The Stockbroker performance, me and a couple of piss-artist pals bowled down to the Theatre Royal Stratford the other week and found ourselves in an alien world of dirty looks, corduroy trousers and snobby, out-of-touch passion dousers.
Middle-class, middle-aged, once-upon-a-time radicals of the old New Left school were holding court, smug, self-satisfied, and stiflingly self-congratulatory.
The left-wing bourgeoisie are just as anti-working class as the right-wing bourgeoisie except they sile as they look down their noses at you. At conventions like tonight’s they can confirm their own prejudices, convince each other that their emasculated ‘radicalism’ (emasculated ‘cos it seeks to talk to no-one but themselves) has some meaning other than self-justification.
Three times we attempted to enter the hall. Three times we were forced back by the almost physical weight of masturbatory verbiage. But on our fourth sally forth the spectre of Jeff Nuttall, a gross drunken bumbling bum who’d once amazingly written the superb teen/counter culture eye-opener ‘Bomb Culture’, spurred one of our number into direct action. Up on stage jumped the anorexic Butterfield, disguised as Pierre The Poet. He hurled booze over the blubber mountain Nuttall and dedicated spur-of-the-moment nonsense to the spirit of Garry Johnson. Oi! – the invasion.
“Shame!” yelled an offended portion of the crowd. “Stinker!” “Lout!” “Off! Off!”
Butterfield had never looked so happy . . . That was the prole V-sign to the whole farcical event, the metaphorical boot through the TV screen, it took Attila to go one step further and provide an alternative.
Compared to his hapless colleagues, the man is a giant. Lively where they are laid back, relevant where they are rambling, down-to-earth while they’ve got their heads in the clouds, socialist while they, despite their rhetoric, are thoroughly CONSERVATIVE.
There he stood in leather jacket, football scarf and DM’s spouting forth about the here and now. Commuters, politicians, popstars, company executives – no-one was spared from his razor sharp word-whippings. not even High Court Judges.
A new poem ‘Contributory Negligence’ concerns a young yob hitching home from an Upstarts gig who gets picked up by one such jaded judicial monstrosity. Outraged by his elitist manner, the youth ends up bashing the bugger and doing a runner content in the knowledge that should he ever get picked up he’d have the perfect defence.
‘He asked for it! He’s rich and snobbish / Right-wing, racist, sexist too / Fat and ugly, sick and slobbish / Should be locked in London Zoo / He wanted me to beat him up / It was an open invitation / Late at night he picked me up / An act of open provocation / High Court Judges are a blight / They should stay home in nice warm beds / And if they must drive late at night / Should never pick up Harlow Reds / A five pence fine is right and proper / And to sum up my defence / It was his fault he came a cropper / CONTRIBUTORY NEGLIGENCE!’
Of course if such obstreperous odes were confined to the likes of the Theatre Royal they’d ultimately be as much a waste of time as the Jeff Nuttalls and Heathcote Williams of this world. But Attila’s commitment to the real world sees him at 50 benefits and gigs for every one poetry festival. For example he’s currently compering the ‘Jobs Not YOPs’ Right To Work Campaign march round London. Indeed it was after such a benefit on the back of a lorry in Woolwich that he and his partner in street-radical rhyme Seething Wells first decided to gate-crash the Poetry Olympics at the New Vic ‘for a crack’.
“1977 hit poetry that night,” Attila says over a pint of best in the White Lion a few days later. “Most of the people in contemporary poetry have been doing the same stuff for 20 years. 20 years ago it was valid and real but now they’re just totally irrelevant and self-indulgent. The only one I’ve got any time for is Michael Horovitz, ‘cos he’s the one who gave me and Swells a chance and he’s still into taking risks and doing things.
“But John Cooper Clarke made them redundant in ’77. He showed that poetry should be for the people and that it could be put across by anyone. I wanna make the audience part of it. I wanna write poetry for kids who go to Upstarts gigs and football.
“But I don’t see myself as part of any great movement. I’m not the new Oi! – The Poet, I just wanna be me. Although I support the positive side of Oi! there are things about it I don’t agree with, for example it seems almost exclusively male to the extent of seeming to leave out half the human race. But at the same time I agree with the Oi! message about kids forming their own bands and having a go, creating something for themselves.
“Basically that’s just the real punk message, it’s what inspired me to form my first band, Brighton Riot Squad, in ’77. It was the same then, all of a sudden kids had something to do, then it all went downhill with men in long raincoats with their self-indulgent prattling, or poseurs who just want to dance and forget. Oi!’s brought music back down to earth and the places it means most are the soulless new towns like Harlow where I live where there really is nothing for kids to do at all. Even our one venue, Square One, is being threatened with closure by the Tories of Essex County Council.
“What annoys me about the Left is they just can’t relate to those kids either. The Trot teachers who dominate the British Left think anyone who’s a skinhead or wears leather jackets and boots is in the NF. They’re just as bad as The Sun, which tries to say all skins are Nazis, or all punks gob and like the Exploited. They ignore the thousands of punks who think for themselves and the literally thousands of skins who take part in RAR, ANL and Right To Work.
“The point is, most skins aren’t Nazis, most punks aren’t idiots, and everyone’s got the potential to achieve something. That’s what my socialism’s all about, everyone fulfilling their potential, everyone being able to develop their own skills and having the right to do what they’re good at instead of wasting their talent in a dead end job or a life on the dole. That’s socialism, not some old thug in the Kremlin protecting his empire.”
Now 24, Attila hails from Brighton, the son of a civil servant who died when he was very young but who wrote brilliant poetry that inspired Attila to do the same. He worked hard at school clocking up four ‘A’ levels and a University place. Here he found himself amongst masses of people there ‘cos mummy thought it was ‘right’. The contrast was irreconcilable and he ended up permanently paralytic and fighting the upper crust students he hated.
To some extent Universities, and in particular Polytechnics, work to vacuum off the brightest working class kids and turn them against their background, draw them into a middle class mentality which, whether it calls itself Marxism or Monetarism, is basically anti-working class. When that system fails it produces intelligent rebels like Attila. Or Linton Johnson for that matter.
Attila formed Brighton Riot Squad at college, but it was never a serious venture. Pissed off with bands like the Clash selling out their ideals, he shot off to Brussels where he joined a band called Contingent as a bass player, set up a local RAR, got involved in riotous demonstrations against the mayor who banned gigs after outrageous outbreaks of ganga-smoking at a Peter Tosh show, and generally caused a bit of chaos.
Eventually the band gave him the Big E ‘cos his commitment to (let’s hear it for) “having a laugh” as well as “having a say” sat ill-at-ease with their ultra-serious anarchistic intentions.
So he moved back to soulless Harlow in 1980, and, being a fluent Frog-sprouter, got a job as a linguist-cum-dogs-body at the Stock Exchange.
“I worked there for a year,” he says, “and that place made me sure I was going to be a socialist for life. The people at the top were hideous. Their only interest was how much money they were going to make in the next day’s trading. They thought of nothing else. It made me sick. And of course I didn’t try to conceal my politics so before long they gave me the nickname of Attila The Hun, and my stage name comes from there.”
From there he went on to ‘gig-crash’, jumping on stage uninvited before bands with an electric mandolin and having a go, invariably half-cut. It was from these beery beginnings that the bolshy balladeer of today emerged, this naturally speedy prole-poem purveyor who dominates the stage with his easy confidence and humour, drawing the bulk of his poetry from his early work experience.
Like ‘Gentlemen Of The Wrist’, a Brighton and Hove Albion away mob saying for, um, dubious people, now transferred into lurid lines about stockbrokers better recognised as ‘The sweaty beer-gutted pinstriped pinheaded posers who gather in wine bars after office hours and whinge about things they don’t understand’.
Ditto the truly titillating ‘Death In Bromley’, “about the very small difference between dead commuters and live ones”. Both remind me of a less surrealistic John Cooper Clarke.
“yeah, but they’re the only ones in my set that are like him,” Attila retorts, a little hurt. “It annoys me when people compare me to JCC, it’s like saying anyone with a guitar, bass and drums is like the Beatles. The only real comparison is we’re both making poetry relevant, a valid entertainment for kids.
“I like Linton Kwesi Johnson a lot too, though I’m against the Black Separatist thing. I understand it, but it’s divisive. We should all stick together against the Tories.”
One of his funniest anti-Tory moments is his bawdy ballad ‘Willie Whitelaw’s Willie’, which needs the back-up of at least ten Harlow herberts to make it effective and partly goes ‘Maggie’s so upset/Cos what she wants she just can’t get/She’s taken him home and the lights are low/Military marches on the radio/But there’s one little gland that stops the show/Willie Whitelaw’s willie/It’s small and shrivelled and it looks so silly’.
Amazingly, though probably not so amazingly if you think about it, this has copped him flack from some feminists, but then some feminists are so sour-pussed and middle class puritan they probably wouldn’t appreciate the sort of yobs Attila gets in his audience anyway. He doesn’t seem too upset about it . . .
“I’m really optimistic about everything,” he bubbles. “There’s the Upstarts who are my favourite band at the moment cos they’re relevant and constructive and they’ve got ideas. I know you won’t agree, but I like Dexys and Jacques Brel as well, though Crisis were the finest band ever.
“The Business Anti-Disco Campaign is a good idea. I’d love to do some anti-disco gigs with them ‘cos I hate discos, and especially disco-students who are the most dreaded wing of disco. I did a gig in front of disco students once and they were heckling ‘cos I wasn’t disco. They didn’t want to think or have a laugh. In the end there was this battle between about 700 of them and about 500 Welsh Right To Work marchers.
“But it’s the poetry scene that’s most exciting with people coming up like S. Wells, this really good 18 year old harlow poet called Little Dave, Little Brother from Bradford and Beverley Skyer, who’s 17 from Lewisham and writes like LKJ. And of course there’s Red Ruth from Harlow who plays flute to my mandolin, she’s Harlow’s answer to Dexys.
“Garry Johnson’s good as well, but he hasn’t done a gig for about a million years! There’s a hell of a lot of kids writing poetry and I’d like to get them all doing something. That’s what it’s about for me. If we’re opening up verse for kids we wanna take a whole lot with us. We want to crash through the gates of the Poetry Establishment with a pen in one hand and an axe in the other.”
Attila has recorded an EP with Seething Wells, released soon on the Radical Wallpaper lable. Melvin Bragg won’t play it on the South Bank Show, Bernard Levin won’t be raving about it in The Times, but in front rooms and bedsits all over the country the smouldering embers of a working class poetry explosion will be well and truly fanned.
Garry Bushell demands poetic justice for S.Wells, Little Brother and Garry Johnson
First part of a Sounds 2 page feature.
Sounds, Jan 29th, 1983
If the sadly stagnating music scene is threatening to get duller than a loop-tape of David Hepworth’s TV highlights, then one totally unexpected area of culture is getting the proverbial DM up the jacksie – poetry.
You don’t need a crystal gonad or Signor Spencer’s second-hand seer to know that you won’t be able to move this year without getting yer bent by poets. TV, radio, magazines and live gigs will be ringing in the reign of the new radical rhymsters – not yer usual privileged prima donnas poncing through the posies to cosy pensions and establishment praises, but passionate pogrom-packing word warriors penning mocking prole rock’n’roll polemics.
It’s the punk ethic taken to it’s logical conclusion – total d-I-y, the ultimate easy access protest. And so the year of the street-credible sonneteer is here. After months of percolating in the pop pages the ranting ranks of witty word-wrigglers like the perpetually pissed Attila are being swelled (poetry pun) by an inveighing invasion of pen-handed upstarts.
Verily, even the trio of vivid versificators showcased herein – socialist skinhead Seething Wells, voice of Oi Garry Johnson, and the consummate clown prince of carnal comedy Little Brother – are just the titillating tip of an invigorating iceberg of ingenuity and invective.
There’s radical rasta Ben Zephaniah, Scouse skin Alan Turner, The Tube’s only real find Mark My Words, Harlow’s Little Dave, Ginger John (The Doomsday Commando), London’s Belinda Blanchard, Bradford’s Joolz Denby, Lewisham’s black Beverley, guaranteed non-SDP fan, The Comrade, Jamaica’s Michael Smith and hosts more.
All these fire-breathing fun-slingers stand accused of conspiring to take a mainly middle class medium and haul it down to the streets. . .and real people.
You and I know it’s sonnet rock’n’roll but I like it, like it, yes I do…
Steven Wells, aka Seething, prime exponent of prole poetry as punk’s upstart off-shoot, believes firmly in giving the Betjemins and Horrorwitzs of this world the old roll over Beethoven treatment and bringing poetry down not merely to earth but into bed with the movement for real social change. In a (hard)-nut shell he’s in the business of rabbiting for socialism.
But although I’m not averse to the odd Joe Ashton column myself, I’ve always found myself disagreeing violently with the Swells vision in the past. Which in itself, is no bad thing, though I’d wager our previous political flare-ups had blinded me to the man behind the image.
After a few hours tear-arsing with him round the pubs, curry houses and dole offices of Bradford I came to see the cropped commando less as a hardline SWP hack rhetoric-robot, less as a cliché, and more as an intelligent, articulate, penetrating and personable chap.
As his best poems suggest Swells can be scathingly relevant, combining cynical insight with ruthless bite and a strong line in rib-tickling. Well would you settle for a ready way with groans…
“Why don’t they give Sounds journalists tea-breaks?” the scruffy urchin enquires when I meet him quite by chance on the Bradford train at Leeds station.
“Because it takes too long to retrain ’em! Hear about the bloke who got a job circumcising elephants? Not much pay but the tips are enormous…”
AAARGHHHHH!!! What did I ever do to deserve this? If I were you, blue, I’d stick to the records of which there are two, both on Radical Wallpaper, the first with Attila ‘Rough Raw And Ranting’, the more recent one with Little Brother called ‘The Rising Son Of Ranting Verse’. I prefer the former which features three of Swells finest: ‘Aggro Britain’, ‘Cadillacs in Bradford’ and ‘Godzilla Vs The Tetley Bittermen’.
But before we get to them let’s dilly-dally in the bald Bolshevik’s history book. Now 22, Swells hails from Leeds, via Bradford, and a solid Labour background, joining the Party at 15 and leaving school soon after to get a job cleaning toilets. After a few years alternatively frying Kentucky chicken in Bradford, working on the buses, and posing nude for Leeds art students (the mind boggles) he did his first gig as a poet at the fag-end of ’79.
Then flat-mate Little Brother was the inspiration. “I though to meself I’m more intelligent than him, I can do it better,” Swells quips. A series of guerrilla raids on New Order and Gang Of Four gigs followed. Like Little Brother, Swells started out just turning up at venues, and gigging for free with or without being asked; although his first national fame came via a string of caustic letters written to Sounds, one particularly vivid one coming out strongly in favour of the Nolan Sisters.
“Eventually I made contact with real poets,” he says, his voice heavy with sarcasm. “You can tell ’em – they’ve all got beards and glasses. They’re real middle class elitists. They made us realise we were more or less on our own.
“I’ve got very little time for the left over-sixties ‘radical’ poets. They still regard themselves as ‘underground’, to me the underground is the tube. You’ve got to be popular. You’ve got to make number one. That whole idea of alternative culture is out the window, communication is the key-word. That’s the difference between for example ‘YMCA’ and ‘Glad To Be Gay’. That’s why the Specials at number one with ‘Ghost Town’ during the riots, or the Jam at number one with ‘Town Called Malice’ was a million times more effective than Crass, there’s more ways of dealing with a situation than nutting it to death!”
By the age of 17 Swells had left the Labour Party and joined the Socialist Workers Party which to me at least contradicts the exemplary logic of that last statement, but we let that pass.
“I don’t support the SWP 100 0/0”, Swells explains, “but they’re the only party you’ll find on the picket line or getting involved in the Anti-Nazi League or the Right To Work Campaign. But when I’m up on stage I’m not trying to preach SWP politics, I’m trying to get ’em to THINK. I want to challenge people’s pre-conceptions, trendy leftie pre-conceptions as well.”
Hence the wet radical-ribbing ‘He/She’s Perfect’ on his current EP, and, deeper than that, the challenge to media prejudice of even being a socialist skinhead.
“The thing about all skinheads being Nazis is just crap.” Swells is adamant. “Look at all the skinheads on Right To Work Marches or at ANL Carnivals. You take ten skins from different parts of the country and you’d have ten different opinions and probably ten different tastes in music.”
Swells also points out, quite rightly, that skinhead culture originated in West Indian culture, not only just (just?) the music, but even the haircut! The standard media image of skins is pilloried in ‘Aggro Britain’ with The Sun in particular getting a good kicking. (‘The Sun’s so-called journalists, quack sociologists and fascist hacks’) although Swellsy admits he’s fascinated by it. “The poetry I write is more to do with tabloid journalism than standard poetry. The language is pretty similar. I like inventing mock Sun headlines like ‘Was The Ripper An Argy?’, or ‘Gland-Handed randy Andy Hankie Pankies In The sand Dune’ better known as ‘Koo – Wot A Stonker!'”
I pulled him over his Tetley Bittermen poems cos to me they seemed just to ne taking the piss out of working class people.
“It’s not an attack on the working class, it’s attacking the middle class stereotype idea that being working class means being thick! A lot of ’em can’t see past the next pint.
“That’s what I’ve got against Oi – it’s not enough just to be working class. Listen to Garry Johnson and all he’s saying is ‘Well, I’m working class’ and you say ‘And?’ And he says, ‘Well my dad was a miner’ And? ‘We used to live in a hole in the road. . .’ It’s not enough to be working class, it’s conceding politics to the middle class.
“I’d like Garry to do more. Attila’s a lot more show-biz than him, Garry was Oi – the poet. But he’s got a right to be paranoid about the Nazis.
“People say to me why are you anti-Nazi and I say why don’t you eat shit? I’ve never hid it, but I’ve been lucky in a sense. After the Leeds carnival this fucking massive skin in a union jack t-shirt came up to me and I thought ‘this is it’, but he gave me the thumbs up and said ‘You were great’.” (Personally I find the Left’s insistence on conceding the union jack to the right-wing worse than Gal’s thought crime but that’s another five page argument). “I’m very hard to beat up cos I smile a lot.” He smiles. “It’s called cowardice through friendliness. But it’s important always to challenge.”
Would you compromise your beliefs for a mass audience?
“You’ve got to compromise! But you’ve got to be honest about it. The Clash weren’t, the Jam were. . . Punk at the start was great, it was making really big political statements without preaching. Johnny Rotten should have done poems in between songs – he should have challenged pre-conceptions more. I hate the way punk is packaged now, which is why it’s great that Attila gets up with his mandolin. The Anti Nowhere League should bring in violins and finger cymbals!
“Punk just ended up in little factions. Some bands are class conscious and little else, Crass bands are anarchist in theory but little else, futurists dress up and little else . . . Why can’t there be an anarchist streetwise futurist band?”
As you can see Swells can be a compelling talker, and if you’re feeling compelled you can check out more of his ranting via Molotov Comics (30p plus large SAE from Flat 3, Belle Vue House, Belle Vue Rd, Leeds) his punkpoetry zine which he brings out whenever he can find £260 and which now sells over 2,000 per issue. Al Turner’s Another Day Another Word is it’s only rival.
Sounds, February 5th, 1983
I went a ‘neurotic’ virgin, stood and gawped, and came away feeling my pleasure centres had been ravished almost to the point of being raped. I’m certainly not complaining.
Not my usual beat – after all they’re definitely not a reggae/African/funk band – I was somewhat taken aback upon being asked to review the Newton Neurotics. Bushwacked being AWOL, nobody else fancied the prospect.
Why, I wondered? Was punter castration part of the Harlow crew’s treatment? Did they attract hordes of hysterical psychiatrists jabbering on about Jung? Were straightjackets de rigeur? Such, I’m afraid, were the qualms of an uninitiate.
As it happens, the Newtown Neurotics were bleeding excellent. A powerhouse generating timely electric shock therapy. First: You can’t go anywhere nowadays without some poet sprouting out the woodwork. And, sure enough, there was Little Dave onstage when I arrived.
Judging by the five pieces I heard – subjects sailing from Captain ‘No Limits’ Kirk to a pisstake of Superman vs Nick O’Teen in which the man of steel doesn’t so much fume fags as suck spliffs – Little Dave showed promise. I know that’s horribly patronising, but it’s true. The words are there even if some of the themes are better belted by other bards. All Little Dave lacks is the requisite detonator delivery.
Not so the Neurotics. From the alarming outset of ‘Wake Up World’, through to an encore of the Pinhead’s ‘Blitzkrieg Bop’, the band buzzed and bit with so much relevance that any criticism about being derivative seems pointless. Styles come and go but it’s what you achieve within a chosen framework that counts. In the Neurotics’ area, the spirit of punk celebrates.
Let me put it this way: I saw the Clash last year and came away cold having witnessed a vacuum, albeit a well packaged one. The NNs, on the other hand, have the moral fibre that the Strummers of this world lack.
When Steve Drewett shrieks from behind his shades “Let’s kick out the Tories, the rulers of this land, for they are the enemies of the British working man,” you can feel the heart behind his sentiments. It’s not an empty pose. This and, above all, the shards of pop which splinter their songs is what elevates the Neurotics above the thrash trash.
The castigation of ‘Mindless Violence’ (“It proves you don’t know the people who are shitting on you”), the hounding of ‘Hypocrites’ and the tribulations of having ‘No Sanctuary’ for being ‘different’ are much more than mere mini-amphetamine anthems – pure rush but never simple. A lot of this is down to the fearsome rhythm clout of Colin Masters and Simon O’Brien.
What with Attila (told you these poets get everywhere) and a couple of punters augmenting the band for, if memory serves, a radical reload of the Members’ ‘Living For Unemployment’, the Neurotics were ironically one of the sanest experiences I’ve had for months.
Little Dave (far left) on tour with the Neurotics in 1980