Tag Archives: Little Dave

Radical Poetry In The 80s

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.

Michele Roberts


Jamming Vs The Ranters

This write up of the Ranters Cup Final game is from the rather good ‘zine Youth Anthem, number 7, 1985. Reports on the game can also be found from Sounds and Out On The Floor.


Paul Weller On Poetry

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 Big One

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.

Linton and Clarkey.

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.

Camden gig

the venue filling up

Little Dave

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.

Attila and Ginger John

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.

Porky the Poet, Janine Booth, Dave Womble – editor of Wake Up ‘zine and Tim Wells.

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.

Lisa Mckenzie and Professor Matthew Worley.

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.

Mark Thomas and Emily Harrison.

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.

Emily Harrison, John Cooper Clarke and Rhoda Dakar.

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

Mark Thomas, Porky the Poet, Ginger John, Tim Wells and Bang Said the Gun’s Laurie Bolger.

You’re The Hun That I Want

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.