1983 and Seething Wells gigs in Essex with noise merchants GBH.
Sounds reviews the Poetry Olympics album, 20 March, 1982. There’s a zine review of the same album here.
‘The Poetry Olympics’
(All Round Records) ***1/2
This is the album of the live event. No, not ‘The Secret Policeman’s Other Ball’ but ‘The Poetry Olympics’, an even trendier soiree which was held last year at The Young Vic.
This is the vinyl version of the massive poetry read-in which was supposed to take poetry out of the hands of the arty farties and give it to the likes of you and I, despite the fact that it provided said AF’s with enough material to fill several Sunday supplements with interminable diatribes at to how divine the whole thing was.
The reality of course, was that some of the show worked very well indeed while some fell arseways but happily only the former has made it onto record.
Cooper Clarke was the big crowd puller of the event, closely followed by Roger McGough whose Liverpudlian humour was evident, with poems reflecting on the joys of making love on the bus in the knowledge that the world is going to end at lunch time.
The two big names though, were happily upstaged by the punk faction in shapes of Seething Wells and Attila The Stockbroker whose ‘Russians In The DHSS’ muses hilariously on the two greatest threats to mankind – commie reds and Social Security scroungers, and the album is worth buying for the sake of these alone.
The use of acoustic guitar on Fran Landesman’s ‘White Nightmare’ sounded worryingly folksy and conjured up uncomfortable notions of maxi cheesecloth skirts and the Guardian Women’s Page but largely the album refutes such ethereal notions and is as unpretentious as a record of a poetry reading can be. It concerns itself with both the most frivolous and most serious aspects of modern poetry and is a brave attempt to take itself out of the realms of high art and into popular culture.
Punk compilation reviewed in the NME, 13 June, 1987.
Maggie, Maggie, Maggie;
Out! Out! Out! (Anagram)
Whilst the Wedge trot out the scrubbed sound of cuddly niceness, Anagram rip open the punk crypt to release 16 tracks of naught anti-Tory (pro-human) hatred,
It’s a tragedy that so much good music got squeezed between the gutter mumblings of the Vile bushell and the post-modernist prannynattering of the art ninnies. For sure the grungemongers got the upper hand but there were enough bands like the Abrasive Wheels and The Partisans writing loud, fast, political music to sustain a momentum.
There’s some heavily juicy stuff here – The Upstarts’ ‘Woman In Disguise’, Vice Squad’s ‘You’ll Never Know’, The Dead Kennedys’ ‘Kill The Poor’ and Action Pact’s epic ‘Open Your Eyes’. Best Moniker For A Song Ever award must go to Chaotic Disorder for ‘F-word Politics, F-word Religion, F-word the Lot of You’.
My only criticism is the five totally biz tracks and the non-inclusion of the Newtown Neurotics’ ‘Kick Out The Tories’, which we all know is the best song ever.
Seething Wells poem from (roughly) 1982.
A Ministry of Defence spokesman today suggested how the strangely-high incidence of fatalities by suicide amongst the unemployed might, after all, have its brighter side.
I’d DIE fo’ me country
says a patriotic dickhead
Well go ahead
ya make me sick
Slash your wrists and slash the statistics
The number of unemployed fell today
200,000 bled away
Then they were stripped cold and naked
Shaved their heads
Stopped the thrashing of severed nerve endings
by boiling the buggers in sterilised lead
Stacked them by bunkers in dumb grey ranks
Introducing – THE HUMAN SANDBAG
A major donation to the nation’s salvation
The sandbag that rots
and absorbs radiation
This depression won’t fade away
It’ll trickle in streams
down blood-clotted drains
Seething Wells reviews Cock Sparrer, some punk, and some junk in the NME, 24 November, 1984.
Runnin’ Riot In ’84 (Syndicate)
Daffodils To The Daffodils Here’s The Daffodils (Paz)
Kill By Remote Control (Alternative Tentacles)
Real To Reel (EMI)
Cock Sparrer are one of the few bands saddled with the kiss o’ death Oi! tag with more than two brain-cells to rub together and not particularly a stunning record, this. Never mind, I will love this band to liddle pieces forever just for the megafantas ‘The Sun Says’ which slays the nation’s fave arsewipe in 15 natty verses. ‘Tis a pity they have been unable to cobble together a few more ditties of the same magnitude.
Toxic Reasons have about the same grasp of the need for just a smattering of originality as the Sparrer boys and share the same whirlview (Mrs Thatcher is not a very nice person etc). The Toxic mob are American-type people and thus the hypocritical consensus of opinion that prevails in this paper deems them to be worth more than a sneer, a snigger and a casual toss into the waste basket. After two decades of half-choking on post-Kennedyian glop this writer struggles to disguise her righteous spite under the dubious banner of anti-cultural imperialism.
The ‘Daffodils’ thingy is the brainspawn of self-confessed individualist libertarian (hippy) Marcus ‘I’m-only-doing-it-for-the-kids’ Fetherby who uses the sleevenotes to moan on and on and on about how the whole world hates him and wants to blow his kneecaps off. Diddums. This egotistical meemeemee ranting is both boring and an insult to the bands that are to be found lurking in the cramped grooves – some of whom are quite good esp. No Control, Leitmotiv, Demob and the definitely sycadelik-or-wot Unjust, who contribute the track that is at present puncturing these pert and tortured eardrums with probably the best poonk rock recorded for ages but, alas, they happen to be… er… Americans… whoops!
In the great tradition of no-nonsense anti-pseud music for the kids on the streets is the incredibly down-to-earth Marillion. Like The Cure, The Banshees and Simple Minds these chaps haven’t got a pretentious bone in their bodies. They are able to relate to the snotty-nosed kids in acrylic anoraks wot ‘ang around on council estates studying for their CSEs in street credibility.
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.
James Brown in the NME, 21 April, 1984.
I wish everyone a happy 2021. It’s been a tough 2020. In poetry terms there’ve been hardly any gigs whilst technology has proved friendly and facilitated a plethora of bedroom gigs. Some better, some worse, than those we’ve had on the drunken morning after.
Small presses are still producing new work, and that’s been heartening. Whilst the big presses stress the little guys can move in. A new leaf for the year and for readers.
The blog primarily looks back at the history of working class poetry and spoken word. Primarily from the ranting poets of the early 80s. There’s also a lot of music and politics to give context.
This year the blog will be 7. I’ll be continuing to trawl through zines, music papers and the like for insights and poetry. There’s more interest in the history of spoken work in Britain now. As with the Brexit view of Britain this spoken word historicising frequently comes with a dollop of mythology sauce and a squeezing of todays politics into yesterdays bottles. Class politics and identity politics are often antagonistic. Personally I’m for the the antagony.
Much of the poetry posted here isn’t particularly good as poetry. What is of interest is what people felt was important in their lives to strike as poetry. I’ve heard the blog called ‘a record of outside voices’, and to some extent that’s true but the inside of academia and the safety of arts nepotism is outside most of our experience.
Poetry is more diverse now, definitely a good thing and certainly something we fought for when we were ranters. It’s also noticeable that as it becomes more and more visible it’s becoming increasingly written by ‘the perfumed pen in the velvet glove’, as Seething Wells had it.
When publishers trumpet their new found commitment to diversity it’s for their benefit, not ours. When arts organisations herald their involvement with ‘new voices’ it’s them that gets the funding. There are publishers and arts organisations that do excellent work, and more power to them, but it’s always puzzled me why poets crave acceptance from the very people that have ignored, belittled, and hobbled us for years. We can build our own work, audience, and media. We do it well. So well, every time we’re successful the posh kids take it from us and tell us it’s for our own benefit.
There have been some excellent zines seeing me through lockdown: Hellebore, Rituals & Declarations. both bringing the ‘orror, the always sharply turned out Subbaculture for the yoof cultures, but not much on the poetry. Zines and gigs go hand in hand so hopefully that’ll get sorted once we’re all vaccinated and scaring people in pubs again.
Anyway: the future. 2021 is gonna be hard. The conversation with an audience that makes so much of a live gig for me probably won’t be seen. All that poetry about middle class concerns and worries (and all that stuff I like about reggae, bar fights, and insults) just won’t seem important any more. The new poems will likely be quieter and more internal. I for one look forward to the awfulness of the next Edinburgh Festival (whenever that may be) and the extensive bill of ‘My Lockdown’ shows. The quietness encompasses reflection, and looking back to where our poetry has come from, really come from – where it speaks for itself in our own ‘orrible accents and not the plums Oxbridge has in the icebox and saves for breakfast – is as valuable as writing the poetry that says we’re alive. We’re alive because we’re fighting and writing.