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Attila the Stockbroker Diary: April 19, 2024

Suddenly pressed into international diplomacy, the bard brings the crumhorn of peace to North Korea

NK DONS! 

I’m 66. I’ve been Attila for 44 years. And the wonderful thing is that the kind of utterly bonkers stories documented extensively in my 2015 autobiography Arguments Yard are still happening to me after all this time. The latest one can finally be revealed. 

Last year I came home from the pub to the kind of email one doesn’t get every day. 

“Fancy Spring in Pyongyang?”

It was from Glyn Ford, formerly an MEP and deputy leader of the socialist group of the European Parliament, now head of Track2Asia, a Brussels-based NGO aiming to reduce tension and increase understanding on the Korean peninsular, in which capacity he has high level contacts with both North and South. 

He had been asked by DPRK cultural officials to recommend a “troupe” to participate in the 33rd Spring Friendship Art Festival, which started in Pyongyang on April 11 and continues until the 25th. He’s been in my contact list for decades, and suggested me and my early music punk band Barnstormer 1649. 

We were approached. I sent Pyongyang the live show we’d shot for our local Brighton cable channel Latest TV, and to my utter astonishment, with caveats that we should “dress smartly” and remove the really punky bits, we were accepted. 

(I suppose it’s not that surprising, because Korean culture is big on flutes and exotic sounding instruments, and a crumhorn will sound quite sensible to them!) 

And so, in an instant, we became the first English rock band (albeit one with five different recorders, crumhorn, cornamuse, fiddle and mandola) to be invited to North Korea. And the second one from anywhere in the world, after my former Cherry Red Records label mates, comrades and cultural inspirations Laibach, who are a martial/industrial Kunst collective, not a rock band, so maybe we’re still the first one! 

(And all this after I was initially invited to the DPRK 35 years ago, for the 1989 World Festival of Youth and Students, while performing at the GDR Political Song Festival in East Berlin. I couldn’t go because I had a tour of Canada booked, but I persuaded them to take my mate Steve from the Newtown Neurotics as a solo singer and he had a fascinating time …)

I’ve been many things in my life, but the role of cultural ambassador for an EU NGO aiming to build bridges with the DPRK was certainly a new one. I briefed my band, and with various levels of excitement and/or trepidation we looked forward to the trip. 

But not long afterwards came the news that the border was still closed due to Covid, and the festival was going to be video-based. This was greeted with a mixture of disappointment and relief in our ranks, and with the huge assistance of @Latest TV we put on our favourite shirts  and made a seven song video featuring five of my songs (Tyler Smiles, Wellingborough and Wigan, The One That Got Away, The Fisherman’s Tale and I Won’t Run Away) and two of theirs (Arirang, a 600-year-old Korean folk tune beloved of all Koreans and tailormade for early music punk, and We Will Go To Mount Paektu, an NK-pop hit about the mountain which is also sacred to them all). 

For the latter, I did the first ever English language version, which I arranged myself, and sang verses of both in Korean, which was a challenge. Especially for my wife, given the amount of practise I did! I added some introductions and explanations of the subject matter (Poll Tax 1381/1990, Diggers of 1649, Charles II’s escape from Shoreham in 1651) and sent it off. 

It was accepted, and in some form has either already been or will be shown on DPRK TV sometime in the next two weeks as part of the festival. More than that I do not know, but the opportunity to bring the crumhorn to the people of the DPRK is precious to me. I hope it becomes a symbol of peace between the two Koreas. And if you want to see the video I submitted, complete with greeting and introductions, it’s at Attila & Barnstormer on Vimeo. 

Robina, darling, I am sorry for practising singing about Mount Paektu in Korean till it drove you nuts.  Karrira, karrira …

Fewer gigs at the moment but still very busy as ever, above all campaigning and fundraising for my local CLP as we bid to take Adur Council for Labour for the first time in history. Last Wednesday I was at the London premiere of “On Resistance Street,” a new film about the legacy of The Clash and Rock Against Racism. 

Next Friday I’m doing a fundraiser for Weston Super Mare Labour Party at the lovely Loves Cafe in the town centre, and next Saturday I’ll be at the Shepherds Bush Empire, as I still call it, celebrating the 40th anniversary of my friends and comrades The Men They Couldn’t Hang. 

Undefeated!  

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