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EVERY day the Covid statistics are published: infections, hospitalisations, deaths. Bare figures, with the last one, sadly, drawing the most attention. And last week that last column contained the name of one of the greatest socialists and anti-fascists to emerge from the original punk scene. Thomas Mensforth, aka Mensi, for more than 40 years singer and leader of South Shields’ Angelic Upstarts. I knew him for most of that time.
Mensi came from a mining background and was himself a miner for a while, but soon punk rock came calling and his band, simultaneously hard as nails, noisy as fuck and gloriously melodic, provided some of the great soundtrack moments of the late ’70s and ’80s – especially, of course, during the great miners’ strike of 1984-5. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=82-DzvhKvX8
He was a poet too: his spoken word piece Heath’s Lament – which I shall be performing during next Monday night’s livestream, translated from its native Mackem into Southernspeak – takes us back to the earlier strike in 1972, a miners’ victory which Thatcher never forgot and never forgave. The record from which it came, Two Million Voices, is one of punk’s truly great albums.
The Upstarts’ uncompromising anti-fascist stance was especially important because it began at a time when right-wing violence at gigs was a real problem, as I myself knew only too well, and Mensi & Co didn’t back down one inch. I saw him face down rioting fascists from the audience on a number of occasions and was proud to join him on stage several times, most memorably at the Marquee in London at the end of the ’80s.
The previous year the Upstarts had been attacked by supporters of notorious Nazi band Skrewdriver at a London punk festival and the gig closed down: the fascists had vowed that the Upstarts would never play London again.
Anti Fascist Action laid down the gauntlet at one of the capital’s most high profile venues, inviting the Upstarts to headline in an open challenge to the far right. I was the support act alongside fellow anti-fascist stalwarts Blaggers ITA.
The left mobilised in force, the fascists didn’t show and the gig was fantastic, a truly memorable night. But that was just one example: Mensi was a true hero, an authentic voice of working-class socialism for over 40 years, and his memory and his music will stay with us for as long as people stand against injustice and oppression.
At the beginning of this year we lost Cush from The Men They Couldn’t Hang, now we have lost another huge voice, and I shall pay tribute to them both on Monday night at 8pm in a live stream for Worthing Food Foundation from facebook.com/attilathestockbroker.
Talking of Cush, some of his disciples have just done a riproaring new album. Nottinghamshire’s Star Botherers have taken The Men They Couldn’t Hang’s “cowpunk” recipe (mainly provided by Cush) stirred in a bit of Half Man Half Biscuit and Humdrum Express and a soupcon of, erm, Macc Lads, marinaded the lot in a bucketload of radical politics and cooked up a melodic, funny, observant album, Tales of Leyton Rakes.
Their raucously relentless speedcountry tells of The “joys” of Wetherspoons, Lidl and holidays in Blackpool, the pitfalls of Thatcher’s “right to buy” council housing policy and swearing in songs if you want to have hits (unless you’re a gangsta rapper, when it’s obligatory) and there’s a couple of Nottinghamshire sea shanties, a new genre in themselves.
Finest moment, though, is Let It Stand, about a certain statue of a certain prime minister, planned for Grantham, still not in place. If it ever gets there in the form I have suggested, with urinals around the base, I am sure they will be the first to contribute.
They are launching the album at the Cold Store in Nottingham on Saturday January 8 with special guests Muddy Summers and Headsticks. You can get one from starbotherers.bandcamp.com
Keep safe everyone. My regular live streams are restarting, so if you’re at a loss at 8pm on a Monday night, there will be a regular guest once more at facebook.com/attilathestockbrokerintroduces.
Beery Clashmas and a Hoppy New Year to one and all.
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