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DIARY Requiem for free musical movement

At 11pm on December 31, an important part of my life in the form I choose to live it came to an end

BEFORE 1992 and open borders I always toured mainland Europe solo as a poet and acoustic performer, although I had long thought of forming a band to play my songs.

My experiences crossing borders with other bands — the ludicrous, petty nonsense to which we were subjected for no good reason whatsoever, simply because we were punk musicians — meant that I stuck to my solo poems and songs and the minimal, though constant, nonsense I experienced travelling alone with a hand-held mandola and a rucksack full of merch.

The irony about border checks is that I have never taken illegal drugs. I have never smoked and hate  pills and injections. I prefer beer.

When 1992 came, and with it free movement — and Carter USM's 1992: The Love Album — my dream of forming a band finally started to take shape and in 1994 Barnstormer, our early music and punk project, now Barnstormer 1649, was born.

We have done hundreds of gigs in many different countries and had the most wonderful time, travelling from one nation  to another with virtually no hassle. It hasn’t made us rich, we’ve done it because it is fun. 26 years of life-affirming friendship.

We have met so many people, made so many friends, done so many wonderful gigs. The simplicity and bureaucracy-free nature of it all was an essential part of the experience which made it fun for me as organiser of everything.

Now all that is gone. We still don’t know what will take its place but the days of playing music with a band in the way I choose to are over. I very much hope that we’ll make it back at least one last time, trotz alledem, malgre tout — in spite of everything.

At the moment, I mourn what we will lose, all of us, not just musicians and artists but countless businesses, families and individuals. I salute the rest of my band past and present and all the people across Europe who have put us on and made us welcome. I am deliberately not mentioning any names because there are far, far too many.

And I shall leave you with one picture which sums up what “Europe” means to me. In 2015, I was invited for the twentieth or so time to perform for my FC St Pauli friends in Hamburg. I was diagnosed with bladder cancer and couldn’t go. They did this for me.

Wir sind Europa!

Busy trying to keep my and everyone else’s spirits up with Facebook Live lockdown broadcasts. My Attila the Stockbroker Introduces page, set up to help performers find new audiences and vice versa at, now has nearly 6,000 members and is going from strength to strength. Every Tuesday night at 8pm on that page you have the chance to see a performance by a friend and comrade whose work I respect.

Next Tuesday it’s Nigel Clark, singer of Black Country band Dodgy and the man behind hits like Good Enough, In a Room and Staying Out for the Summer — which should be renamed Staying in for the Winter, given the current situation.

The week after it’s lovely performance poet Cherry B and coming up we have radical songwriters like “Red” Ken Bonsall from Ferocious Dog, Davy Malone and the superb David Rovics from Portland who is truly a Phil Ochs for the modern age.

Stay safe, stay warm, get your jabs and don’t trust the government.


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