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I’M WRITING this on National Poetry Day. To my fellow poets — especially the ones on the picket line and to our paper which supports us — I send a hearty great red salute.
Now, to slightly misquote The Clash: This is a public service announcement. With memoirs. Today is the middle of We Shall Overcome weekend, when for the last five years musicians and poets have rallied round doing gigs to help the most vulnerable, raising hundreds of thousands of pounds.
But this year, it’s different. Nearly all shows are cancelled and, performance-wise, live streaming is all we’ve got.
I’ve been reading quite a few comments from fellow artists and potential audiences dismissing the whole process, saying things like: “It isn’t the same as a live gig,” “I can’t engage with it,” “People are fed up with it,” “It’s sterile, you can’t give feedback,” “So many are so unprofessional, with their lighting and playing in their spare bedroom” and so on.
This often leads to the conclusion: “No gigs, this is shit, we’re all fucked.”
Here are my thoughts. When I first heard myself perform as a third party it was thanks to an old reggae cassette which Rock Against Racism co-founder Red Saunders took along to a gig I was doing with the late, great Seething Wells in 1981.
He recorded our sets on it, turned into an EP and sent to a hippy bloke who played strange records no-one had heard of, sometimes at the wrong speed.
Thanks to his efforts, I heard A Bang & a Wimpy and Russians in the DHSS via a fish-scale-covered tinny transistor radio on a freezing night on Southwick harbour arm in March 1982 and I heard all kinds of other amazing stuff, too.
The awestruck feedback I wanted to give needed a letter and a stamp, took two days to get to its destination and, though Peelie (John Peel) did his best, he couldn’t read everyone’s out. The visuals were non-existent.
If this pandemic had happened through most of my 40 years of performance I, and we, would indeed have been completely fucked. We truly would have had nowhere to go. As a bloke of 62 with COPD — but with huge amounts of energy, a massive lust for life and a burning desire to get my words and music out — I would have felt especially knackered.
As it is, we have a medium laid on a plate in front of us. It’s corporate, it’s flawed and, yes, there are loads of arseholes using it to spread crap. Just like major record labels. As the Clash used CBS, let’s use these platforms to help each other and raise money for those in need.
I feel absolutely determined to make the best of the situation and to help others to do the same. And, if I can learn the bloody technology, anyone can, We are DIY. Let’s get out there, do it ourselves, help each other and raise cash for those who need it.
And I totally get the “I don't want to spend any more time in front of a screen thing. It's a matter of choices and even the most self-pitying, out-of-tune hippy moaning to himself in a badly lit bedroom is better than fucking Bake Off. End of lecture.
On Thursday, I’m live streaming my performance of Shelley’s Mask of Anarchy, the greatest ranting political poem in English history and on Friday I’ll deliver my first-ever dub poetry/reggae talkover set, both raising funds for Adur Community Cafe in Shoreham and both part of We Shall Overcome weekend.
There are loads of stuff happening on Saturday, for a guide head to facebook.com/pete.yen and, next Tuesday at 8pm, I launch Attila the Stockbroker Introduces on my Facebook Live page at facebook.com/attilathestockbroker.
The aim is to give the 34,000 people on my page the chance to see and support some performers they won’t have encountered before and it kicks off with the brilliant Jess Silk, a young political singer-songwriter from the West Midlands.
Just trying to do my bit. Keep safe.
ATTILA THE STOCKBROKER
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