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DIARY The sweet smell of success, on my terms

Truly 'making it' means living up to the ideals of punk DIY culture for me and many others

THE TORIES have rejected my union’s proposal, backed by hundreds of thousands of signatories, for a musicians’ passport to tour the EU without the need for visas, carnets and work permits for each individual state.

This will render touring completely financially unviable for all but the biggest, most mainstream acts.

In all the mountains of messages of support I’ve received for my writings on this issue, there were a couple of snide remarks along the lines of “You should have been more successful then, shouldn’t you?”

I’ve never spelt this out before but I’m going to now. This is not about or for me, I’ve had my time and it has been absolutely fantastic. It’s about people a third of my age who think like me. And there are many.

Since the age of 23, for 39 of the 40 years I’ve been Attila the Stockbroker, I have earned my living doing what I love, exactly in the way I want to do it, with no compromise whatsoever. That is not only an incredible privilege — born of a lot of hard work, mind you — but is the very definition of “success” for me.

I’ve never wanted to be part of the mainstream, be a TV celebrity, do some bloody Radio 4 game show. I come from the DIY punk scene. My goals, well and truly met, were John Peel sessions, strange underground TV broadcasts and eclectic overseas college radio and, most importantly, thousands of gigs in as many interesting places in as many interesting countries as would have me – about 3,700 in 24 so far.

I wanted to do literally everything on my own terms. I have done and still do. DIY — “Complete control, even over this song,” as the Clash put it all those years ago.

That’s my choice, the choice of many performers of my original DIY punk generation and still the choice for many creative people in many different art forms today. It may feel a bit swamped in a modern world where being a celebrity is a career goal for many but it’s still very much alive.

Since 1992, that choice was made vastly easier by EU open borders. It’s now been taken way from us. The underground, the experimental, the bloody-minded, the minority — cultural boundary-breakers of all kinds, now halted by physical boundaries imposed on us by mainstream politicians, voted for by mainstream celebrity-worshipping consumers of mainstream culture,  who tell us “we should be more successful.”

Bollocks to the lot of them. We’ll find a way. Watch this space.

Now for a wonderful book, published at just the right time. Great Gig Memories, compiled by Niall McGurk and Michael Murphy, is precisely that — over 250 different memories of favourite gigs from performers, promoters and punters.

In this desperate time for all of those who love live music it is a poignant and beautifully constructed reminder of the life-enhancing effect of a great gig.

My favourite memoir is from my great friend Steve Drewett, lead singer of socialist punks Newtown Neurotics, who paints a fascinating picture of his time at the World Festival of Youth and Students in Pyongyang, North Korea, in 1989.

At the other extreme, owner John Eichler talks about the beginnings of punk at London’s legendary Hope and Anchor, about as far away from thousands of patiently waiting, silent North Koreans as it would be possible to get.

Knox from The Vibrators and Charlie Harper from the UK Subs remember Jimi Hendrix doing tiny London gigs in 1967, while Mark Andersen’s piece Playing On Enemy Territory lists all the front-line confrontational gigs in unusual locations he’d seen over the years.

And I’m in there too, with the story of the best gig I’ve ever done. Read it and find out where.

The book is published in aid of the NHS Charities Together Covid-19 Appeal and you can get one from

Take care.



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