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WHEN I launched myself into the world of poetry and punk rock as Attila the Stockbroker in 1980, some of my earliest poems were satirical musings about "the Russian threat" and the best-known was undoubtedly Russians in the DHSS. The first two verses went like this:
"It first was a rumour dismissed as a lie
But then came the evidence none could deny
A double-page spread in the Sunday Express –
The Russians are running the DHSS….
The scroungers and misfits have done it at last
The die of destruction is finally cast
The glue sniffing Trotskyists’ final excess –
The Russians are running the DHSS!’
I was on a family visit to relatives who read that horrendous organ and its front page unfortunately caught my eye. It was split between scare stories about "the Russians" and outrage at "social-security scroungers." Bored while my mother was chatting to the couple in question, I decided that the deadliest threat to Middle England would be if the two scapegoats became a double act, so I borrowed a pen and paper and wrote the poem.
It certainly stood me in good stead, getting me my very first play on the John Peel Show, my first poetry on vinyl — Michael Horovitz’s seminal Poetry Olympics LP — my first review in the recently sadly demised NME and my first Peel session. Not bad for a poem written in 20 minutes in my bigoted relatives’ sitting room!
In the present confrontation, all kinds of people are reminding me of that poem and asking for an update. It’s difficult for two reasons. Firstly, "The Russians are running the Department of Work and Pensions" doesn’t have the same ring of menace to it. Secondly, the Red Russia of Daily Express nightmares doesn’t exist any more. About 58 per cent of the population there wish it did, according to opinion polls, but it doesn’t.
And, of course, that Daily Express headline wasn’t primarily aimed at the Russians but us in the British left who were supposed to be financed by them and following their instructions to the letter. We didn’t then, obviously, and we certainly aren’t now. We don’t like capitalist oligarchs and nationalism, do we?
Well, I hope we don’t. A few people on the left don’t seem to be making a distinction between Russia in the 1980s and Russia now and there is a big difference. The Star article last Thursday summed it up. I’m not siding with either of the participants in this sabre-rattling exercise. I hope that you aren’t either.
Now for a book review. Janine Booth was one of our original ranting poetry posse in the 1980s. She went on to work for London Underground, become a member of the RMT national executive and a mother of three lovely sons and, a few years ago, she took up poetry again. She is very, very good at it indeed.
But of course she’s not the angry young poet I first met on her 16th birthday when she interviewed me for her fanzine. These days she’s a DMW — Disaffected Middle-aged Woman. And that’s the name of her new book and current tour, which you can experience for yourself tomorrow, Upstairs at the Otley Labour Rooms, alongside the equally superb Laura Taylor.
My favourite in the book — given a ringing endorsement by Jeremy Corbyn, incidentally — is Night Tube, chronicling the hours as the antics of pissed stragglers from a late night out give way to the quiet very early risers making their way to low-paid menial jobs.
There are cautionary tales, rewrites of classic pop hits, some very personal poems and the title one, which sums the author up perfectly! Available at gigs or from janinebooth.com
Three gigs next week, all poetry first then a set of early music meets punk with my band Barnstormer — Centrala in Birmingham next Friday, Saith Seren Wrexham Saturday and Ye Olde John O’Gaunt in Lancaster on Sunday, visit attilathestockbroker.com. Cheers!
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