weekly updated blog for Oi! – punk – ska – reggae
On a Sunday evening in June 2003, the English poet Attila The Stockbroker visited our place with his punkband Barnstormer. In the afternoon Attila had already done a 90 minute solo gig at a communist festival in Germany. As this was also the last day of the tour all members were quite tired. In between dinner, soundcheck and the gig there was some time left for a small chat with Attila.
June 2003 – band website
To those who don’t know you, can you briefly introduce yourself?
I’m Attila the Stockbroker. My living is being a poet and songwriter since 1981. I started in the punk scene, right at the beginning of punk. I played bass-guitar in some punk bands back then. From 1980 i decided it would be interesting to get on stage on my own, to do poetry. That went quite well and from 1982 i’ve been travelling around all over the world to do my poetry and play songs on the mandolin. I’ve done about 15 albums, four books and all kinds of compilation stuff.
In 1994 i formed my band Barnstormer to play my songs. Since then the band sometimes plays in Mainland-Europe, but with the band i mostly play in the UK and i do more solo-gigs here. So mainly i’m a poet and songwriter with a punkrock band that also has a strange mediaeval tongue to it.
How did you get involved in this whole punk thing and how has it influenced your life?
Actually i’m gonna do a song tonight about this called Commadante Joe, because what really inspired me was The Clash. I mean, the punk thing means many different things. But to react to the things you wrote in your booklet (Attila reffers to the programme-leaflet of the squat where there’s quoted something he said about Sex Pistol’s Anarchy in the UK). What i actually said about chess was this; if instead of singing “I’m an anti-christ, i’m an anarchist” Johnny Rotten had said: “I’m a chess player”, there would probably loads of punks with chessboards on their back. I’m not an anarchist, but i have many friends who are and i have lots of sympathy with anarchism. But what i meant by that is that anarchism is supposed to be about thinking for yourself and not just putting an A in a circle on your jacket, because you think that’s what punkrock is about.
But to answer your question, before punk i was interested in different kinds of music. I love the stuff of MC5, Velvet Underground and Mott the Hoople. I also loved some strange style of crowd rock. Punk was just an extension of the stuff i was listening to, it was not suddenly. The great thing about punk was the politics and the idea that everyone could get up on stage and start performing. That was the main message that got through to me, instead of “that’s the band and that’s the audience”.
I always was a musician, i played bass guitar in the late 70ies. Then i realised that just playing the bass was not what i wanted to do, so i started with the poetry and make songs myself on the mandolin.
Punk has been a huge inspiration to me. When i saw The Clash it was everything i wanted with music; it was politics and culture coming together, that’s just amazing! That was in 1977 and it inspired me to do what i’m doing now. I like all kinds of music and the main thing i like are lyrics and the words. I like people who got something to say, who’re different and critically about the world we’re living in, whatever sort of music it may be. One of my favourite songwriters/musicians of all time is the Belgian songwriter Jacques Brel, for exactly the same reason. Cause in a completely different way he was as critical about the society he lived in as The Clash or the Sex Pistols were. So i like all sorts of stuff, but punk inspired me absolutely.
You are 45 right now, did you ever think about just quitting playing and all the uncertainty that comes with it?
That’s a very funny question. It’s an interesting thing that rock music is connected with being young, while nobody ever says to a painter or someone who’s playing the violin in an orchestra “you’re 40, so you’re not going to do that anymore”. Anyway, I have a wife and four children. I always made this quite clear to everyone who puts me on or organises gigs, that this is my living. In fact I’m very proud that it is my living. I’m a socialist, so I don’t expect to earn a huge load of money and I don’t want more than in need to support my family.
It’s an interesting thing that for some people in the scene playing in a band is supposed to be something you don’t do to earn any money and if you do, you are a capitalist or whatever. I think that’s just completely stupid. I have always been and will always be independent. I will always earn my living doing this and I have no desire to work for a capitalist boss, or to be involved in the system in any way. I won’t compromise to that under any circumstances. I’m in the fortunate position that I have a good following all over the place and without compromising I can do everything I want. I’m my own organiser, my own agent, and my own manager. I publish all my books, my CD’sâ… I’m not involved in any kind of commercial business or corporation. I do everything myself, so the only person I have to relay on is me, and I think it works. It works out really well. I’ll never stop performing unless I die. I hope I’ll die on stage, hopefully when I’m 85 or something but I never gonna stop. It’s not an ego thing, what I love is the fact that I have the opportunity to express my ideas and talk to people about things that are important to me and the world in general.
What do you like to say to the people who say you are selling out because you make a living out of your music and poetry?
I think they’re absolutely idiots and i’ll go even further than that; everybody who says that is probably from a very wealthy privileged family with a mother and a father who have plenty of money, so that they can play punk for a couple of years and then go working for a boss or something.
Very few people say it to me, and it can only be said by people who have no experience of life and what life means. No-one would ever say to a plumber or a carpenter “you’re selling out because you earn your money being a plumber or carpenter”. So why saying it to a musician? It’s ridiculous, completely ridiculous to say you don’t want any money! In my view it’s far more selling out to play in a band and charge one cent to get into the concert and than spend the rest of your week working for a capitalist to earn your living, than the way i do, which is to say “this is how i earn myself a living and i’m very proud of that”. That always works anyhow.
I know that tonight we don’t get very much money for this gig, but that’s fine, because it’s a good place and what you do is very good. Equally, some of the other gigs we got us some really good money, so in the end it all works out. It means i can do both. But the idea that earning yourself a living means you’re selling out is babyish, it’s spread by kids with rich parents.
Why do you play renaissance-core? Has it anything to do with the romantic idea of being a wandering minstrel or does this period inspire you?
It’s simply because i like the music. It’s something inside of me, i don’t know why, which always responded to the sound of that particular type of music. It’s nothing more or less than that. I guess it’s the same reason why Shane MacGowan formed The Pogues; to play a mixture of Irish music and punk. I did exactly the same with Barnstormer, because i like middle-age music. I don’t know anyone else who did it before. I knew what kind of music i wanted to play and i didn’t know if it would work out well, but it does. It sounds strange, but the people really enjoy it.
When i read your website i get the impression you’re on tour for five months of the year. What are the things you hate and like most about being on tour?
There’s nothing i hate about being on tour, but i miss my wife very much. Something i never forget is the reason why she has to stay at home and look after the kids and everything, is because i’m on tour. Quite a traditional division of labour. I don’t like that partically, but she comes with me as much as possible.
There’s nothing i don’t like about being on tour. I really love performing, i love talking to people; i speak french and german, i love foreign languages and i love communicating with people. The band is just great, we’re all really good friends and we enjoy the music we play, so i live it. The only thing i don’t like about touring is that our drummer’s farts are terrible, that’s the only thing i can think of.
(Laughter) and the vegan food…
No, i like it, although i make jokes about it. I think very much for myself and i surely respect people who are vegan or vegetarian. Equally i expect them to respect the fact i’m not. I don’t like the idea that some people seem to have; that if you’re on the left and if you’re a radical, anti-capitalist or whatever that it means you must be a vegetarian. I can tell anybody who thinks that, that for hundreds of years there’s been class struggle and battles in between oppressors and oppressed.
The idea of vegetarianism is an idea that can only exists in an advanced society where people have enough to eat in the first place. I have absolutely nothing but respect for people who are vegetarian. For sure it’s a healthy way to live, but i think it’s a personal choice, which got nothing to do with a political obligation. Equally i’m totally opposed to factory farming and the methods that are used to breed animals for human consumption. I think that’s wrong, but no, i’m not a vegetarian.
Once you wrote in our email correspondence that you consider yourself to be a communist, what does communism mean to you, as there’re many explanations of it?
Well, i performed many times in de DDR before the wall came down, and if i was born in the east-german system i would have been about 65% in favour and 35% against what happened there. I wasn’t somebody who said it was all shit. I was believed that what happened in East-Germany was basically a progressive thing, which needed to be changed, developed and made far more democratic. It should have been organised far more from the bottom than the top.
I don’t think it was good that the entire system collapsed and i don’t think it was good the Berlin wall came down the way it did. Because all that happened was that capitalism became a tribulation. The end of all this shit is what we see in Iraq or anywhere else. I think the existence of the sovjet-union and the eastern-block countries was a good thing, although what went on there was certainly not all good.
But i’m certainly a communist in the tradition of Marx and Lenin. I have strong links to the DKP, the German Communist Party. We just have performed at a festival for them, i guess if i was german i would be a member of it. They’re quite a mainstream communist party with a good strong left tradition that some others don’t have. Like the French PCF, it becomes a complete joke, while the Germans have just been recast. The festival where we just played was in a park in Dortmund with 100.000 people coming, it’s fantastic, it really is.
That’s better than Holland. After the 11th september and the 6th of may last year when Pim Fortuyn got shot, a strong anti-left feeling was based in society.
Oh well. Pim Fortuyn, he’s a strange guy, I mean, a gay nazi?! Ok, there were lots of those, but it seems very strange for me.
During the recent war on Iraq, a quite impressive and massive anti-war movement was born. Were you surprised by the amount of people demonstrating?
No, i wasn’t. I think people have been looking for some time for a vehicle to express their feelings about what the Blair government is doing. Because after all those years of Thatcher and Tory governments since 1976, people were so desperate for anything, that when Blair and Labour came in they thought “at least we got rid of Thatcher”. But when Blair got into power, it was basically the same kind of thing as Thatcher would do, but with a different name on it. People started to get really angry about this particular decision by these stainless politicians to go along with Blair and Bush. That was something that everybody made really, really, really angry!
I’m not surprised because also after a period of great apathy among young people, there’s a complete new generation of, not political aware, but political developing youth in the UK. That’s certainly a good development. The kids in between 9 and 16 in the UK are massively into punkrock. My 15-year old son has a punk band, you have two generations of punkrock and that’s fantastic. A lot of kids are getting interested in politics again which is brilliant, because the UK has been very depoliticised these recent years compared to Germany, France or whatever. I always said that the UK and Holland are quite similar in terms of the lack of an obvious real hard political organisation, certainly since the last war on Iraq, some things have developed and are moving forward. There’s definitely more awareness and interest in politics and more desire opposed to what’s going on.
Recently an important Dutch social-democratic magazine called Vrij Nederland (Free Holland, started as an illegal paper during WW2) proclaimed that Blair is the true hero of the left in Europe, is he?
Well, for fucks sake! Anyone who says that is as much as an idiot as the people who say it’s selling out to make a living out of your music. Blair is holding contempt. I have a song which we will play tonight about this!
I always voted for labour, but i’ll never vote for them again. We have a big problem in England with the electoral system. Unlike in Holland or most of the countries in Europe there’s the single vote system, which means that the person with the most votes get elected in the constituency. This makes it very difficult for small minority parties to get any form of support, because the argument always is, “if we vote for a left party and not for Labour, it splits the vote and make the Tories come in”. That has always been the argument. My response to it now is that it doesn’t matter. Almost i would say it’s even better to have the Tories in, because than there is less confusion among the left and among the trade unions about what’s happening.
That’s exactly the same in Germany. There’s a big Schröder announce. Schröder and Clemon are starting this massive programme which causes the destruction of the welfare system. Because it’s a social democratic government in power they’re actually able to do more things against the trade unions, than when there’s a CSU/CDU (right-wing/christian-conservatives) government in power, cause then the trade unions don’t have any illusions.
There’re people in the metalline who say “we won’t vote against our government” and i respond by asking how Schröder can be their government when he’s actually making hundreds of thousands of people jobless and destroying the credit payments for the health insurance. What they’re doing is just ridiculous.
So in one sentence it’s actually better to have the right-wing Christian democrats in power, then people won’t be confused about it. Unfortunately lots of trade unionists and probably some workers think that with Labour elected it got to be better. What this moment proves is that’s just shit, it isn’t better at all.
Old Teenagers is a song about apathy among the teenagers of the UK. It could have been any other country in western Europe. How do you see the future? Do you think there will be next generations taking over?
Although it’s a great song, i’m not doing it all the time anymore. Preciously because there’s certainly in terms of music and subculture an absolutely new development. This isn’t within the students, this is much younger, i’m talking about nine and ten years old who are getting bands together. It’s incredible. Some of the bands with an age around 11 or 12 are actually quite good. They got t-shirts with ‘Fuck Blair’ and all that stuff. Ok, at this moment it’s obviously a simple kind of shock thing, but at least they’re thinking and doing something, instead of all the techno shit that’s going on.
The students are still very apathetic in England, but that’s really a student thing. When i was at university i got a grant, i couldn’t have gone to the university if i didn’t had a grant. These days the students don’t get a grant anymore, they get loans and nobody protests about it. When we were at the university and if they tried to raise the price of the sandwiches in the canteen we occupied the registry for a week until they said they were not going to do that anymore. Also that shitty music, like Coldplay, that’s what students are listening to and it’s fucking awful.
The funniest thing about this is the feeling when you’re young you are radical and wild and when you’re old you should become a vegetable and watch the television. For my wife and me it’s exactly the opposite. We are actually far more radical than a lot of people who are 25 years younger. Lots of friends of our kids look at us in astonishment. What they want is to play golf, or a nice suit.
You have quite some skinheads among your audiance…
They’re skinheads, not boneheads, that’s the point. Nazi boneheads have attacked me on stage for three times over the last 20 years…
In the UK?
Yes. I can look after myself. I’m not frightened of idiots like that. The people that come to our gigs are the people who agree with the politics, obviously the idiots won’t come.
There was a time during the beginning of the 80ies when we used to have problems at gigs with fascists who caused trouble. Not just with mine gigs, but with all kind of gigs. But Anti-Fascist Action (AFA) got them out completely. They got put in hospitals enough times, so they stopped coming. In England the British National Party (BNP) has now stopped trying to be a street fighting party, they try to pretend they are respectable, they even wear suits now.
The reason why it happened is quite simple. In the early 1980s when the Oi! thing was big in England, i put some songs on Oi! compilations, cause i wanted to reach the people who were being influenced by fascist ideas. I never thought it was enough for me as a poet or musician to talk to the people who agree with me anyway. I wanted to get through and tried to reach people involved in that subculture. I’m a sort of skinhead as well, i like the music and in the 80ies i also was a skinhead. I got lots of friends who are skinheads. I think it’s very important to know that the most effective opposition to boneheads comes from skinheads, who were so pissed of about these assholes. In the media i often read that a bunch of skinheads beat up a black person, and i always say these are no skinheads, these are boneheads!
Lastly, I heard you work at a soccerclub. Why is soccer so special for you?
(laughter) I’m the poet in residence, the PA announcer and the DJ at Brighton, my local club. You should look at the website, it explains everything, but basically i’m a supporter of Brighton since i was seven, so that’s 38 years untill now.
In 1997 our club was taken over by an asshole called Bill Larger, a property speculator. He sold the ground of the club, for two years we had to play our home matches about 100 kilometres away. We, the fans, organised a massive protest about what was going on. Actually it was one of the most effective grass roots working class protests there has been in England for a long time. Everybody around the country knew what we, Brighton fans, were doing. We demonstrated in London, we invited ourselves at the house where the bastards lives and told him to piss of. But it all went in a quite peaceful way, we didn’t got any bad publicity! We organised a national boycott against the company he was the chairman of. What happened was that politics overlapped culture. The fact that i love football was overlapped by the fact that this capitalist asshole, was destroying the team of the club that i love. So all these things came together and i became the leader of the Brighton fans who were opposing all this shit.
The good thing about that was that many of our fans got interested in politics. Some of them are quite right-wing, racist, sexist and sort like tendencies, but they learned from this fight to save the football club that capitalism fucks things up. I mean, how did the guy got involved? Only because he got hold on the shares from an alcoholic, the former chairman, so he could easily close the club down. Lot of ordinary Brighton fans learned a lot about capitalism from that particular experience and it changed quite a lot people’s view.
I’m a big St.Pauli fan too. Probably you know something about St.Pauli? They have 70.000 fans and most of them are anti-fascist. They have a really good political subculture. Football is a great way of reaching people, the same way as Oi!.
It will never be enough for me, just to be a nice poet, do nice gigs, etc. The thing for me always was to get out and talk to ordinary people and to get out on the street. It may sound like a cliché, but it’s true, not in a false kind of way, but it’s where i belong. It’s just me and how i am. I’m not a prestigious arty sort of person. All i want is having a laugh, having a beer and doing my poems and songs. It fits in really well. I mean, i do poetry before the home games of Brighton and a lot of people listen to it. Of course, some people think “oh, fucking poetry”, but most of them accept it, cause they know i was really involved in the fight to save the club. But lots of people like it anyway and that’s good.
Ok, that’s it for now. Do you have any closing comments?
Well yes. With Barnstormer we like to do more gigs in Holland and maybe we do a tour just in Holland at the end of this year. I enjoy playing here, i like the fact that people have such a good command of english that i actually can get my words across. I speak german, so i’m doing Germany in a different way. But anyway, we’re looking for more gigs at the end of this year, so if anyone is interested, get in touch.
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