Around this time last year, we had a holiday in Spain (I know – thankfully, Gran Canaria, we ate outside when we ate out and hardly saw anyone; I sat next to a man with a dry cough on the plane home …) and Attila was playing in Stourbridge the day after we got back. So I didn’t go. And how I regret that, because that was the last time he did a live show for the foreseeable. Hard-drinking but not keen on the other stuff, his lungs were damaged by years playing in smoky clubs, and we need to keep him safe. This will keep the fans going for a bit.

I first saw Attila the ranting poet back in 1989 or so, as a student, and he and the band The Men They Couldn’t Hang helped continue the political education I’d had started for me by my wonderful leftist, grow-you-own, beer-making neighbour, Mary. For the last several years he’s been doing shows at the Kitchen Garden Cafe locally or at Katie Fitzgerald’s in Stourbridge which I’ve gone to – I even took Matthew along to the last one and he had fun singing along to a certain song. I’ve watched some of his live shows during lockdown, and now you can have your pick of his works at any time, as he’s put out on Cherry Red Books a new Collected Works, “Heart on my Sleeve”, which launched for pre-order yesterday and will come out officially on 05 April 2021 – I purchased it direct from his Bandcamp page and you can pre-order from all the usual outlets. The ideal companion to his very entertaining autobiography, “Arguments Yard“, I’d say there was something here for everyone (well, probably not rabid right-wing Thatcher fans or haters of Europe and multiculturalism).

Attila the Stockbroker – “Heart on my Sleeve: Collected Works 1980-2020”

(25 February 2021)

I love words and I love ’em in the red and raw

I like to use them in ways they’ve not been used before

Want you to laugh and want you to think as well-

Bollocks to TV – this is live, as live as hell!

(from “My Poetic Licence”, 2006, updated 2020 p. 332)

Being the collected works, we get rap lyrics, rants and song lyrics, as well as the poems, rearranged into themes with some new ones added and bang up to date (c.f. “Coro Nation” and “Take Courage”. Some have been updated or have taken various forms over the years and this is carefully noted.

All the fan favourites are here, from the affectionate “To my Wife Robina in Lockdown, 8th September 2020”, which I’ve only of course seen him do online, through older wonders like “Joseph Porter’s Sleeping Bag”, “A Hellish Encounter” (the Devil can’t cope when Mrs Thatcher arrives in Hell) and “My Poetic Licence”, which sets out his stall and usually features in live shows, and more recently enjoyed ones such as the excoriation of people’s addiction to being distracted by silly stories from the real things that are going on, “Prince Harry’s Knob” (his knob!).

The poems about family and funeral poems are wryly funny and poignant and demonstrate there is so much more to this excellent performer and writer than knob-jokes and swearing. And, as I am proud I haven’t, he has not moved to the centre politically as we’re supposed to do as we grow older, so “Never Forget” from the Orgreave anniversary event commemorates the miners’ strike beautifully.

Having the lyrics in means that some of the excellent Barnstormer early music band stuff is here (“Abiezar Coppe” being a favourite of many, celebrating one of the original Ranters) as well as the stuff he does with more modern instruments (I do love the early instrument stuff; always good to see a shawm in action).

I’ll share one full poem which encapsulates left-wing sensibilities and his new love for gardening, having seen the whole process of veg springing up in his lockdown garden in 2020 as he was at home all the time for once, not touring.

THE MARXIST TOMATO GROWER

He sits

and waits

for his world

to turn red.

He knows it will,

eventually,

but it’s taking

a hell of a long time.

(“The Marxist Tomato Grower”, p. 221)

Cherry Red have done a lovely job with the book, like his autobiography before this, and it’s great to see this out on an indie publisher with a great book and music publishing tradition.