Arguments Yard: Attila the Stockbroker, Cherry Red

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Attila the Stockbroker is celebrating his 35th year of being Attila, and doing it in style with an autobiography plus an extensive and ongoing book launch tour. Released on 3 September by Cherry Red Books, Arguments Yard is not your average autobiography. Attila is not “just” a performance poet, he’s also a trilingual singer-songwriter multi-instrumentalist, with his own band Barnstormer, as well as a political activist and journalist, and he brings it all to the table.

I’m not quite sure what I was expecting - perhaps dense sections of tour dates with the odd tale thrown in, some mind-numbing passages about his footballing obsession (sorry Attila – I loathe football!), or maybe some handy hints and tips for performance poets and other artists.  I wasn’t expecting to find quite so many points of identification with the music and the politics, or the wealth of geopolitical and historical experiences, and I definitely wasn’t expecting to snigger, titter or guffaw my way through all 293 pages, or be shown his most vulnerable and painful memories.  Yes, I know autobiographies are by their very nature self-selecting, but my general experience of them is that they exist to glorify their subject, bathing them in a perfect white spotlight whilst glossing over the bits they don’t want you to know about.  This doesn’t. This exposes childhood vulnerabilities, speaks with pride and tenderness about family, accepts responsibility for causing emotional pain, highlights viciously bad reviews, and laughs about less-than-polished performances and rubbish gigs.  It’s fiercely and refreshingly honest, in the way that poets (and autobiographies) should be.

A rich seam of go-getting do-it-yourself determination runs through the pages too, emphasising an important message for all artists struggling to make themselves heard in a world that thinks the only way is X Factor, on a soul-sucking treadmill of “celebrity”.

Written in a wonderfully non-hierarchical conversational style, it is (as mentioned) hysterically funny, hugely entertaining, and full of surprises. As a performance poet myself of five years standing, I have a small but respectable collection of gig anecdotes. However, over 3,000 gigs in 24 countries spanning 35 years provides an absolute smorgasbord of them.  I think my favourite is the John Cale one, for sheer mortification and gobsmackery. Interspersing the anecdotes are poems and songs reaching back over the years, all teeming with personal and political references.      

This book isn’t just about gigs or poetry or music, however. Attila is extremely well-travelled. One of the most fascinating places, from a leftwinger’s perspective, was the German Democratic Republic. Garnered from numerous encounters and many hours of in-depth conversations, his eyewitness accounts of life for the ordinary citizen at that time conflict with the usual propaganda we have always been fed. Coupled with the many references to home-grown political movements and battles he has been involved with over the years, including Rock Against Racism, the Anti Nazi League, the miners’ strike, the print union disputes, Red Wedge, the poll tax and two Gulf wars amongst many others, and it’s hard not to see the book as an almost historical document. I’ve often argued that poets are as important, if not more important, than historians, and my belief was deepened further by the personal experiences described here. 

About a quarter of the way through though, I began to wonder how on earth one person would remember the sheer mass of information. The answer was revealed later in the book - he kept diaries. I found this interesting in itself, as I also keep a diary, have done since I started performing, and most of the entries relate to various gigs. Each one really is different.  It was strangely gratifying to read about the most bizarre and deserted gig he ever did, followed by its polar opposite in terms of crowd numbers and reaction.

Attila has a fierce hunger for knowledge, a deep-seated sense of the injustices wreaked against the common people, massive stores of energy and an unstoppable drive to put art out into the world. That DIY aspect extends far beyond his own material, and offers helping hands to countless other up-and-coming artists and peers.  The benefits, the variety nights, all the gigs, events and festivals he’s ever created, organised and promoted have all helped to build other people’s stories, histories, solidarity, and memorable nights out. And that is something special, unique, and priceless in a world obsessed with “celebrity” and corporate identity.

I’m a sucker for a good story, and this is storytelling par excellence. I’ve come away from it with a long, long list of artists and radio programmes that I need to check out, as well as a deep yearning to see ‘Cheryl – A Rock Opera’ performed by Attila and John Otway, before I die.  Perhaps if I ask nicely they might, you never know.

In between the guffaws, the raised eyebrows and the dropped jaws, lies the proof that with a phenomenal amount of hard graft, determination, and rhino-thick skin, not to mention a genuine creative urge and the commitment to see it through, you too could earn your living as a self-sustaining artist.  He may be a thorn in the side to some, but he’s a heroic pioneer and role model to many more, and long may he continue.

Whether you are a fan of his work, either poetry or music, or if you are an artist yourself, I would recommend getting yourself a copy of this. Go to one of his book launch gigs, full list of the 40 date tour on www.attilathestockbroker.com, and you’ll be able to hear the man himself read from sections of it, and perform some of the many poems and songs he has created over the years. Signed copies are available from him at attila@attilathestockbroker.com, and it is available from Cherry Red Books plus many other shops.

Laura Taylor

 

Laura Taylor has interviewed Attila the Stockbroker for the Morning Star newspaper. You can read the interview here 

 

Attila the Stockbroker, Arguments Yard, Cherry Red Books, £14.99

 

Background: Still angry after all these years 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Laura Taylor

Wed 23rd Sep 2015 12:31

Glad you enjoyed it as much as me Greg - fantastic isn't it?! Proper looking forward to the gig with him in November :)

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Greg Freeman

Sat 19th Sep 2015 21:27

I've just read Attila's book myself, and fully concur with Laura's verdict. There is much humour in this autobiography, and in the course of documenting his life and times, he has produced an invaluable historical guide to the performance poetry and music scene over the last 35 years, as seen through his eyes. Fascinating stuff.

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Julian (Admin)

Sat 19th Sep 2015 08:43

You would get more takers if this list were put on the gig guide, Mr Stockbroker. Well done to you all the same.

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attila the stockbroker

Mon 7th Sep 2015 11:11

Here are all the forthcoming tour dates. I'll be doing readings from the book interspersed with poems and songs.
Books will be on sale of course :)


Fri 11: HARLOW Adopted 80s hometown launch at The Square - with guests original Brighton hometown heroes Boring Bob Grover and The Piranhas, my best mate and Newtown Neurotics singer Steve Drewett and ranting poet Little Dave Williams whose band The Unborn Dead I supported at my first gig in Harlow on Sept 8 1980. https://www.facebook.com/events/1651840591697622/
Sat 12: HULL Special 50th Birthday gig for a long time fan (private event)
Sun 13: HULL The New Adelphi Club, my favourite UK venue for 30 years, run by the utterly legendary Paul 'Jacko' Jackson. http://www.theadelphi.com/]
Wed 16: MITCHELDEAN (Forest of Dean) The Brewery Tap https://www.facebook.com/events/667881600011155/667882030011112/]
Thurs 17 WOLVERHAMPTON Clarendon Hotel https://www.facebook.com/events/137232369946236/]
Fri 18 WALTHAMSTOW Festival with Steve White & The Protest Family http://www.stowfestival.com/]
Sat 19 WORCESTER Marrs Bar as part of the Worcester Music Festival http://www.worcestermusicfestival.co.uk/]
Sun 20 STROUD Prince Albert http://www.theprincealbertstroud.co.uk/] >
Fri 25 Big LONDON launch at The Borderline in Soho with The Newtown Neurotics, brilliant comic Jeremy Hardy, my old mate Steve Lamacq as DJ, my band Barnstormer and the first ever London appearance by Contingent from Brussels, the last and best band I played in as a bass player, aged 21 in 1979, before starting as Attila in 1980. Just added: my longtime touring partner David Rovics, brilliant US radical songster, and my old mate Janine Booth, now making huge waves on the London spoken word scene. http://www.reallylivemusic.com/attila-the-stockbroker-barnstormer-borderline]
Wed 30 Local launch at SHOREHAM Ropetackle Arts Centre - with John Otway, TV Smith and former Albion chairman Dick Knight http://ropetacklecentre.co.uk/events/arguments-yard-attila-the-stockbroker-launches-his-autobiography/]

OCTOBER
9 BRUSSELS Magasin 4 ( playing bass with Contingent and reading the section from the book about my time in Brussels) http://www.magasin4.be/]
15 MALDON (nr Chelmsford) Blue Boar Hotel https://www.facebook.com/events/419005821618062/
16 LEEDS Packhorse https://www.facebook.com/events/1416398888688169/
17 BARNSLEY Old Number 7 with Joe Solo
18 WHITBY Musicport Festival (daytime) The home of ‘Arguments Yard’, the little alley which gave me my title. http://www.musicportfestival.com/]
19 CANTERBURY Gulbenkian Theatre bar, University of Kent (really looking forward to this one!) E.M.Millar@kent.ac.uk
27 CARDIFF Look Out Cafe Bar, Discovery Quay
28 CARMARTHEN Parrot Music Bar https://www.facebook.com/theparrotmusicbar?fref=ts]
29 GOGINAN nr Aberystwyth The Druid http://www.goginan.com/druid-inn
30 SWINDON The Locomotive https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Locomotive/1647780155445343?fref=ts
31 SOUTHAMPTON Arthouse Cafe https://www.facebook.com/southampton.art.house]

NOVEMBER
1 READING Rising Sun Arts Centre https://www.facebook.com/events/1595599724025012/
6-8 ALDEBURGH Poetry Festival http://www.thepoetrytrust.org/festival/programme/]
14 Guest on Tom Robinson's BBC 6 Music show, 9pm
http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b0072lbw]
17 PETERSFIELD Write Angle at the Square Brewery Http://www.petersfieldwriteangle.co.uk/]
19 STOURBRIDGE Katie Fitzgerald's http://www.katiefitzgeralds.co.uk/]
20 OLDHAM Library https://www.facebook.com/OldhamLibraryService]
21 LIVERPOOL View Two Gallery, 23 Mathew Street, Liverpool L2 6RE https://www.ents24.com/liverpool-events/view-two-gallery/attila-the-stockbroker/4405530]
22 WIGAN Hartley's
26 PETERBOROUGH Brewery Tap
27 NOTTINGHAM Poetry Festival
29 LONDON New Cross Inn - ‘LONDONWICK’ with my band Barnstormer, The Piranhas, The Tuts, Thee Faction and more TBC http://www.newcrossinn.com/]

DECEMBER
3 LONDON Islington Folk Club
12 BELPER Queen's Head https://www.facebook.com/events/1454736961493717/

***EXTRA GIG**** Local ‘rock n roll’ book launch! Sat 26 Sept SHOREHAM The Piranhas, Contingent <https://www.facebook.com/pages/Contingent/334188403367061> and my band Barnstormer at the Duke of Wellington, plus a short reading from the section in my autobiography dealing with my time in Brussels in 1979, the incredible story of the attempts by the mayor to BAN all live rock music and the riots which followed. 'The riot starts at six o'clock!' www.dukeofwellingtonbrewhouse.co.uk]

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