IntroA new music was hammering out a revolutionary message; the style was of a form "anyone can get up and have a go"!
This music was labelled PUNK, some people labelled the movement new wave. The North East produced its quota of bands for this brutal, angry sound. The Proles, Penetratian, were just two of the them.
But this interview concentrates on the Angelic Upstarts camp, with the Angelic Upstarts and their musical cousins Red London being featured. Red Alert (musical brother to Red London) were another band from this staunchly anti-fascist camp.
The Angelic Upstarts music was a brutal, angry sound, but melodic all the same. The best sound to describe the Angelic Upstarts sound is "a classic standard working class thrash; a predictable and hardly timeless jolt of accented electric rabble rousing. But no less effective for it".
Red London's sound was similar with its emphasis on its sound from the streets; raw and simple anthems about working class life. And although similar to their heroes the Angelic Upstarts brilliant all the same. In 1978 when most bands were singing about anarchy the Angelic Upstarts were producing their first release "The Murder of Liddle Towers" a protest song about the not so clear actions of the police with a man in detention.
The foundations had been laid the path set for a course of asking questions that a lot of other bands didn't quite want to reach. 1979 brought this avenue into public gaze with their stomping single "Teenage Warning". It entered the charts and gave them a tea time slot on Top of the Pops; a lovely starter for anyone about to engage in their tea!
The Angelic Upstarts released many singles of quality; still asking the questions, probing and always straight to the point. "Last Night Another Solider", "Two Million Voices", "Kids on the Street", Never 'ad Nothing" were early examples of these mind ticking albums.
Unfortunately though being a punk band at that time and taking a progressive attitude of speaking up about the issues of the day (including racism and fascism) they had trouble with the far right at venues. A racist element was making a presence at concerts against bands they perhaps respected musically but not lyrically/politically.
The Angelic Upstarts and Red London's ground was chosen; flag posted squarely and firmly in the right place, staunchly in the anti fascist corner.
But hearing accusations, rumours, images about the Angelic Upstarts front man/vocalist Mensi; you'd perhaps think he was the Henry Cooper of Punk!
But after speaking, meeting the front man of one of the most successful and well known bands from the new wave era (Seven hit singles/ Four top 50 albums) your perceptions will quickly change.
Mensi sat back in his black mastermind armchair and kicked off his story, which was just the start of what was going to be a very interesting afternoon.
Talking of the "highs and lows" of his bands (not finished yet!); he highlighted the highs of many benefit concerts the Angelic Upstarts had done for Anti Fascist Action. National and international concerts have obviously left a mark on this big hearted man, the real high was an Italian concert they'd turned up to; and looking at the crowed he'd seen vast waves of people sporting anti fascist/racist memorabilia.
But he talked of lows also; the one that gave him concern was when the far right attacked the band. It was at the Astoria in 1990 when elements of the far right attacked the band with drainpipes.
Kid Stoker had reflected on Red London's highs and lows; his personal thoughts were of simple progress from learning to play that extra chord on a guitar, to moving to writing good songs. Then onto finding yourself in a recording studio and even singing your first record contract, even though the label should be trading under the name 'Sharks-R-Us!'.
Also holding your first recording and then reading the cover until your eyes hurt; Kid Stoker emphasising that they may be simple facts, but they carry great satisfaction for a musician. He talked of great gigs; one in Geneva at a squat run by punks and radical students. The venue was sandwiched between rich houses and even richer banks! During the sound check armed police descended on the venue, being English and unused to seeing armed police, Red London quickly raised their hands for surrender. Amazement though! The squatters calmly told the police of their rights, the police turned around and went. They now had their own special enclave; there own Utopia, if only for twelve hours.
The lows; Kid Stoker did say "we've had regrets; but then again, too few to mention… wait a minute! I've just turned in to a socialist Frank Sinatra!".
Onto the favourite question, musical influences. Kid Stoker spoke of his influences they were the Beatles, Small Faces, The Who (in the mid sixties), early seventies Slade, Mick Jones from the Clash for showing how you work a Les Paul with style, likewise Joe Strummer for writing the punk manifesto. And a young Paul Weller for writing classic three minute anthems in the late 1970's.
Mensi also showed great respect to the Clash; especially Joe Strummer. If you listen to the Angelic Upstarts, Red London and Red Alert, you will definitely hear and feel the influence of the Clash.
I asked Mensi about the market for a punk revival; a lot of bands are reforming. A lot of new bands are quoting punk and new wave bands as influences. Mensi said the scene is picking up in this country; although it is stronger in Europe. He still believes though there's no substitute for live acts; and with punk and new wave you can definitely afford to watch bands live.
I would have thought the Angelic Upstarts would have had a life of alcohol on tap etc. in their heyday. Mensi quickly dampened down that theory! The band were being paid £25 a week (unemployment benefit at that time was £27.50).
But of course; managers and record companies were obtaining more that unemployment benefit. Only just!!?
Mensi once said in an interview "I hate it when you go down the Marquee and kids come up to you to buy them a drink and when you tell them you ain't go no money they don’t believe you. Sometimes I get very cynical with the kids".
It does go to show the calibre of this man, leaving a job of being a miner with a regular income; to become the lead singer of a band that was to become the political cutting edge of the punk movement. With no money coming forth he is a man of courage, determination and principle. As with the band.
A person like Thomas Mensforth (Mensi) who is admired by many, is quick to show his admiration for other people, he was very quick to show respect and admiration towards Arthur Scargill. It was no surprise after reading quotes about Mensi being labelled the Arthur Scargill of punk!
Mensi said "I wish I was half the man he was, and I wish I was half the man he is." "He was honest and true to his friends and comrades."
Now for a man with his reputation (Mensi) to wish yourself to be half the man someone else is; this shows how much the man respects Mr Scargill. The Angelic Upstarts did a lot for the miners during the strike (also at least two tracks "Blackleg Miner" and "Jarrow Women" reflect this position).
Kid Stoker reeled admiration's for George Orwell, William Morris, Keir Hardye, Tom Payne, Nelson Mandella, Muhammad Ali, Rosseau, Thomas More and George Best!
Perhaps punk does have a conscience then; not just the media led image of yellow hair, Doc Martins and sniffing glue. Read on and find out.
Everyone talks of their childhood memories; the times when most people remember only good times, the long summer holidays, doing what you wanted to do. I talked to Mensi and Kid Stoker about their childhood's, I asked them did their childhood's have any influence on their views today.
Kid Stoker had no doubt about the fact that his traditional working class upbringing of life in the North East had a lasting effect on his beliefs. His father and uncles all worked in the shipyards; his grandfather was a dustbin man. And although they were never great radicals as such, they all possessed this incredible working mans dignity. And they all had three basic beliefs they never broke. 1. Join a Trade Union. 2. Vote Labour. 3. Never trust a Tory.
Mensi told me his childhood had been a totally working class type background; being brought up on Labour politics, considering the Tories as an enemy. He also mentioned he never had no contact with fascists in the North East until he moved down to London.
His father was a miner for 25 years and they lived on a council estate (Brockley Whins).
The conversation quickly got onto the subject of Tony Blairs New Labour (sounds like a dodgy disco band).
Mensi couldn't wait to spill the words "He's a better capitalist than Thatcher; at least Thatcher was more honest. You knew where you stood, at least Thatcher didn't pretend to be working class". He said he was totally disillusioned with the Labour Party.
Kid Stokers thoughts were "In many respects the election of Tony Blair is the final triumph of Thatcherism. Blair is Margaret's final joke. If ever there was a liberal economist in Labour clothing, then it's Tony Blair. Any politician who smiles that much clearly has something to hide".
So yes Mr Tony Blair we all know you have a Conservative Party membership card tucked under the carpet!
So if you don't want a New Labour government (as in new New Labour government), what sort of establishment do you want?
Kid Stoker answered "I would like to witness something like the election of the 1945 government, a party with a vision elected by a landslide by a British people truly wanting radical change. Only this government would not stop at a National Health Service and a Welfare State, but instead continue steps (political) three four and five and so on until we have a truly socialist state. And when was the last time the British voters had well and truly had enough of the Tories and wanted a change? The last general election, right? But instead we got short-changed by New Labour Spinning tired Thatcher economic policies".
So perhaps Shane Warne couldn't even get into the Labour Cabinet team!?… Not even 12th man.
Mensi asked for a truly socialist government; he would love to see it happen. He did refer to Britain being the last place in Europe to achieve a true socialist government, his views were that there's not a big enough challenge from the left.
He feels that the challenge from the left needs to come from the working class as he felt it tended to more in Europe. But he still holds the view that it will take something catastrophic to happen,; to nudge people into really opting for radical change.
He was worried though that Europe seems to be taking the same path of events that occurred before, during World War II; haven't we learned enough from that?
If the left isn't challenging enough in this country then at the moment; do they need to unite? Can they? Is this the way forward?
Mensi quickly responded that he'd love to see the broad left unite; but he had reservations that it had to be working class led.
Getting back to the government we've go now though we spoke about the question a lot of people ask; "Why after 20 years of a sinister Tory Government, and then obtaining a Labour government with a massive majority (remembering they've spent 20 year in the wilderness talking about the evils of a capitalist Tory government). Have they dropped all their principles and changed so much"?
Mensi angrily talked about the face that they've got a "cushy" now. They have a fixation with privatisation because they've seen the success of the Tories making the rich, richer. They amazingly don’t want to upset a few people by lessening the gap between rich and poor.
Is this wat Labour are talking about when they burble on about new deals between industry and workers? More wage cuts/freezes, less trade union rights (in reality). You can’t upset a few industrialists, but you can upset millions of workers who voted for you to help them.
Mining was important around the North East and Mensi was a miner, I spoke to him and Kid Stoker about the miners strike.
Mensis blunt, straight to the point, mode kicked in. He quickly put the blame on the Labour Party for the failure of the strike. He did say though it did flush out the real enemies of the miners, people. He did regard thought that the Heath government in the 1970's had this idea of running the mining industry; but still believes though that Neil Kinnock quite ably abetted Thatcher's brainstorm of splitting the Trade Union movement, hammering whole working class communities into the ground.
He did quote "Not the Welsh windbag; but scumbag".
Kid Stoker had a lot to say about this subject that always hits a nerve with a lot of miners; especially North East working class people. Kid Stoker emphasised this with telling us about the benefit gigs they played; the gigs were on the front line. It was their communities, if you were lucky you left school and obtained work in the mines. He spoke of personal contributions from people who lost homes due to striking for their jobs, their future. Non-political people were turned into flying pickets.
Kid Stoker spoke about the incident that really stood out during the miners strike. During the end of the strike, asleep one morning, he was suddenly woken up by a loud roar. It was the sound of men, striking Wearmouth miners.
The scab bus had turned up for work with the usual 200 police escort, he couldn't see anything but hear. "And that cry, that roar of men, confirmed to me, then more than ever, the sheer power of working men." "It was the sheer realisation of the power of the working class and when the power is truly harnessed when that roar becomes truly unified, then the whole world will hear it."
Someone has to sort out problems, we have many in this country, who would you like to see as prime minister to tackle them.
"Arthur Scargill" Mensi said in an answer quick enough to be given on a prize show. (As long as it wasn't a Jimmy Tarbuck, Ted Rodgers, Paul Daniels, Bob Monkhouse one!)
Kid Stoker replied "Tony Benn"; he said he'd like to see Alistair Campbell try and spin Tony Benn out of his crease.
One question though I was nagging to ask the panel; was a question that even Colombo wouldn't even be able to work out! Tony Blair recently said that class divisions are over now, class isn’t an issue any more.
I don't understand I am working class and so are you Mensi and Kid Stoker. So if class isn't an issue, and divisions are over why is…
1. Grants being abolished (only people with a lot of money can get higher education)
2. Trade Union rights being watered down in various ways (new titles, new deals, working councils instead of unions). I thought you needed unions to watch over working people. The ones that are unfortunately low paid etc. Aren't they usually working class.
3. A Small but over looked point; if class isn't an issue then and there's no divisions (as in the word division _ act of dividing, barrier, section) Why on our railway carriages, (well used to be ours until we had them sold off) do we have first and second class apartments. Why are we also reminded of our class divisions on the train over the tannoy about services you can get from first class apartments?
Or does the new government look at the word division in other terms (Army unit, method of finding how many times one number is).
Mensi did give an answer, a short one. "Tony has his head stuck…"
So after that short answer I asked Mensi what does the future hold for the working class in this country?
He sadly replied that the working class has been eroded in this country, there becoming dinosaurs. Tony Blair wants the working class to be unchallenging and quiet proles.
I thought that's what Margaret Thatcher wanted?
Ireland was mentioned and Mensi sprang into action, "love to see a united Ireland". Although he thought the Conservatives got the ball rolling with the idea; not through humanitarian values, but due to the sheer cost of the operation to the British government with occupying Ireland.
He did have another point to make; he was urging support for the Republican movement in Ireland. He said the left supported nearly ever left rebel organisation throughout the world; but tended to neglect the movement in Ireland. Which was one of the most strongest socialist movements; evolved from great hardships.
Racism and fascism was next on the menu; starters were finished. We're now on the main course; I asked Mensi about what was happening in Europe. Particularly in the Czech Republic where a so called western liberal democracy; was having walls built round so called "decent citizens in the community". This was to keep them separated from Romaine's. Worryingly Mensi stated that people are so ignorant of history; haven't they learned enough from the past, a lack of education is partly to blame.
Mensi quoted "It takes 10 hours of counter knowledge to balance one hour of fascist propaganda".
"The simplest lies are the easiest to believe"; he said.
I then asked Mensi about his involvement with Anti-Fascist Action; why did he become involved. He had been attacked physically and verbally by the far right. He quoted the first attack was around 1978 by the Young National Front.
Another subject I knew Mensi would have at least a little to say about was the subject of the police authorities in this country. At least two tracks by the Angelic Upstarts have set the agenda on this subject; the tracks "Police Oppression" which quotes ["I just can't take much more of this oppression, I'm going off my head and going for aggression"]
"The Murder of Liddle Towers" a classic song asking how and who killed this gentleman while in police custody.
Mensis' thoughts especially about the Stephen Lawrence murder was one of respect to the Lawrence family. He wasn't surprised about the police actions but was surprised by the sheer amount of determination, courage and doggedness of the Lawrence family.
Mensi quoted "The police have never changed since they supported the Blackshirts".
Asking Mensi about the world in general; he would like to see Britain be part of Europe. For cultures to be shared, he did think people in Europe were a lot more relaxed than people in Britain. He urged people to travel; to break down barriers.
Modern eastern Europe wasn't left out; was eastern Europe a better place now the wall had been knocked down. Are people better off? Or have they been conned and betrayed.
He thought eastern Europe was now part of the western disease. "It's a disgrace what's happened to eastern Europe/Soviet Union. They've had their taste; crime, drugs and the rise of fascism in the so called western liberal democracies." And "Boris Yelsin is a bigger crook than Thatcher."
He though Gorbachoff was an honest man who wanted a gradual change; but who was betrayed.
"Gorbachoff wanted new wheels and tyres. But Yelsin hijacked; took over, and still ended up with a broken down Lada."
Conspiracy theories; we see plenty of films about them. People are writing books about them. Perhaps there's always been someone watching over us from the year man was created.
Mensi warned us that the computer age is here; big brother is watching you and it won't be long before everything is monitored. Anyone with conflicting views is a heretic: ie. Anti fascists, socialists.
I thought CCTV was to stop crime, I thought computers were to benefit mankind, supermarket saver cards to help loyal shoppers to save money. So what was the poll tax for, credit debit cards for, mobile phones for?!
The chat went into lighter discussion and questions were asked about the future of the Angelic Upstarts. Mensi told me he still has the urge to go on; he still thinks there is something to say. People are listening; he does want to stop but the magic keeps the urge ticking over. He would love a son to take up the feat his father has endured all these years.
He won't force messages down his sons' throat; all he'll teach him is fair play and not to hate.
New album in the pipeline?
The new album is to be an anti fascist album; no confusion about it being anti fascist. He did add that he still considers himself to be non-political, and no political allegiance to anyone. And doesn't regard anti fascism as political, but as a civil right.
Well if Mensi's not political, I'd hate to meet anyone who is!
I asked if he had any regrets during his life. He did; a big regret. He spoke about that he wished he'd not been in the neutral corner in the early days. He was anti fascist; but he tried not to anger the far right lyrically in songs, and to entertain (as in being near, same are etc) as the far right involved in gigs etc.
He tried to keep the violence away but after threats, physically and verbally he could no longer take that line.
He said that AFA were a necessary organisation that needs to be supported by all rank and file. He also said that AFA wouldn't exist if it weren't for the far right.
His final few messages were of worry for the working class in this country, he gave some advice to them "Look into the murkyness and cloudiness of the seat; keep on enquiring and asking"
He worried about the lack of work for the working class. He said that people should work but where's the posters telling you where to go. Not a computerised dummy run unemployment centre that is trained in how many ways to tell you that you should have a job; but we haven't any or many here.
Where have all the industries gone? Mensi spoke of the times he goes into the unemployment office and asks them the questions; find me work, where's the work.
Where do the kids go now? Crime?
Mensi had a message for the Morning Star "Hope that the Morning Star keeps going; an alternative voice it must carry on and it is needed"
He said he wouldn't hesitate to support the Star because it needs to be supported.
Kid Stoker's final words of advice were 1. Join a Union. 2. Vote Labour. 3. Never trust a Tory.
I will say or add a little to that quote; isn't voting Labour trusting a Tory?
But thanks go to Mensi and Kid Stoker; but also to the Angelic Upstarts, Red London and Red Alert for their great support. Cheers Lads.