There’s a series of events at the Roundhouse in Camden to celebrate forty years of Punk in the UK. Ranting poetry was always a part of the UK Punk scene and this is being celebrated in a discussion entitled “What did Punk ever do for us?”
The panel was made up of Richard Boon (former manager of Buzzcocks, now working as a librarian at Stoke Newington Library), Rhoda Dakar (former vocalist in Two Tone bands The Bodysnatchers and The Specials), Danny Fields (music business veteran and former manager of The Ramones, who played at the Roundhouse in July 1976) and Tim Wells (veteran ranting poet and the man who runs the Stand Up And Spit blog). Dennis Bovell, the veteran Reggae musician and producer was due to be on the panel but was stuck on a train somewhere and unfortunately didn’t make it to the event. The panel was chaired by Matthew Worley (professor of modern history at the University of Reading). The first question got the panel talking about what Britain was like in 1976 and we got tales of people working a three day week, electricity cuts, the long hot Summer of that year and how various strikes led to rubbish being piled high in the streets.
Rhoda Dakar had particularly poignant tales of how here mixed raced heritage led to her being rejected by both black and white communities and how she found solidarity amongst a handful of her mixed race school friends. Danny Fields was slightly contentious in that he insisted that music and politics didn’t mix, but this was roundly criticised by everyone else on the panel.
There was also a Q and A with the audience, with Rhoda Dakar being the most vocal and entertaining of the panel members. All in all it was an interesting and entertaining talk with a group of people who were involved and affected by Punk in the 70’s.
After a 30 minute break, it was time for the poetry side of the event. There were quite a few poets on the bill so they each did around three poems each and swiftly made way for the next person. First up, and MC for the event, was Salena Godden who delivered a series of poems in the guise of amusing public service announcements.
Next up, Phill Jupitus in his Porky The Poet guise gave us a poem about the first band he ever saw and another one entitled “They’ve All Grown Up In The Beano”, recounting what all the comic characters are up to now.
Tim Wells, who runs the Stand Up And Spit blog and is one of the original Punk ranters gave us a poem about Goths being sick on the night bus and the gentrification of places like Hoxton in East London.
Liam McCormick from Glasgow delivered a poem about sectarian bigotry while Kate Fox from Bradford spoke about class and gender with humour and punch.
Old school punk poet Garry Johnson told more tales of class warfare, reciting fiery poems with titles like “Young Conservatives”. Joseph Beamont-Howell is one of the poets in residence at The Roundhouse and delivered a series of poems in a vivid, story-telling style.
Sophie Cameron from Yorkshire delivered a series of funny, foul-mouthed poems reflecting on “posh cunts” as well as the Tindr generation and got perhaps the best reception of all the poets.
Finally, veteran Jamaican dub poet Linton Kwesi Johnson closed the show. With a career spanning forty years and several albums as well as having his work in print, he’s one of the most influential of the poets on the bill. Starting with “Five Nights Of Bleeding”, his poems written in the 70’s, it’s amazing to hear how his words have as much relevance now as they did then, particularly in the wake of Black Lives Matter and the Mark Duggan incident.
His next poem “It Dread Ina Inglan”, is another of his older poems, this time about the framing of George Lindo for armed robbery in Bradford, West Yorkshire. Again it still resonates with a relevancy that shows how little some things have changed.
To make the point, his final poem is “Licence Fi Kill”, about police killings of Black people, then as now an ongoing problem that needs urgent resolution. LKJ doesn’t need to write anything new when the subjects he addressed all those years ago are still issues that many so called democratic countries continue to struggle with.
To round off the event, Laura Anderson the guitarist with Thee Jezebels thrashed out three messy Punk oldies “I Fought The Law” by The Clash, “Something Better Change” by The Stranglers and “Hurry Up Harry” by Sham 69, joined on the chorus by Tim Wells and Phill Jupitus.
A great afternoon of Punk inspired ranting by a fantastic bunch of wordsmiths.
Stand Up And Spit