Upcoming gigs

Upcoming Gigs

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Say Owt @ Deer Shed Festival, 21st July

Say Owt @ Great Yorkshire Fringe, York: 25th July

Working Title, Lancaster, 26th July

Nerd Punk, Edinburgh fringe @Banshee Labyrinth 19.50 13th August

Poetry Jam, Durham: 4th October

Wednesday, 12 September 2018

Hold on for your life: Punk & Confidence Part 6

Hold on for your life:  Punk & Confidence Part 6

Dalia never showed me nothing but kindness
She would say: “I know how sad you get."
And some days, I still get that way
But it gets better
Sweetie, it gets better, I promise you
And she'd tell me
Your heart is a muscle the size of your fist
Keep on loving. Keep on fighting
And hold on, hold on
Hold on for your life
-Your Heart Is A Muscle The Size Of Your Fist, Ramshackle Glory

Throughout these blogs, I’ve enjoyed looking at punk’s relationship to confidence.  I’ve briefly looked at the way punk fashion inspires an aesthetic confidence, the way that punk songs give us the courage to fight racism and fascism and the nature of intelligence and knowledge in punk circles.

My last blog looked at self-deprecating punk ideology, the way that many punk songs celebrate being a loser, a freak, a weirdo or an outsider.  Inevitably, this self-deprecation links to wider conversations around mental health.  So from here on in, content note for suicide, depression, anxiety and general negative mental health issues.  But also some proper bangin’ tunes.

Mental health issues have always been part of the DNA of punk rock.  The initial colourful wave of punk spirit turned darker when key figures Ian Curtis and Sid Vicious died by suicide.  Curt Cobain of course will forever remain a famous icon of grunge and punk.  Plasmatics singer Wendy O Williams in 1998.  A great inspiration to me, Erik Petersen of Mischief Brew, died in 2016. Over in the nu-metal camp, we lost Chester Bennington from Linken Park in 2017 and indie rock band Frightened Rabbit, Scott Hutchinson, died earlier this, another presumed death by suicide.

Of course, mental health problems don’t just affect punk musicians, it affects all of us.  But in this blog I want to explore some punk (and punk-inspired) lyrics and ideas that have tackled and talked about mental health issues.

The first time I heard musicians openly talking about mental health were ONSIND from Pity Me, Durham.  ONSIND’s album, Anesthesiology, is a concept album based around growing up working class queer.  The protagonist, Chelsea, deals with bullies at school, an abusive father who discovers religion, and struggles with their own mental health.  It came out in 2013, a very difficult year for me mental health-wise and the album boasts the much-necessary song Dissatisfactions which assures the listener to “take it day by day by day”.  Anesthesiology means the care of patients before, after and during surgery, a fitting title for an album dealing with a timeline of our character.

Members of ONSIND also perform in indie-punkers Martha, and naturally all their songs deal with anxiety and loneliness in some form, but their B-side Six Men Getting Sick Six Times (Mendable) is a very beautiful song with the lines “There’s a world outside where I feel so broken / But you make me feel mendable.” 

The indie-punk scene has wealth of shy and supportive people who have open conversations around mental health issues not only in songs, but in how they build safe scenes offstage.  Potentially because these indie-punk bands are home to LBGTQ+ people whose experiences of being a marginalised group mean they experience more negative mental health issues

“Tell yourself you’re not the anxious type” – Shit Present, Anxious Type.  Spook School sing “I said let's pretend the world's alright / Let's pretend we’re doing fine For fifteen seconds at a time And I won't cry if you won't cry” -  Alright (Sometimes).  Muncie Girls’ latest release features Clinic:  “I’m scared; I’ve never felt like this before/ The only way I can stop from crying it to take deep breaths and sit on the floor”.  Jesus & His Judgemental Father sing “There was too much in my head, I couldn't stand it I don't feel good, I don't feel safe, I don't feel right” on Lunartick.  Also check out T-Shirt Weather, Haters, Happy Accidents, Skull Puppies, Camp Cope, Fresh, Nervus and Spoonboy.

On a folkier side of punk, I want to give a shout out to Elly Kingdon whose discography has a wealth of lyrics about dealing with mental health issues.  Crywank, Me Rex and Chuck SJ all worth looking into.  Suicide Hotline by The Prettiots is a darkly comic tune.  Pop-punk’s Eat Defeat’s album I Think We’ll Be OK does a splendid overarching job.  Ducking Punches song Six Years is about a friend’s death.

Mental health problems can occur when playing in bands because of the intense pressure to dress a certain way, to adopt a characterful swagger or to bustle your way to the top of the bill.  To be so present and visible is not always healthy.  Playing at gigs where criticism comes readily, bad venues don’t support you, audiences are disrespectful, sexual predators are dismissed as banter and you lose a load of money.  That’s why the indie-punk scene has to find its own supportive and anti-bullish network.

However, the more I dug around in the discography of punk, the more you can find heavier bands from punk’s canon talking about these mental health tribulations.  Descendants, Bad Religion, Dead Kennedys, Blag Flag, Rise Against, Screeching Weasel, Choking Victim, Pennywise, Butthole Surfers, Leftover Crack, The Replacements all bands I associate with a more heavier, confident and male-dominated scene.  You can find some of these songs here:  https://www.ranker.com/list/punk-songs-about-suicide/ranker-music

Suicidal Tendencies and The Suicide Machines are two American bands that directly highlight suicide in their very names.

“They stuck me in an institution
Said it was the only solution
To give me the needed professional help
To protect me from the enemy, myself” - Suicidal Tendencies, Institutionalized

These bands, on the surface, have a boisterous energy that exhumes a guttural and noisy confidence.  A far cry from these introverted indie-punk bands.  But still under this banner of DIY, anti-authority and honest punk rock.

I have three theories:

1.  Punks rethink spaces, from houseshows to squats to independent venues.  Partly due to necessity (who wants punks moshing or queers in your nice venue), and partly due to DIY encouraging bands to become their own boss.  In doing this, punks also rethink how people feel secure in this space and how you welcome and support one another.
2.  Anti-authority means punks reject the normalised approach to ‘manning up’ and ‘just dealing with it’ society enforces, or the narrow frame for women to play specific patriarchy-enforced roles.  Especially for men, to be the punk outsider is to reject the macho expectations.  Obviously macho bullshit exists in punk and I’d direct them to this pin.
3.  Punks glorying in, and glorifying, the ugliness of punk highlight the darker shades of our world by sharply digging at ‘truth’.  Rooted in the world around them, punks sing about their lives and existence rather than, for example, disco which limits itself to upbeat love, or goth and metal with its obsessions with the otherworld.  (Both are still valid ways of dealing with mental health, of course).

I’ve had self-esteem issues for a long time.  I’ve had anxiety, panic attacks, imposter syndrome and sometimes I’ve self-harmed.  Since I was about 10, I’ve thought, sometimes fantasised, about not wanting to exist.  I’d like to think I explore this in my poems and songs.  The first time I felt I had a language to talk about this was, in part, by going to punk gigs where bands were singing and talking about mental health issues.  Normalizing those experience, sharing those stories, and creating a soundtrack within these spaces as well as a supportive network is something to celebrate.

It sounds so cheesy to type, but so many songs give me the confidence to carry on.  Thank you.  Thank you friends.

Art is always an excellent coping mechanism for negative mental health, and punk is a wide spectrum that can make space if you’re struggling for a voice.  The Government slash mental health services the provision for support has decreased.  As this has decreased, I believe an understanding of mental health has increased where there are much more public discussions around mental health.  There is a mental health crisis in this country, and in our communities.  All we have is each other.

Thank you to everyone who suggested songs, I’m sorry I couldn’t name them all here!  Feel free to comment with any songs or coping strategies or general thoughts (or criticism of this blog).

Sunday, 19 August 2018

EdFringe Adventure Part 2: Poets

EdFringe Adventure Part 2:  Poets

My last blog was about the theatre I saw at the EdFringe, and this one will mainly be about the poets.  Not necessarily the ‘poetry’ I saw, because 1.  You can’t see words and 2.  I want to talk about the community up there.

On the 13th August I turned 30 years old, and there’s nowhere I’d rather have been than EdFringe.  Well, the whole 5 days was a kaleidoscope of people and friends and spoken word shows.

I did the BBC Fringe Slam on Tuesday and found myself in a very heart-warming place surrounded by poets from Newcastle, Manchester, Hull, Birmingham, Nottingham and Reading.  I felt truly part of a community, chatting about scenes, touring, gigging, writing and setting the world to rights.  Everyone was so warm, receptive, supportive.

People say that slam culture puts too much emphasis on winning rather than the art, but a by-product of that competitive culture is a community of people willing on someone to win.  But it becomes irrelevant who wins, as long as that energy swells up in the room (or indeed the open gardeny bit of the BBC Hub) it nourishes rather than saps.

I think the London bubble somewhat pops when the crowds go see a poet from Peterborough, one from Leicester and one from Newcastle do shows in Bourbon Bar.  I am jealous that in the last week, a bunch of showcases start kicking off featuring a diverse range of voices.  Loud Poets’ Fantastical Gameshow was genuinely one of my favourite and funnest gigs ever

If you want to examine a scene, visit EdFringe and don’t go to comedy or theatre, but hang around in Bar-Bados, Bourbon Bar and the Banshee Labyrinth.   In manky rooms and caves and corners and above cafes and in dimly-lit back rooms poets are poetrying.

2015-2017 I took shows up for 7-10 days, each one Nerd Punk themed.  2018 I did a special ‘Best Of’ Nerd Punk show featuring a wide variety of poetry from across this ramshackle career.  I had strangers and old and new friends in the audience who really clicked with it, gave generously to the room’s vibe and hugely cemented my faith in the Fringe.

May the God of Flyerers bless your shows, may your Pay-What-You-Decide buckets be bountiful and your late nights worth the mornings.

Thursday, 16 August 2018

EdFringe Adventure Part 1: Theatre

I have returned from another EdFringe adventure.  I can honestly say it’s been one of my favourite years.  And, like a swarm of flyerers buzzing around the Mile, it should be elbowing it’s way to the top.

Always a mainstay of my Edinburgh Fringe visits, I saw Mark Thomas’ NHS Check Up at 70. Mark leaps around the stage with a punk energy and master of controlling an audience.  Mark’s unashamedly One Of The Good Ones, taking his detailed research on the NHS and turning those stories into engaging and powerful theatrical moments.  His shows always make me want to Change The World. With a smile on my face. Unflinching and honest dissection of the fading NHS. People not profit.

There were a plethora of ‘Gig Theatre’ shows this year.  I think Gig Theatre is meant to combine the energy of being at a gig with the story-telling of being at the theatre.  The show that came closest for me to this model was What Girls Are Made Of, a riotous and joyous full band affair documenting the teenage years of musician Cora Bissett.  I couldn’t help but be envious, the show my theatre company made would have boasted a full band had we the time/resources/funding (blah blah blah poor us).  But with the might of the Traverse this show is immensely powerful.  I saw people wiping away the tears, and the final call-to-arms left me buzzing!

Other theatre using guitars were Status by Chris Thorpe/China Plate, Jim Harbourne’s The Myth of the Singular Moment and One Life Stand by Middle Child.  Status was one of my highlights, acerbic and bitter and ultimately a punch-in-the-gut exploration of guilt, colonialism, ghosts and borders.  Chris’ ability to pin the audience down with words ace, but his Simpsons’ reference that pins down the play is masterful.  I’m still chewing over One Life Stand, I suppose it’s a good thing.  Somewhat disorientating, the three-way narrative is erratic, jarring like a wild Saturday night.  Jim’s show wielded acoustic rather than electric instruments, and told a simple-yet-effective story.

A show about music I saw called Loop had some nice ensemble moments and good humour, but it’s lasting message was essentially a simplified value that music is a good thing, even if different generations clash over their love for it.  I kinda fancied dancing to the music rather than patiently watching the characters enjoy alone.

I am a bit gutted that my company’s show, Whatever Happened To Vandal Raptor? couldn’t come up but…well…you don’t need a long ramble about the costs of this endeavour,
But these shows were all inspiring, engaging and fuel to go and begin work on my next show!  The perfect response to an EdFringe.  

Tuesday, 24 July 2018

We're pretty vacant and we don't care: Punk & Confidence Part 5

 I'm not a good person / Ask anyone who knows me ”- Pat The Bunny, I’m Not A Good Person

There’s a conflation between being simple, stripped down and straight-to-the-point and being shit.  The prog bands were known for their technical skill, and so the punk response was strip rock back to three chords.  If these prog bands were being overblown with intellectual concept albums then punk would present their views in 3 mins or less with a gutter view of the world.  But does this philosophy mean that punk was a poor man’s rock?

Sure as a genre, punks and the punk scene were spat on by the establishment because the gobby kids spat back.  But it was originally a haven for the misfits and the outsiders who were told they were worthless.  In the industrial degradation of 1970s Britain (to the backdrop of black bin bags piling in the streets) British youth felt like garbage.

This despondency has been knitted into the lining of punk across the decades.  Across the pond, The Replacements named themselves to imply they were a B-class band, drummer Chris Mars saying it was “accurately describing our collective ‘secondary’ esteem”.  The Cramps sang “I've got a garbage brain” on Human Fly and years later Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong would question his sanity on the pop-punk hit Basket Case.  A huge proportion of The Ramones’ back catalogue is about being a weirdo outsider (Cretin Hop, I Wanna Be Well, Bad Brain, Now I Wanna Be A Good Boy) or directly referencing being mentally unwell (Teenage Lobotomy, Shock Treatment, Psycho Therapy and I Wanna Be Sedated).

Some songs oxymoronically revel in being ‘wrong’.  Nirvana’s Dumb has Kurt declare “I think I'm dumb” and yet he concedes at the end “But I'm having fun”.  The classic Sex Pistols song Pretty Vacant has Rotten declare “And we don’t care!”, surely the victory cry for 77’s snotty teens.

Some bands pin this crisis of confidence on the system.  Gang of Four’s post-punk masterpiece Entertainment! is about commodification of humans.  On Damaged Goods they state “Damaged goods, send them back / I can't work, I can't achieve, send me back.”  On the same album The Clash moan about career opportunities Strummer also questions “What the hell is wrong with me?” via What’s My Name.

I want to highlight three songs which have really stuck with me.

The first is by The Menzingers.  Masters at an uplifting anthem, Obituaries is no exception to their discography.  However the earworm chorus stamps “I will fuck this up / I fucking know it” over and over again.  It feels like failure is an energy.  Not deflated, but destructive and that confident outburst makes it seem like the outcome, “I am just freaking out, yeah I'll be fine” is worth fighting for.  I Don’t Wanna be An Asshole anymore is another Menzinger’s song with a light at the end of a shitty tunnel.

The second is by Pat The Bunny.  Loads of his Wingnut Dishwasher Union songs have this destructive quality, but I especially love the lyrics of I’m Not A Good Person that go “I'm not a good person / Ask anyone who knows me / I'm mean and bitter / And a failure at everything that I say I believe”.  Also check out the full album Probably Nothing, Possibly Everything.  The way Pat sings his lyrics seems so fucking bitterly honest.  His chords and his voice are drenched in a venom that it far removed from a pop-punk grumpiness.

Thirdly I recently came across a band from Leeds called Daves.  In The Menzinger’s style, they have a track on their EP called Change which shouts loud “I’m not ready to admit / I think I’m a piece of shit”.

So why do I listen to these self-deprecating songs?  When it’s so easy for me to believe that I am rubbish.  I can’t remember a time I didn’t think I was a Bad Person because of some drilled-in sense of binary Good/Bad.  And this sense of Badness gets conflated with being wrong, getting things wrong, or not doing things right.  This guilt leads me to think I’m worthless, useless, inadequate and better off not being around.  To quote Martha, “to tell the truth I’m struggling today/Why’s it gotta feel so sad?”  Thoughts are not facts, and yet it seems one central tenant of the Universe I am shit, the one cosmic certainty I can hang my life upon.  That’s because, in a kind of Cartesian solipsism, I can only rely on this within my head.

So I think it helps, like all art, to find someone that feels the same, and is sharing.  I do worry that this self-deprecating is influential.  It just helps dig the negative grooves in my brain, reinforces the pillars that prop up my personality.  It doesn’t feel that healthy.

But a friend of mine said, whether you say something negative, you need to say the opposite.  You need to counteract the strangling voice in your head that whispers, dominates and demands.  And yes, I do listen to raised-fist-victory-to-us songs.  But also maybe these self-destructive songs are healthy too.  Because they prove someone has taken stock of their world.  Wrote it down.  Wrapped some chords around it.  It’s identifiable, it exists and it can be sung about.  My anxieties are a thought in chords, and they can be sung out.

Sunday, 15 July 2018

All I know is that I don't know nothing: Punk & Confidence part 4

Drinking beer on the kerb with all the punks
Read the free fanzine from back to front
Even chatted in the queue to Babar Luck
- Keep On Believing, Sonic Boom Six

I have the kind of brain/personality that loves to hoard information.  As a kid, on the nerdy side of my spectrum, I loved to know all about Spider-Man, Star Wars and Pokémon.  I’m the kid that bought those Encyclopaedia books and poured over recycled facts of whole worlds.

Getting into punk was much the same.  I would buy books, magazines, read CD liner notes and trawl through the internet.  I wanted to pick off every band.  If they were mentioned highly in the chronicles of punk, I’d make sure they were added to my repertoire.  I think this could be the result of a neurodiverse brain, or potentially being an Only Child, or coming of age around the Millennium with Wikipedia, YouTube and a book-end to the 20th century.  Or a combination.

I have a copy of a Mojo Special Edition from 2005, which I bought in my first year of College aged 16.  The magazine covers The Ramones, The Stranglers, The Clash, Sex Pistols and features a handy year-by-year breakdown between 76-79.  It is the perfect starter kit to move from a fan of the sound to a fan of the punk world.  Albeit, of course, a punk world presented as pretty male and pretty white and pretty straight.  This magazine was one of the many used as a prop in my theatre company’s production Whatever Happened To Vandal Raptor?

The magazine has a ‘Punk Smashers’ section where all the classic punk albums are listed so a young Henry could tick them off, band-by-band.  Looking back, it must have been so exciting to have this whole world open up and explore-able within the shelves of HMV and the realms of YouTube.

Around this time I was well-thumbing my copy of Mojo, I’d go see a local punk band called The Mighty Booze who had a song called ‘Best Mates’ all about an old punk who claimed to have met Sid Vicious and Joe Strummer and kissed Debbie Harry.  The protagonist of the song doesn’t believe the drunk punk, but will pretend to be his “best mate” as long as the bullshitter is buying the drinks.  Behold, the power of the internet and Myspace:  I found the song here!

As much as certain sections of society want to kick-back against ‘experts’, I believe we still have a hierarchy of knowledge.  When it comes to things like comics or music, knowledge can become a dick-measuring mechanism.

Punk demands that you care.  The Sex Pistols’ nihilism may have been fashionable for a brief period, but it was soon eclipsed by passion.

In this battle for knowledge, I have been guilty of searching out the most obscure bands (and genres) across Bandcamp or line-ups.  Even within the underground scene, we try and seek out the outsiders amongst the outsiders. 

Maybe this is part of punk’s need to prove it’s ‘Not Dead’ and evolve from punk to hardcore, hardcore to riot grrrl, from folk-punk to thrashgrass, from ska to ska-punk to skacore to hip-hop/ska/punk fusions.

Maybe this is part of punk’s need to constant search deeper and deeper below the surface of rock.  To take a page from Crass’ grimy book when Steve sang “Punk became a movement cos we all felt lost, but the leaders sold out and now we all pay the cost.”  So we reject those leaders and movements so we don’t end up “staring up a superstar’s arse”.

Maybe this is part of the arrogance of punk, the confidence mutated into a gobby swagger.

But naturally when we talk about knowledge, we have to acknowledge the song Knowledge by Operation Ivy.  When Jesse Michael’s sings “you can't get the top off from the bottom of the barrel” this seems a lovely image to accompany this idea that punks are all trying to prove themselves the most well-equipped about their genre and subculture, despite the fact we’re all stuck within this tight narrow genre and subculture.  Jesse’s magnificent chorus barks over and over “All I know is that I don't know all I know is that I don't know nothing”.  It doesn’t sound too self-deprecating, the repetition is a call-to-arms.  And finally the song ends with the simple, effective and honest rest-assurance that “that’s fine.”

I glory in knowledge, because I glory in learning.  I love a good hard natter in the pub about punk and music, as well as films, politics and Pokémon.  I think though, in always learning, we should never allow this confidence we know our genre goes beyond a celebration into an arrogance.  Because that’s the pomp that punk strove to tear down in the first place.

Thursday, 14 June 2018

The Right Wing Never Sleeps So Nor Do We: Punk and confidence part 3

You still think swastikas look cool

The real Nazis run your schools
-Nazi Punks Fuck Off Dead Kennedys

On Saturday the Scarborough & Whitby branch of the English Defence League held a ‘protest’ to free Tommy Robinson, a man jailed for jeopardising a court case which could have led to a grooming gang go free.  The EDL believe themselves defenders of an England, and any opposition to their patriotism (see:  nationalism) is an attack on free speech.  Really, the EDL ubiquitously criticise, and subsequently demonise non-white people which leads them to attack and call for segregation/deportation/genocide.

York's antifascists came out to oppose them, a combination of the local Stand Up To Racism group, York Anti-Fascist network and many random people who either left the main Pride march to keep an eye on the EDL, or were curious about what was occurring and decided to stay to offer solidarity.

Whilst the Branch could only muster a small handful of 8-12 people on the 9th, many more gathered in London, marched peacefully for the cameras and then, unprovoked, began to try and storm Downing Street, smash up a tourism bus and assault Police.  The EDL’s claim they are not racist is difficult to swallow when they have persistently failed to root out, and thus embrace, seig heiling neo-nazis.

Punk briefly flirted with fascist imagery 76-77, though I believe this was messy of shock tactics from certain corners to appear rebellious and monstrous which soon fizzled out.  Examples include the very name Joy Division, Siouxise Sioux’s swastika or the name London SS as a potential and name.  The Ramones’ song Today Your Love, Tomorrow Your World is uncomfortable listening in 2018.   There is absolutely no excuse for flirting with this fascist iconography, and, like all corners of society, all the corners of punk have wrestled with racist elements, both for and against.  After this initial way, most punk bands at least rejected the right-wing ideology, some maybe could have done more to challenge it.

There’s a circuit of of Oi! bands embracing a blood-soaked flag and obviously there’s bands like Skrewdriver who birthed a wave of racist and neo-nazi punk under the banner Rock Against Communism and Blood & Honour.

There are many decent examples of anti-fascism in the early history of punk.  This has been well-documented with white bands like The Clash, Stiff Little Fingers and Tom Robinson Band playing Rock Against Racism, and of course the variety of punks of colour in Death, Bad Brains, Dead Kennedys, X-Ray Spex.

So in this series of blogs, I want to touch on the confidence that comes from anti-fascist punk music.

I don’t do enough to fight fascism.  It scares me.  I don’t like confrontation at the best of times, I’m a scrawny guy and never been in a proper scrap in my life.  But I know that this is something we need to oppose, and we need to find the confidence.

Facing the right-wing is a scary prospect.  They have a history of murdering, from the New Cross massacre to Blair Peach to the vile activities of Combat 18.  MP Jess Phillips received over 600 death threats in a single night, MP Josie Cooper was the target of National Action and of course MP Jo Cox was murdered by a man shouting “Britain first!”  Often their protests are male jumped with adrenaline, toxic masculine energy, the lessons learnt from football hooliganism and (sometimes illegal) substances.  Though Red Watch is very much out of date, the right-wing use spotters, cameras and social media to monitor and track not only those that oppose them directly, but Trade Unions, anti-cuts groups, refugee support networks and even environmental groups.

So punk songs need to inspire a confidence to face this evil down, and do so in many ways.
There are the simplest form of anti-fascist song which boils down to:  Fuck them.
Here’s just a small handful of songs from recent years:

Fuck The EDL by Lab Rats,
Picket Fence by Atterkop
British Nazi Parade by Stand Out Riot
Milk by Random Hand
No Pasaran by Joe Solo
This article on the Guardian is useful for some American anti-Trump hardcore.

Other songs are a slight more pointed about nationalism and the language of borders and nations. ONSIND’s BA77 tells the story of Jimmy Mubenga murdered by G4S, and their song Pigs In The Green Room is about an encounter with racists at a service station.  Loyalty Festers from their latest album dissects the grimy violence of patriotism.  KINKY’s Legal Fucking Murder is about state violence in the name of border control, and Efa Supertramp has written about detention centres, whilst Petrol Girls’ song Treading Water has cutting imagery of water, waves and refugees.  Propagandi’s Fuck The Border does exactly what it says on the tin, as does Downtown Boys' timely A Wall.

There are other songs which posit historical moments, WEGROWBEARDS are experts at this, and one of my favourite anti-fascist songs is The Ghosts of Cable Street by the Men They Couldn’t Hang.  On The Day The Nazi Died by Chumbawamba is the band’s response to the death of Rudolph Hess.

What is rarer are songs which, rather than being on the offensive, do celebrate what we have and should defend.  Kids of the Multiculture by Sonic Boom Six is one, I can’t really think or others but please let me know others.

The right wing have an alchemy of privilege:  white, western and mostly male.  This evolution from patriotic pride to nationalist zeal to white power ideology gives the right a huge bulk of confidence.  They employ the romanticised notion of Empire, as well as nonsense like eugenics and blood purity, to empower their chants and violence (though cans of Fosters does help too).

So that’s why we need to make these songs:  To nurture and empower our own confidence. Whether with a blunt and simple message which reinforces the need for anti-fascist thoughts and action or something more complex to allow us to unpack the racism in our heads and deconstruct the state-sponsored borders, both physical and sociological.

Let’s not forget the punk scene is mostly white, and us white punks need to challenge our own preconceptions, assumptions and in-built prejudices.  This article talks about those experiences  much better than I could ever articulate.

This is an amazing zine, apparently sold out but maybe messaging the (sadly split up) band Fight Rosa Fight you might be able to find a copy or PDF

Today, bands like The Tuts, Shopping, Screaming Toenail, Big Joannie are challenging these conceptions alongside Decolonise Fest, Afropunk and the Latinx punk scene.  Little Fists and Fight Rosa Fight have recently split up, but two amazing bands to check out. 

Oh, and if you’re reading this and are someone of the right-wing disposition, and you haven’t been convinced to give up your racist ways then I recommend giving this song a good, hard listen.

Saturday, 26 May 2018

I Am A Poseur And I Don't Care: Punk & Confidence part 2

I am a poseur and I don't care
I like to make people stare ♪
- I Am A Poser, X-Ray Spex

Someone recently suggested to me that, presumably, I don’t dress as a punk for ‘aesthetic reasons’.

I was wearing my trousers covered in band patches and my hoodie covered in band patches (and an Adventure Time patch).

I’ve always felt like my love for wearing band t-shirts and patches of bands was to turn myself into something of a cloth-billboard.  To represent and give a platform for the bands that I appreciated.  I wrote a blog about it some three years past.

Clothes have always been an integral part of certain parts of punk.  The Ramones uniformity in their leather jackets helped further the myth they were all brothers, and helped stylised the ‘family’ aspect of their music, attracting the weirdoes, outsiders and misfits to their mutant pop.  Of course McLaran and Westwood using punk to plug their SEX wears is well-documented in the history of the Sex Pistols.  The Clash also enjoyed the sloganeering on their clothes.  And this style filtered into the scene, who donned the array of safety pins, piercings, spiky hair and ripped clothes which then rebounded back into the music when those fans became bands. 

The next wave of UK82 punk fitted the generic pattern of painted leather, Mohawks, piercings and patches.   So what you get is a circular pool of style that rotates round.  The style evolves as bands inspire fans who become bands to inspire fans.

There are bands that take their costumes to extended lengths.  Devo’s post-punk discordant music is the soundtrack to their bizarre boiler suit appearance.  Aquabats present as a super-hero squad, and the late great Frank Sidebottom playing all his gigs adorned with a gigantic head like a warped crown.  Famously the Dead Kennedys lampooned the music industry with ties and shirts that portrayed $ signs.  Nowadays bands like Yorkshire’s Snakerattlers and Nosebleed perform in Americana blues get-ups to reflect their musical sound.

There is also something interesting about a rejection of a costume.  The Undertones local lads look of jumpers, parkas and jeans reflected their simple, but beautifully effective, pop-punk.  This uncomplicated honest presentation seems the opposite end of the spectrum to the star-spanglyness of rock and prog bands of the late 70s.  No time for glitter, go to pop down the park for a kick about.

Onstage, punks costume can signify unity and camaraderie (The Specials, The Ramones) or a spiky hotchpotch of influences and personalities (Rancid, The Clash).  It can be a fierce don’t-fuck-with-me-ness using the body with unflinching agency (Bikini Kill, G.L.O.S.S.) or invoke other styles and ideas (Mischief Brew’s romantic troubadour visage).  And of course, that is echoed outside of gigs in the ‘real world’.

The look becomes part of the act, it becomes visual as well as aural.  It becomes a whole parcel of identity.

When I got into punk, I remember owned about 5 t-shirts I loved dearly for a good period of time.  I didn’t put any patches on anything, I had a leather jacket and my love for the Ramones and desire to keep something clean and pure (like books) meant I didn’t want to paint it.

Eventually I went through a good few years really enjoying customising my clothes.  I have a hoody devoted to queer and feminist bands (adapted from an Against Me! Hoody).  I have a ‘nerd punk’ hoody, and folk-punk trousers.  Just like my love for exploring genre and eras, I do like defining my clothes.

The confidence of this look comes from championing these bands (and politics).  There’s a confidence that the Petrol Girls patch and Clash t-shirt and Sonic Boom Six hoody mean that the music has your back.  Quite literally, it’s on your back.

Though I’m very fortune and privileged to have never been verbally or physically assaulted, I do feel like my clothes attract attention.  I want this to be positive, as people clock some bands to check out.  But, of course, this attention can also be negative.  Let’s never forget the tragic death of Sophie Lancaster in 2007.

These days, punk fans tend to stick simply jeans and a t-shirt.  There’s other aspects, beards and converse, but it’s often simple a sea of black with the odd colourful logo at the centre of your stitching.

There’s a layer of scorn in the punk scene if you don’t dress as a punk outside of a punk/gig context.  As if you’re not maintaining the belief, the scene, the style.  You’ll only wear your heart on your sleeve when your heart’s in it.  But I like the relief of not always being in a turning-heads Punk Mode.  A privilege not everybody has, but one I do exploit when I want to be ‘unpunk’.

There’s a toxicity to fashion, and we should always be wary of peer pressure to dress and present a certain way.  But sometimes I just like black jeans and a classic t-shirt and some anonymity.  Sometimes I like to be a watching quilt of bands.  And actually, that choice is empowering and gives me confidence I have options and not just an uninspiring narrow blueprint.