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Attila The Stockbroker - Arguments Yard

The first time Attila the Stockbroker brought his in-your-face brand of ranting performance poetry to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe was in 1982. That was at the Assembly Rooms on a bumper bill of fellow travellers who included Seething Wells, Benjamin Zephaniah, Joolz Denby and Little Brother. The quintet did a seventy per cent door split with the venue, and everyone made a few bob. As the artist formerly known as John Baine returns for an Edinburgh run for the first time in twenty years on the back of an appearance at Edinburgh International Book Festival to promote his autobiography, Arguments Yard, things seem to have come full circle.

“I used to make money in the Fringe,” says Baine, “but it gradually became more and more corporate, and I decided I didn't want to do that anymore. Then after I was asked to do the Book Festival, my mate John Otway told me about Peter Buckley Hill's Free Fringe, which I thought sounded fantastic, and is getting back to what the Fringe used to be.”

The seeds of Arguments Yard – subtitled Thirty Five ears of Ranting Verse and Thrash Mandola - were planted a decade ago when Baine was coming up to his twenty-fifth anniversary on the frontline of post-punk performance poetry. A life of incident and colour needing documented included Baine playing Berlin before the Wall came down, being thrown out of his own gig by John Cale and filling in for Donny Osmond. When Baine's mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease, the book was put on hold.

“My mum died in 2010,” says Baine, “and then I wrote The Long Goodbye for her, which I ended up performing on Woman's Hour on Radio 4. That was interesting, and it's become a standing joke that the mainstream media will have me on talking about football or personal things, but if I say anything about politics they won't touch me with a barge-pole.”

While Baine's politics remain unbowed, his move into performance poetry comes from a very personal root.

“My dad was a very good comic poet,” he says. “He loved words, and he wrote these brilliant poems for my mum. I grew up reading Hilaire Belloc and hearing Flanders and Swann and Tom Lehrer, and started writing little poems from the age of five or six. Then I picked up a mandolin just as punk happened, and I was determined I was going to to do what my parents never could, and make a living from words and music.”

Now named Attila the Stockbroker, a nom de plume that combined observations of his apparently savage eating habits with an incongruous stint as a City stockbroker clerk, Baine became a bass player in various punk bands that kept splitting up. This led to him getting up to do poetry spots between bands in the same way motormouthed Salford bard John Cooper Clarke had.

Attila became part of a scene that also included the late Seething Wells and a group of what became known as ranting poets, who, in Thatcher's Britain, were highly politicised and in-yer-face exponents of an unflinchingly direct vernacular. For a while, Attila, Wells and others were feted by the then influential music press, but were quickly dropped as the world became a glossier place.

“I had about half an hour's worth of material,” he says, “and then was on the cover of Melody Maker. Ranting poets like me and Seething Wells had our five minutes in the music press,” and then just as I was getting good at what I was doing, it all became about comedy and they started slagging us off. After that it all became about getting on the television, but for me it's not about being spotted. It's about doing what you love.”

Attila the Stockbroker's return to Edinburgh chimes with an increased profile in performance poetry, with the likes of Kate Tempest leading a charge that has included poets such as Holly McNish. In Edinburgh, nights such as Neu! Reekie! and Rally and Broad have blazed a trail that has now crept into Edinburgh International Book Festival's late evening Unbound nights. Baine, however, will be appearing in the festival's main programme alongside a bill of younger poets, including Tim Wells, who has created an online history of the scene called Stand Up and Spit.

“It's interesting that performance poetry is to the fore once more,” says Baine, “because in the eighties, people like Phill Jupitus, who started out in poetry as Porky the Poet, went into comedy. But now Phill's back doing poetry again, which is great, because the corporate comedy thing for me is ghastly.”

With some three thousand gigs, seven books and some forty albums under his belt, Attila the Stockbroker has become a still gobby elder statesman of the spoken word scene. It is in the live arena, however, where the full Attila effect becomes clear.

“All human life is there,” Baine says of his show. “It's a performance. It's not something you could ignore.”

Attila the Stockbroker: Arguments Yard, Voodoo Rooms, August 15, 6.30pm; PBH Free Fringe @ Silk, August 16-20, 6.20-7.20pm. Stand Up and Spit, with Attila The Stockbroker, Tim Wells, Bridget Minamore and Luke Wright, Edinburgh Book Festival, August 20, 3pm. Arguments Yard is published by Cherry Red Books.
www.attilathestockbroker.com


The Herald, August 13th 2016

ends

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