Bollocks to that!
My first encounter with Attila was at a student party
in my first year in York in the mid 1980s; it was one of those earnest
house parties with everyone huddled in groups discussing the falling
rate of profit, state capitalism, patriarchy and whether it's possible
to hot box a plastic beaker. When a particularly tedious record finished,
someone said 'put on the Attila album'
Fast forward a couple of years, and I was dossing round in York, with no job and no idea what I wanted to do, spending my time learning French at tech, doing voluntary work with kids, trying to be a writer and to build the revolution amongst Kit Kat workers. I was also an avid gig goer, and when I saw an Attila show in the local listings, I persuaded as many comrades as possible who weren't averse to any culture beyond the Redskins album and Battleship Potemkin to come with me, and off we went to watch his set, ably supported by an all-woman act called 'Sensible Footwear'. We were surprised beforehand while doing a paper sale at the magnificently pompous Victorian railway station to see Attila himself arrive on a train, lugging his mandolas Winnie and Nelson through the streets, looking for the venue. If we hadn't been so gobsmacked to see a 'pop star' arriving in such a mundane manner, we might have dared to talk to him and to stop him heading off in the wrong direction! Present at the gig was a friend Lesley who was in the midst of a particularly heartless and eventually fatal bout of cancer, which before killing her, would painfully remove her limbs while leaving her mind as sharp and lively as ever. One of the few times we saw her laugh in those last few weeks was at the Attila gig, so straight away a friend and I wrote to him, not expecting an answer; however Attila, who we were already starting to realise was far from the stuck up and unapproachable star we might have first imagined, had other ideas, especially as his own mother had suffered similarly. Within days Lesley received a stack of signed Attila goodies that certainly cheered up her last days. I only wish I'd had the courage to lead a chorus of 'Bollocks to that!' at her graveside.
Despite having been brought up in Swansea in the late 1970s, when the mighty Swansea City were rapidly climbing the football pyramid to its very peak (before making an equally quick descent), before I met Attila I'd never actually been to a live football match, preferring to listen to the exploits of the Swans (beating Man U, Arsenal, Tottenham, Chelsea et al) under the bedclothes on my transistor radio. However, emboldened by my recent contact with Attila, I wrote to him (no easy instant messaging in those days) asking if he was going to the upcoming York City v Brighton game, and if I could come too. Of course he said yes to both, so it was that in my 20s I went to watch my first ever live match. It could easily have been my last - it was a dreadful dire game of few chances, no goals and even less excitement - but again there was something about it that had me hooked. Maybe it was going with Attila and his Brighton mates, maybe it was a desire to make some connection with my Swansea childhood, maybe it was the great sense of community spirit, whatever it was there was something about that appalling match at Bootham Crescent that has had me watching football ever since - I've since seen the Swans lose at Wembley and Cambridge United lose at the Millennium Stadium, and I've also become heavily involved with my local club Cambridge City's (recently successful) fight against fat cat property speculators, as their Football in the Community Coordinator.
On moving to Cambridge I stumbled into a job and into setting up a fanzine, and began interviewing bands and then putting out records and CDs. While the original inspiration for R*E*P*E*A*T came mostly from the eyelinered glam politics of Manic Street Preachers (and the effect they had on some of the kids I was teaching at the time), the DIY ethos behind this, the 'anyone can do it' creativity and the punk rock cut'n'paste mess of pritt stick and highlighter, owed a lot to Attila's example. So it was a great delight to me to be able to interview him for the zine in the Wrestlers Pub, accompanied by real ale (of course) and Thai food, before Brighton took on Cambridge United, after which Attila correctly prophesised that while Brighton would go up that season, United would go down. Even better, I soon got to put him on at my own gigs; despite numerous cock ups (on my behalf) in terms of venues, support acts etc, these were always a total pleasure for me - two that stand are at one at the Boat Race where, from the stage, Attila wielded, before trying to burn, a huge 'Vote Tory' placard he'd confiscated from a rich farmer's field by the side of the motorway on the trip down. Even better was March 30th 2003, the day that the most recent bloody war broke out, when I took him from a soundcheck at The Portland Arms to address a loud, angry huge anti war demonstration in the middle of Cambridge. The protest had been rolling on all day, starting with school kids who'd walked out of lessons in the morning and reinforced by workers as they got out of work and anarcho types as they got out of bed. By the time we got there the demonstration had been going over 10 hours (there was only one demonstration in the world that day, in San Francisco, that lasted longer!), having been moved on several times by police and also quite nastily attacked, with lots of the younger protestors arrested for no apparent reason. The demonstrators were now sitting down in the middle of the cross roads, stopping the traffic and glaring at the police station, which was holding the detained demonstrators. With dark falling and patience fraying, it looked as if the march was just about to disintegrate into an unsatisfactory and messy conclusion, that is until Attila took the stage. Or should I say the road? Armed only with his voice and acoustic mandola, he stood in the middle of the cross roads, right by the traffic lights, and launched into 'Guy Fawkes' Table', a brand new and bitter attack on New Labour for letting down its supporters by starting another pointless, greedy war. Within seconds the demonstration was unified again, with new people rushing to join in, hollering along to the chorus 'New Labour Just Fuck Off and Die!' The march organisers were later to say that it was Attila's intervention that saved the protest from petering out and gave it a powerful conclusion that meant the struggle against the war in Cambridge had only just begun. This to me was Attila's best ever performance, loud, passionate, confrontational, angry, funny, rude - just like his audience at that cross roads. However attendance at the gig that night (when we eventually returned) was, not surprisingly, disappointing!
Washington State, March 1st 2006, pic Phil Rose
One final example: in April this year we discovered that the British National Party were standing in a ward in St Neots, a small run down community not far from Cambridge. As local coordinator of Unite Against Fascism I was delegated to organise the campaign against them, and with only days notice Attila agreed to play a Love Music Hate Racism gig in the town's Football Club. Although this wasn't the best attended gig I've ever organised, it gave the campaign a big boost in terms of publicity and began to bring the anti Fascists of the town together in a way that is now beginning to bring dividends - only this week we had our launch meeting for Unite Against Fascism in the town, with a good attendance and eagerness to get involved, all spearheaded by the young people who were at Attila's gig. Which I actually remember more for the loud 'discussion' he had with the chairman of St Neots FC about the role of property speculators in football, and even more for the reaction of the audience during his performance of 'Guy Fawkes Table'. Unlike at the anti war protest, at this gig the song totally polarised the room, with the younger people lapping it up and singing along, while many of the (older) new labour members walking out in disgust! While this may not have been tactically quite the correct outcome in order to unify the anti Fascist struggle in the town, it is worth saying that the people who will be central to building anti racism in St Neots are mostly the ones who whole heartedly applauded the song. And, more importantly for this piece, it shows the brutal honesty, the devilish wit, the refusal to compromise or to sell out, and the dogged persistence ("are you still going?" is a question I get now as well as Attila, and I take it as a compliment!) that makes Attila the man I so admire. And who I'm proud to call a friend.
Southern Hotel, Chorlton, Manchester 7.12.89 - pic Phil Rose
Happy birthday Attila! Enjoy your party - if I'm not there it's due to football commitments, I'm sure you understand - as it was you that got me hooked, to this and so many other things I love.
Rosey R*E*P*E*A*T, 23.9.07
Visit Attila the Stockbroker here http://www.attilathestockbroker.com/index.php