The first poetry reading I ever went to was in a small pub in the Swansea valley. I'd just passed my driving test that day and this was the first time I'd driven alone in the family mini. On the motorway. And it was dark. And rainy. Scary...
But it was worth it. Adrian Mitchell's performance sowed the seeds of a lifetime's belief in the power of the written word to speak to the many, without being patronising or simplistic, and to galvanise action. I'm sure this experience prepared me for my enthusiasm for, and collaborations with, Attila the Stockbroker, who below writes an appreciation of Adrian Mitchell.
RIP Adrian Mitchell, 1932-2008.
This morning (21st December) around 1am, I got back from a 600 mile round trip to Prenton Park, Tranmere, where I'd just seen Brighton lose 1-0 to a goal scored in the second minute of injury time, having seconds before been denied a penalty so mind-numbingly self-evident a lobotomised, blindfolded, myopic terrapin could have given it with its eyes NAILED shut. As a result, we'd just sunk into the relegation zone for the first time this season. I was knackered, rather pissed, and even more rather pissed off.
Much to my surprise, when I got upstairs my wife Robina was still awake. 'I'm afraid I've got some sad news' she said. 'Adrian Mitchell died last night'.
It was one of those moments when everything else fell away, including - especially - the temporal inadequacies of my football team. Three days short of the sixth anniversary of Joe Strummer's death, another lifelong inspiration gone.
Immediately I thought of the last time we'd seen Adrian, his eyes glistening with emotion as he received a standing ovation from a packed tent at last summer's Latitude Festival. It was a fitting memory, a moment we will never forget. What a life, and what a hero of poetry.
When I was in my teens, Adrian Mitchell showed a rather cynical John Baine (i.e. me!) that a contemporary poet could be relevant - could talk about the things that mattered and inspire those who listened. When, in 1980, I took up the gauntlet as Attila the Stockbroker, his immortal slogan 'Most people ignore most poetry because most poetry ignores most people' became my universal rallying call, and is to this day. It's in the front of my new book, on my myspace site, engraved on my DMs, and was recently turned into a T shirt by the Philosophy Football people. Mark told me that made Adrian very happy.
Poems like ''Victor Jara of Chile' 'On the Beach at Cambridge' and 'Tell me lies about Vietnam' - to name three of many - roared (in Adrian's modest, quiet, understated way) against unspeakable evil. Other poems, like 'Human Beings' and 'Song in Space' celebrated our common humanity in a simple, moving way. And that, really, was what he was about: celebrating humanity, and raging about the unspeakable things human beings do to each other. Adrian reached out to people. He cared about people. He was a pacifist, and a really good bloke. I was privileged to do quite a few gigs with him over the years, and when I started the poetry/music series I ran for ten years here in my home village of Southwick, he was the first person I booked.
At the end of the Latitude gig I shook his hand as, surrounded by well
wishers and overcome by the moment, he disappeared towards the book
signing tent. Afterwards I emailed to congratulate him and promised
him a spot at our Glastonwick Festival next year. He emailed back to
say thanks, and that Latitude had been one of his best gigs for years.
I was run over by the truth one day.
Heard the alarm clock screaming with pain,
Every time I shut my eyes all I see is flames
I smell something burning, hope it's just my brains.
Where were you at the time of the crime?
You put your bombers in, you put your conscience
Adrian Mitchell, 1932-2008