Arguments Yard : 35 Years of Ranting Verse and Thrash Mandola
Robina, Attila's wife, has, tongue in cheek, subtitled this wonderfully funny, entertaining and informative book The adventures of ME: stories about ME, for people who want to read about ME, written by ME.
And I guess that to achieve the remarkable things that Attila recounts in this remarkable book, you have to have that self belief, that self confidence and yes maybe even that self obsession, which he clearly has in bucket loads. You also have to be prepared to make an argument, and to stand your ground literally and metaphorically. This book is the story of arguments not ducked, and ground won.
So, Arguments Yard compellingly deals with all the major incidents in what has been (and continues to be) an exciting, unusual and inspiring life. Arguments are not politely to be avoided, but a way of clarifying positions, cutting the crap, making progress. So the book starts with stories about the conflicts Attila suffered at school, which taught him to stand up to bullies (both kids and teachers), lessons which would prepare him well for the rest of his life.
We learn about the confrontations he has had with authority, over the years the tales of him and his punk pals standing up to state sponsored musical myopia in Belgium is at once enlightening, amusing and uplifting. We hear of his battles in support of the miners. We read about his arguments with the 'entertainment biz', who after briefly welcoming him as that month's ranting red flavour, pretty soon spat him out as they went on to next month's big thing, more malleable and simpering: luckily for us, Attila hadn't read the script and set himself up as a punk DIY cottage industry, making a living from radical poetry and song for the next 35 years, without any help from 'The Man'. We recall his many principled verbal and physical fights with Fascism and racists, which sometimes ended in a kicking, but when a fascist hits a poet, the poet's doing something right!. We are told of his supportive yet critical arguments with the way Socialism was interpreted in East Germany (and Albania!), and his disgust at the trampling of what he saw as valuable in that society once the wall came down. And we can celebrate his involvement in the brilliantly successful battle with the property developers who wanted to make a quick killing out of kicking his beloved Brighton and Hove Albion Football Club permanently into touch.
This book is packed with poems, pictures, punk and polemic, it works as a personal social history of underground left wing cultural production of the last 35 years. It tells of Attila's remarkable achievements; not just financing a life (including all the trappings - a house and car!) from underground poetry, but also touring the world, running festivals, being supported by The Manics, Carter USM and Billy Bragg (amongst others), publishing 8 books and releasing 30 plus records (one of them on R*E*P*E*A*T Records, don't you know?!), broadcasting about Hilaire Belloc and other serious contributions to mainstream criticism, and much more. It also has a touching human side : we learn of his love for and marriage to Robina, his enduring and loyal friendships with the likes of The Newtown Neurotics and the sadly now departed Seething Wells, alliances able to withstand the ravages of fashion, adversity and the passing of the years, while the chapter and poem on his mother's suffering at the hands of Alzheimer's is hard to read without a tear of sympathy and solidarity.
And it ends with an unexpected sting in the tail: an argument with cancer which, at the time of writing, Attila seems to have won. Fingers crossed. In fact, there are not many arguments he is prepared to lose, and although I don't agree with every single nuance of his ideas, I think we all benefit from his tenacity, his way with words and his belligerence in the service of a fairer world. All of which is witnessed in this funny, touching, well written, erudite and yes, self obsessed book.
Isn't self obsession what autobiographies are for?
Central to all these arguments is Attila's manifesto, that we can all be creative. We don't need to rely on publishers or politicians or record labels or TV glitz to be exercise this creativity in fact many of these money making institutions will let us down by reducing our imagination to the limits of idol pop pap, reducing democracy to a choice between two different flavours of Austerity. With a little luck, and lots of organisation and self belief, and yes perhaps some self obsession, Attila argues that it is possible to defy the system and make a living outside the banal laws of profit and loss.
Thanks for the poems, the songs and the support comrade - long may the arguments continue!
Buy Argument's Yard here http://www.attilathestockbroker.com/index.php
Read a personal account of Attila's influence on ME, including his help for a friend with cancer, here.