Performance poet Laura Taylor talks to ATTILA THE STOCKBROKER, who’s currently celebrating both his 35th year on the road and the publication of his autobiography Arguments Yard
AS AN originator of ranting verse, political activist, journalist and trilingual singer-songwriter multi-instrumentalist — try saying that after five pints of real ale — Attila the Stockbroker’s is a complex and fascinating history which is laid bare in the pages of Arguments Yard.
It’s a riveting read.
Chockfull of hysterically funny and jaw-dropping anecdotes it charts his life on the road and his quest to be a self-sustaining artist, free of the rat-race and its soul-sucking treadmill.
While Attila’s been a thorn in the side to some, he’s been a heroic pioneer and role model to many more.
What motivated you to write your autobiography and why now?
It was kind of inevitable. I’d had so many interesting experiences on the road, had regaled so many people with so many stories over the years and simply thought: “I should put these in a book.”
I actually started to write it in 2005 but as my mum’s Alzheimer’s got worse and we needed to spend more and more time supporting her, the emotional strain involved in combining that with all the gigs and the rest of family life became too much.
So I put it on hold and started again after she died five years ago. The 35th anniversary seemed a good time to finish it and get it published!
Why did you choose poetry as the main medium by which to initially express yourself?
As I explain in the book I inherited words from my dad and music from my mum. Neither of them had the opportunity to earn a living doing what they loved and I was always determined that I would.
I have always written poetry but my early inspiration came mainly from rock music and lyrics and initially I thought I’d find my path as the leader of a punk band — the spoken word stuff just took over.
Being solo was easy, ranting poetry was a logical development for someone inspired by punk, it just happened. But my songs, and my band, are very important to me too.
Reading the chapter dealing with your visit to the GDR, I was reminded of my long-held conviction that poets are as important, if not more important, than historians. Would you agree?
I think if you extend the word “poet” to include song lyricist, satirists and so on, absolutely. I have always thought of myself as a kind of alternative newsreader, chronicling my times.
I hope that my autobiography will endure in a small way as a document of social history because I wrote it as much about the times I live in as about me.
I have often had people say to me — usually people who don’t actually create anything themselves — that art, particularly political art, never makes a difference so why bother. I wrote a poem in response but how would you answer them?
Art cannot change things on its own — only the power of working people acting together can do that — but it can be a powerful catalyst and inspiration and is an essential component of the whole process and the whole of human history is testament to this. Art is a hammer not a mirror.
Do you have a creative process?
I never sit down and think: “Today I will create.”
I write about what is happening in the world and what is happening to me. I respond to a stimulus, the poem or song says: “Hello” and I write it down.
Sometimes it just pours out and hardly needs any rewriting, sometimes it takes a while. But it is always a natural process.
You make several references in the book to the way that the national music press, after an initial honeymoon period, began to denigrate you and your work, reacting to every new release with viciously bad reviews. Contrast this with the reception you received in New Zealand which “really meant something” to you. As an artist, how do you feel about validation of your work?
I know loads of people love my stuff.
I have total self-belief, I don’t have a self-doubt gene. I am proud of what I do and the fact I have earned a living doing what I love for nearly 35 years. When the media praise me, great. When they ignore me or slag me off — water off a duck’s back. To make it personal: Melody Maker and Sounds no longer exist, NME is now a corporate freesheet. I’m still here. 1-0 Attila. Yes, NZ was fun…
You expose your vulnerabilities early in the book with passages about your dad and childhood, especially schooling, and then later when your mum became ill with Alzheimer’s. As poets, we tell our truths, and we hope that people connect to them. Is there anything you wouldn’t write about in your poetry — anything you consider too sacred?
My sex life, I guess. That’s between me and my wife. Nothing else I can think of.
You’re widely travelled, well-read and have a wealth of experience in politics, history and the performing arts. So what’s the next great challenge? Are you working on anything at the moment? A ballet, a symphony, a rock opera, a book of left-wing children’s stories?
I’ve often threatened to do a modern day version of my great childhood inspiration, Cautionary Tales for Children by Hilaire Belloc. I’d quite like to write a punk-rock sequel to La Peste by Albert Camus. We’ll see.