11 Days Remaining

Saturday 14th
posted by Morning Star in Arts

Tim Wells

RECENTLY, I was part of a panel discussion on magazines at Waterstones. I was fighting in the zines corner. Chairing was John Mitchinson, founder of Unbound Books who crowdfund to publish.

Among several good titles, its best-known book has been runaway success The Good Immigrant. Look out for their upcoming Dave Hill autobiography.

One of the things I said there, mainly to sass a Grauniad journo — although I do believe it — was: “the mainstream media narrative is always wrong.”

Zines for me were where people spoke for themselves. I was a teenage skinhead, I knew what the likes of the Grauniad said about us was wrong, even the NME called me — specifically — a thug in 1984. I was in the trenches at gigs fighting nazis, I don’t remember the sub-editors being there.

I like dub reggae and write poetry, all of these are solid reasons why you won’t find me on the BBC’s poetry season. Not too many other working-class voices, come to that. Their history of spoken-word poetry didn’t even have Pam Ayres or Linton Kwesi Johnson and it’s as though it was written to the footage they had rather than what actually happened. Oh, hang on a minute…

Looking back at this history, though, and including the poets, is Matthew Worley’s book No Future: Punk, Politics and British Youth Culture 1976-1984. The book has an anti-fascist squadist episode as its starting point and covers the musical and political vagaries of punk in all its poses.

It takes much from the zines of the time to give a — rare — authentic look at punk, its impact, and what impacted on it, around the country. It’s refreshing not to read the usual art-school myths, as well as including the whole country and not just art-school London. It’s a weighty tome and heavily footnoted, so you know it’s proper. The book is very much a punk’s-eye view, even the Gymslips are in it, with both a library card and a pair of Martens to back it up.

Also, spiky has been the spat with some social democrats, get out your Donovan hats, taking poetry sleuth and Dr Who-in-waiting Ira Lightman to task for exposing plagiarism.

My conscience tells me that workers should benefit from their labour. It’s bad enough a writer’s work is stolen and it’s not just the words being taken. I know of one poet who had a poem about the death of their mother ripped off, that’s a memory being sullied.

It’s low, even more so when it’s working-class writers being robbed. We’re used to being exploited by the toffs, the bosses and the bureaucrats of the left. It’s something I’ve always fought against, as have many of the poets. Keep on keeping on.

Another authentic, and delightful, voice is Janet Kay. I’m well pleased to be gigging with her at Stoke Newington Music Festival (see Arts Ahead, left) from October 20-22.

She was the first black female artist to have a number one in Britain. Her version of Loving You is sublime and everyone knows Silly Games, one of those records that everyone sings along to on the pub jukebox, no matter how badly.

It’s a record that makes it all that little bit richer. Dress back Hatie Hopkins. If it’d been left to the mainstream media, then reggae would never have been accepted. The media narrative was wrong and so people made zines to spread the word.

The writers wrote, the singers sang, the people loved. As for the Oxbridge broadsheets and the gutter press: “No, I’ve got no time to play your silly games.”