There aren’t many advantages to being fifty (or thereabouts), but one of them is to have been around when Punk broke the windows of mainstream music. Tony Walsh’s (Longfella) poem The Last Gang in Town?, is more than a piece of nostalgia though with its lines from Clash songs (who’ll fight the law, who’ll rock the casbah); it is a call to arms for the bands out there today, to find their voice in political action in the same way as The Clash and many other bands did at that time. The late 1970s was in many ways a different country, as Tony’s other poem Englishman/Irishman demonstrates very well (‘I would often tell Englishman, Irishman, Scotsman jokes/to my Irish father‘). As he explains, this was ‘written about my own childhood and the experience of being half-Irish in the troubled and racist 1970s – a situation with parallels to that faced by Muslims today. Also about male working-class emotional inarticulacy in the days before Trisha!‘
However, politically and economically there are many similarities with today, and in some cases, as in widening social inequality and subsequent hardening of the power elite, things are a lot worse. So where are you bands who can rise up with words and music and ‘Go, start a fucking riot of your own’? I know there are bands out there such as Enter Shikari, Anti-Flag (watch Die for Your Government), and the totally irreverent Sleaford Mods (and many more are covered by the great site, Louder than War); but I think there is a lack of a movement, which is why Tony asks were the Clash, The Last Gang in Town?
I have been in contact with Tony who gave me some very interesting background to the poem.
“The poem is a Shakespearean sonnet, 14 lines of iambic pentameter referencing lots of Clash lyrics, for those who get the references. I liked the apparent juxtaposition of a formal, classical poetic form with the work of a punk band. But actually “sonnet” means “little song” and the punk thing was about short, sharp bursts of energy too. The poem asks where are the musicians and artists today who really mean something, who stand up to be counted politically, and that also ties in with a long tradition of political sonnets by some of our most famous poets. I wanted the message of the poem to be politically un-compromising which stands those referenced lyrics in stark contrast to much of the music in the charts today, and to much mainstream poetry too, of course.” This last point is also interesting because it helps to reflect on the diversity of poetry today and to value the role the performance poetry in particular has in making the political points that matter.
Here is Tony performing The Last Gang in Town?, which was filmed in Bristol by TheSpeakersCorner. Billy Bragg called it ‘a call to arms to young bands‘.
As you can imagine, this poem has been hugely popular, originally written for the anthology Double Bill (published by Red Squirrel Press, which Clive James has just listed as his top three books of the year), Cerys Matthews saw a video of Tony performing the poem and invited him to perform it from BBC Maida Vale studos in London for her Audience With The Clash programme. You can hear the full show here – Tony is on a few minutes in, where he also talks of the impact punk had on kids like himself on council estates in the late 70s.
Manchester’s Tony Walsh, Longfella, is ‘one of the UK’s most renowned performance poets.’ His trademark mix of intimacy and controversy, comedy and tragedy has been stunning audiences from grass-roots poetry gigs to international literature festivals since 2004.
‘Some poets can make you laugh, a few can make you cry but only a handful can do both. By all accounts, Tony Walsh is one such poet. Splitting your sides and breaking your heart? Be warned – this guy should come with a health warning!’ Glastonbury Festival.
His work has been published in the UK, USA and Russia, commissioned by BBC television and radio, and showcased at prestigious international poetry festivals including Ledbury, Strokestown and StAnza. He has performed at the Palace of Science and Culture in Warsaw; as part of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s 50th anniversary celebrations; and as website Poet in Residence for the world-renowned Glastonbury Festival.
His eagerly-awaited debut collection, ‘SEX & LOVE & ROCK&ROLL’ takes us on an extraordinary journey through ordinary lives; proudly flying the flag for the exciting new poetry scene which is packing out venues and festival tents around the UK. Make no mistake, these are accessible, musical poems; influenced by the songs which soundtrack our lives; brimming with northern warmth and humour; propelled by passion and compassion as their bassline and their beat.
“Fired and inspiring.’ John Hegley;
‘Fabulous stuff…’ Irvine Welsh;
‘A call to arms….’ Billy Bragg;
‘He is the real deal !’ Benjamin Zephaniah.
‘Absolutely beautiful !’ Cerys Matthews, BBC6Music;
‘Excellent !’ Jo Whiley, BBC Radio 2
The Last Gang in Town?
Who these days, are the rebels worth the name?
Who hates the army, hates the RAF?
Who, these days, take a gutter sniper’s aim?
Who fights the law with every beat and breath?
Who, these days, has the baselines or the balls?
Who’s sussed and struts where white man fears to tread?
Who, these days, answers back when London calls?
Who catches fire and burns like Natty Dread?
Who’ll wave the flag above the shit parade?
Who’ll educate and agitate the youth?
Who’ll use guitars as weapons, unafraid?
Who’ll rock the very Casbah with the truth?
Come, stand and fight; together not alone.
Go start a fucking riot of your own.
It was the 1970s.
And as a small boy growing up in England
I would often tell Englishman, Irishman, Scotsman jokes
to my Irish father.
Taking a childish delight in
the Irishman as the thick one,
the stupid one,
the smelly one.
It was the 1970s.
My father never laughed,
but sometimes a smile would betray him.
Not for the joke.
But for the small boy,
in his eagerness to please.
If I hurt his feelings
I never felt his hurt.
He never said anything.
It was the 1970s.