Inspired by the first wave of punk and its DIY ethic Attila The Stockbroker (John Baine) has been providing astute social commentary for over 40 years. Originally armed with only a microphone and electric mandolin he’s been a thorn in the side of many a nefarious right-winger. Ranging from the satirical to the surreal Heart On My Sleeve: Collected Works 1980-2020 compiles some of his very best work which renders this compendium compulsive reading.
Released to commemorate the anniversary of his first gig (8th September 1980) the aptly titled Heart On My Sleeve finds Attila bearing his soul like a true artist. While reading his words you get the feeling that poetry is a kind of therapy and, from the heart wrenchingly poignant (‘The Long Goodbye’) to the laugh out loud funny (‘Stornoway’) he pulls no punches. Although grouped thematically the topics vary wildly from poem to poem which makes this tome a roller coaster of a read. With righteous indignation Attila has lots of targets in his sights and he aims with deft precision; corrupt police, fascists and politicians all feel his lyrical sting. However, this rage is tempered with tender hearted obituaries and odes to his wife which creates a nice sense of balance.
My first exposure to Attila came via those classic Oi! compilations and, in a scene that was often viewed as lumpen and reductive, his words added a depth of insight and that’s exactly what you get in these pages. There’s a street level viewpoint that immediately adheres the reader to Attila; you don’t need a B.A. to ‘get’ his writing. He doesn’t baffle you with science and won’t use two words when one will suffice. Take the 2010 poem ‘Lost In The Supermarket’ for example: “I don’t want cashback/I want The Clash back”. Those ten syllables pretty much encapsulate all that’s wrong with modern society more than any wordy university thesis could.
What really resonates when reading Heart On My Sleeve is how relevant much of this poetry still is. In many cases it’ll help to place Attila’s prose in historical context but usually it’s the same clowns running the show (Rupert Murdoch is the subject of 2016’s ‘Rock N’ Roll Brexit’ and 1980’s ‘Every Time I Eat Vegetables’). Some of these works were used in songs (‘Andy Is A Corporatist’ from the Son Of Oi! comp) but the whole book has a rhythmic quality, whether it be rock, rap or reggae, and ensures these poems power forward like a bullet train speeding from station to station.
Heart On My Sleeve is a subversive read that can be consumed in one sitting or, preferably, dipped in and out. Whether or not you agree with Attila’s standpoint his words are guaranteed to initiate a response and the incendiary words contained within are equal to that found on any slab of punk vinyl. Handle with care.
Reviewed by Peter Dennis
- Heart On My Sleeve: Collected Works 1980-2020 is released via Cherry Red Books on 9 April 2021 and is available here
- Author website