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The weekly music magazines and working class culture June 10, 2017

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.

This from the Guardian last week caught my eye… an interview with Manchester poet Tony Walsh whose will be remembered for his performance of his poem This Is the Place on the evening after the attacks in that city.
There are some very interesting aspects to what he says:

He grew up in Tameside, east of the city centre, “where the old terrace housing meets the mill towns”. His mother raised four children and occasionally did piecework from a sewing machine in the front room; his father had a series of factory jobs and drove a taxi, but Walsh remembers him being unemployed a lot: “It felt like everyone was unemployed.” The poverty was real. Walsh nearly died of rheumatic fever as a young child, and took penicillin every day until he was 14. It was worsened, he thinks, by living in a damp terraced house that was subsequently condemned and demolished.

There were books at his grandmother’s house and he read everything. “And the libraries were a big thing for me.” Music, though, was massive. His mother played the Beatles, Elvis and 1960s pop. He loved the lyrics of Joe Strummer, Paul Weller and, later, Patti Smith and Morrissey.


He was politicised by punk “and by my circumstances”, and he was educated by the NME. “I’d read it and it would send this working-class kid off to look up who the situationists were, the surrealists, dadaists, and what does ‘nihilism’ mean and who is Dostoevsky and Kafka? I don’t see where working-class kids would get that stimulus now,” he says. “I don’t see where the heavyweight discourse is in popular music any more. There’s a lot of heat, not a lot of light, coming out of popular culture.” Maybe, he says, “that’s where poetry can re-find a space.” When he was 14, he heard Sonny’s Lettah, by Jamaican-born dub poet Linton Kwesi Johnson on John Peel’s radio show which, he says, “packed a huge political, cultural and emotional punch. It hit me in the gut as hard as any piece of art has before or since.”

That point about how kids get that stimulus now is very well made I think. I came to the music magazines in my late teens but friends of mine read them much earlier than that and it seems unquestionable to me that punk and post-punk and those magazines brought to a much wider audience a radical and open sensibility that was political cultural and social. It’s remarkable reading back through issues of NME or Sounds or Melody Maker from the 1980s to see how magpie like they were with a range of references that assumed those reading them would if they weren’t aware of them at least make an effort (in a pre-internet world!) to go and hunt them down. And sure, sometimes there could be an irritation and precious aspect to all that – personally NME was my least favourite of the three, whereas Sounds and Melody Maker I preferred a lot more, but there was something engaging about their working assumptions about the world.

This too is interesting:

Some time around 2003, he felt drawn back to poetry (he had stopped writing as a teenager). “I had two small kids, maturity, the different perspective that having kids gives you. A poem or two comes to you and you find you still enjoy it and still think they’re decent.” In 2004, he went to an open-mic night in a pub, got up, knees shaking, “and I found people who got what I was on about and where I was coming from. There was a poet there called Jackie Hagan, a working-class scouse woman, an amazing artist. She legitimised what I had brought with me – poems about kids at bus stops, chip shops.”


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