Attila the Stockbroker
The firebrand poet exemplifies the rejuvenating power of punk in a razor-sharp and surprisingly poignant Out to Lunch performance
Now implausibly 58, Attila the Stockbroker is a personal hero of Out to Lunch director Sean Kelly, as well as many of the audience gathered over pints at the Black Box to see the punk poet – real name John Baines – structure an evening around his newly published autobiography, Arguments Yard. It's a good title.
So we begin with Attila's famous manifesto, 'My Poetic Licence', which describes his work as a 'red cottage industry'. The typically bouncy piece of verse underlines the fact that he loves words and the equally important fact that he hates bigots.
It opens: 'Yo! I'm the MC of ranting rebel poetry...' and notes that some other, less engaged poets might bore us. Not him, as we discover in a well-thought-out trawl through old and newer material.
In a way, Attila should be the poet laureate of the left and one droll contribution pokes fun at the right wing press' view of the new Labour establishment with its satirical spike expressing sympathy for its views. The refrain, delivered in a frankly menacing drawl focused on the gleeful sentiment, 'We're Lefties and we smell/We're the Corbyn supporters from hell'.
The performance is, as ever, more than the sum of the lines and leaves you in no doubt that this performer, unlike other early Corbynistas, is not about to sell out.
The first half of the gig sees Attila read the final chapter with which he had to augment his autobiography. Believing his memoir to be finished, fate suddenly played a mean card which saw our jester experience a brush with bladder cancer last year. Belfast is fortunate to share his company tonight.
We get some eye-watering details of the flexible cystoscopy, the camera that makes its way to the bladder via, well, you can work it out. Cue an uproarious poem, 'Candid Camera', with an unusually direct health warning about the need to check things out when you feel out of sorts.
Public service broadcasts never sound like this, however. 'I know I sometimes can be /A loud-mouthed, stroppy prat/I know I’m a control freak/(And a bossy one at that)/My wife says when I’m eating/I am a total slob —/I’m still not sure that I deserved /A camera up my knob.'
The evening features quite a few knobs, as it happens, including the debacle over whether one of our revered tabloids would print a photo of Prince Harry caught nude during one of his exploits in Las Vegas in 2012.
Attila the Stockbroker has created, as only he could, a song on the subject, inspired by The Ragged Trousered Philanthropist, one of the texts that had turned him on to activism as a teenager. Unusually, it's a song set with wicked intent to the tune of 'My Bonnie Lies over the Ocean'. We're supposed to join in the rousing, almost pantomime, chorus about His Royal Highness' manhood, and some of us do.
But beware of thinking the humour benign as it never ever is with the Stockbroker. He rightly rants about the distractions of the tabloid press, that deflect our attention from Britain's economic plight, and is always aware of the corrupt, corrupting establishment agenda.
Interestingly, when penning a poem about the misguided followers of UKIP - The UK Gin Dependence Party - Attila lets the fairly gentle satire do the talking. It's Betjeman with teeth, if you like, as the golf club bore, wondering where leader Nigel got his suspiciously foreign surname (admittedly a handy rhyme for garage, where more drink was kept) outlines his own bluff bigotry.
With his clever rhyming schemes and brilliant diction, Attila's craft is never punk although the sentiments keep the faith. Somehow, the vitriol with its fightback is life-enhancing.
There is emotion, too, and a nice sentimentality. He reads a poem about his father, 25 years older than his mother, who had fought in the Great War. There's also a nice recital about the late rapprochement with his stepfather ('a decent, gentle man') and a tremendously moving account of his mother's journey through Alzheimer's in 'The Long Goodbye'.
An object lesson in performance poetry and proof of the rejuvenating power of punk. As the guy himself says at the end of every contribution, cheers!
Out to Lunch continues at the Black Box and other venues in Belfast until January 31. For more information and ticket booking visit www.cqaf.com/outtolunch/2016. For the latest Attila the Stockbroker dates visit www.attilathestockbroker.com.