Heart on My Sleeve (Collected Works 1980-2020)
Attila the Stockbroker
Cherry Red Books
Out of the darkness, comes light. After the eternal misery of lockdown, it is great to see this much-needed publication drop to herald what will hopefully be the start of better times. Attila the Stockbroker, John Bain, is one of a number who has played a heroic role online during Lockdown with his Attila the Stockbroker Introduces in which a number of artists have performed live from their homes. He also went live online in incredibly difficult circumstances by way of tribute the night Stefan Cush died. However, Att
This is not just a definitive and essential piece of work, from this reader’s perspective, it is a profound source of reassurance and comfort in troubled times. Naming the book Heart On My Sleeve is appropriate as all Attila aficionados are aware the man doesn’t hold back and his words are straight, direct and hugely effective. However, it could equally be titled Heart of Gold as John Bain is an individual whose every fibre is dedicated to compassion and caring for his fellow humans (alongside reptiles and other such life forms). It is this care, compassion and solidarity that shines through and wafts off every page of this beautiful collection.
Arranged thematically rather than chronologically, the book still provides a great overview of the development of Attila’s career. The early years, with a number of “Russians” and “Nigel” themes are a perfect pointer to the scene he emerged from. A world where extremities of the Right in politics intruded very rudely into youth, and particularly music, culture. None of us of a certain age will forget the intrusion of right-wing thugs into gigs, or their waiting for fans and artists afterwards. Attila was in the vanguard of the fightback and has remained there ever since.
However, to assume that Attila’s writings are solely political would be a mistake as the works in this collection cover the full spectrum, sometimes painfully so. Stay Alert and Love Your Lungs are two brief but hard hitting poems about the Covid period and then there is In Training and Candid Camera. These are two poems about the cancer diagnosis Attila had received; the first about preparation, mental and physical, for the operation and treatment, the second about the invasive procedure of cystoscopy. Movingly, Two Cans of Zywiec, a poem dedicated to Trevor Passmore, host of the Glastonwick Festival, tells of how he and Attila had received a cancer diagnosis at the same time and only Attila survived. Difficult reading yet true to the spirit of honesty with which Attila approaches his writings.
If you know the man, you will also be aware of his love for Brighton and Hove Albion and that is well represented here. A personal favourite of these is And Smith Must Score, which references the infamous Gordon Smith miss in the last seconds of the 1983 F.A. Cup against Manchester United and is a perfect summary of the lot of the vast majority of real fans who thrive beyond the glow of the elite clubs.
My Ninth Birthday is a striking poem that tells us so much about John Baine. Harking back to his childhood he paints a beautiful picture of the innocence of Primary school, albeit a time when a determination to speak out and a love of writing were already evident. Anticipating receiving his Happy Birthday song from the whole school, instead, all the children are gathered together to be told of the Aberfan disaster, which had happened that day. The poem goes on to tell of what Baine has learned about the causes and investigation of the disaster – a classic case study of incompetence and corruption that cost the lives of innocent children and teachers.
The over-riding theme that shines through is one of love. Attila clearly is a man who has great empathy, solidarity and love for his fellow in general and friends in particular. The poem Little Big Man expresses this beautifully as Attila describes the fate of his Anarchy in the U.K. on E.M.I. in a way that will leave you glassy-eyed. However, maybe the most effective work is when he writes in memory of his Mum and to his wife Robina. It is intensely personal stuff, but all the stronger for it. There is a strong chance the reader may feel pangs of jealousy on reading how Attila is able to find the words to express his feelings and, just maybe, they may have a go themselves, even if it is for their eyes only.
This is the perfect book to dive in and out of and, if the words of Adrian Mitchell were right to an extent when written in the 1960s (and I’m not sure they were personally), this collection disproves them and then some. Mitchell said “most people ignore most poetry because most poetry ignores most people” but “Heart on my Sleeve” banishes any concept of elitism that may be attached to poetry with its down to Earth straightforward approach to many subjects. Attila the Stockbroker, John Baine, is one of our foremost writers and this book is a treasure trove of heartfelt sentiment and inspiration.
All words by Dave Jennings. More from Dave can be found by checking out his Louder Than War Author Archive. He is also on Twitter as @blackfoxwrexham.