Having reviewed one of his collections of poetry, Louder Than War’s Nathan Brown wondered, to use the title of one of his poems, “Who the Fuck is Andy Carrington?” A mild mannered barman who disappears into a phone box (if one can be found) and transforms into angry lyrical anti-hero? Here he tries to find out.
As long as there has been punk rock there has been punk poetry: John Cooper Clarke, Attila the Stockbroker, Porky The Poet (now known as Phil Jupitus) and my personal favourite: Andy T, the list could go on. Bring in the natural cross fertilisation between punk and reggae and our view expands to take in a pantheon of conscious poets few of whom have paralleled the mighty Linton Kwezi Johnson. Then there’s hip hop….but poetry is still relatively rare so those who perform it stand out instantly.
Among their number is Andy Carrington, who published his first poetry book in 2008 and now has eight under his belt. He has been described by Hope Not Hate as possessing “characteristic determination, mixed with honesty and humility”. He started writing poetry at the relatively late age of 21, as a response to boredom:
“In my hometown, there really wasn’t that much to do for kids, so I spent a lot of time going out, getting pissed, and trying to fit in with popular social circles because that’s the only thing I knew. After a while, I got bored, started listening to a lot of Hip-Hop and scribbling lyrics, went onto college and University, then started taking things a little more seriously after that.”
So apart from boredom, what inspired him, and why this art form instead of shouting words down a microphone backed up by loud guitars?
“I so badly wanted to be an emcee when I was younger, but I never truly believed I had the musical talent within me to make something of it. Writing’s one thing, but being able to spit bars on a microphone is a different thing; so I took the confidence I had within me when writing lyrics and basically evolved that into poetry. I give credit to wordsmiths such as KRS One, Chuck D and Nas (back in his heyday) as some of my early inspirations; while the likes of Charles Bukowski, Dan Fante and Tony Harrison came later. I’ve gotta mention the punk scene, as well, primarily for its DIY-ethos, which has given me a huge kick up the arse when it has come to relying upon myself and getting my work out there.”
Anti-fascism forms a central thread to Andy’s writing and it was this which piqued my interest initially, but rather than deliberately set out to be political he reveals that it just came about as a reflection of his personal experiences.
“As events such as 9/11 and the Woolwich murder began to unfold in the mainstream media, I began noticing various peoples’ reactions to others of different race/culture. Most of these reactions came from work colleagues, friends, and even my family; I felt alienated a fair bit considering I was never raised a racist person and have never been quick to generalise a group of people on the actions of others. I felt frustrated, also, because I couldn’t express myself the way I wanted to (I have a slight speech impediment and often suffer from anxiety, which is why I have never been a great public speaker) so the only way I thought I could ‘fight back’ productively was to write.
Early ‘political’ works, such as Somewhere in-between Misanthropy & Anti-Fascism/Paki Lover were basically written in retaliation to the number of racist/fascist rants I overheard in pubs and at work. Things progressed with Antifa, where I began cooperating more political ideology into my work to make my arguments appear stronger, while still expressing my frustrations at the people I came into contact with.”
The man in the pub…he’s responsible for a lot with his solution to the ills of the world. I was interested in finding out what Andy thinks is driving the attitudes he’s been hearing. Are the EDL and far-right gaining ground in working class communities or is this just misreporting by the (largely middle class) media who want to demonise ordinary people? Andy sees some root causes:
“People are pissed-off. Housing shortages, job cuts and a lack of employment opportunities to begin with all contribute to the anti-immigrant rhetoric; as does the scaremongering of the right-wing media. The easiest thing for working-class people to do is to blame immigrants/blacks/Asians/Muslims for the country’s economic state because those in power are out of reach. Middle and upper-class people, from my experience, tend to be more subtle when it comes to racism – they want to sit back and watch us working-class folks fight amongst ourselves for their beliefs. The EDL is still a worry for the way it preys upon working-class people who’re feeling frustrated and neglected by the government. Groups like the EDL represent at street level what the rich do higher up the food chain: Racist news stories will be handpicked and circulated for the purpose of recruitment – they exist purely to divide and conquer commonalities wherever they go.
I’ve been fortunate enough to have people around me who aren’t quite so quick to believe the country’s problems are the fault of the immigrants – just because The Daily Mail says so. You’ll find, the very people that are targeted for racist abuse are the ones living in the same communities as us, suffering the same oppression. Our communities need to come together and actually talk to one another, rather than regurgitating the same crap that everyone else does just because it’s the “in-thing”.
Andy’s not naïve. He concedes “Poetry alone won’t change the world.” but then goes on to elaborate:
“I do believe in the power of word accompanying physical action, though, and this is something I try and make clear in my writing. The general population is pissed-off and apathetic when it comes to politics, and the more people that are willing to tap into these frustrations and show some sort of direction, then the stronger the residence will become. “
It’s often said that if you want to influence a meaningful number of people you wouldn’t waste your time in the world of punk (or hip-hop). After all, these are relatively minority interests. And whilst I don’t subscribe to this view I wondered how Andy thought they are relevant to the same kids who are being targeted by the EDL?
“Punk and Hip-Hop are classed as “minority mediums” because they tend to tap into a lot of the issues that the mainstream medium often ignores. But it’s not about being “punk” or “Hip-Hop”; it’s about looking at the bigger picture, showing people there’s an alternative voice to the fascist propaganda we read and hear. I never deliberately went out to be punk or Hip-Hop in my style of writing, but those cultures/genres of music are the ones I am most influenced by; and people identifying with those cultures, I’ve found, are the ones who relate the most to the frustrations expressed in my writing. “
Andy has now dipped his toe in the world of performance – live poetry readings. It turns out this was accidental.
”As I said before, I’ve never been a great public speaker, so the desire to perform my poems has never really been within me. In June, this year (2013) I randomly got an invite to appear on a punk radio station in Halifax, for an interview and to read some of my poems. I was frightened to death at the prospect, but I agreed, and it actually went really well. The presenters took to me and urged me on to do some more live poetry readings. Next thing I knew, I was booked on an anti-fascist punk all-dayer in Bradford and had a number of invites to perform my “non-PC, fascist-hating poetry” at various other locations. My first live gig was in Manchester for the Peterloo Anniversary gig with Salford Hip-Hop duo Class Actions, which got a good reaction; after that, I’ve been performing at various venues as part of their act. I’ve got a few more gigs coming up, and I’m on the bill for the 0161 festival next year in Manchester, with the likes of The Oppressed and Angelic Upstarts. Can’t wait for that!”
An expensive hobby or something that he wants to turn into a regular source of income?
“Attila the Stockbroker makes money from poetry alone, I hear, but I’m really not aiming for that at the minute. I’m just really enjoying what I’m doing and feeling really encouraged by the reaction I’m getting. ”
Still on the subject of the business side of things, I asked Andy about management and agents- are they a necessary evil, parasitical scum of the earth or is he ambivalent?
“As a self-published writer, I have control over my own work and how it’s distributed. This has its disadvantages when it comes to actually making some decent money, but it also means I’m my own boss and am able to write freely without being told “oh, you can’t say that” and “this will never sell”, etc. There’s also a strong sense of pride that you feel when you put something out that is exclusive to yourself and people react to it very positively and word of mouth gets around. Some people might prefer being told what to do and how to go about things, but I’m happy the way I am, doing what I’m doing, for now.”
Motivation varies in the DIY world, so I wanted to find out if Andy’s approach was a principled decision to control his art at all costs or a pragmatic decision to get it out there and read/seen/heard. He revealed it’s a combination of the two:
“…it’s mostly to control my own work, but there’s always been the belief that, when it comes to poetry, this is the only really method to get yourself discovered when you’re an unknown writer starting out. I mean, who’d want to snap up a down-on-his-luck poet who no one has ever heard of, for the sake of making money? This is a business after all.”
And what can we expect from Mr C in the future? Anti-fascism is still the main issue that concerns him:
“Groups like the EDL are preying upon the frustrated and apathetic, and I want to show people that there’s an alternative to going down that route. That’s the bigger issue, and the more I make that clear, the more I’ll feel encouraged by what I do. I’ll certainly never perform on the same bill as outright-fascists or those people/bands with fascist-leaning tendencies. ”
Can we expect poetry performed to a backing track in the vein of Andy T or LKJ?
“Maybe with some ska/punk influence behind me. I’m really enjoying mixing my poetry with the Hip-Hop of Class Actions at the minute, and hope to build upon that in the near future.”
We look forward to hearing it! So, there you have it. The man behind the name. Look out for the printed word, the live performance and for recordings in the future.
Andy can be found online in the following locations: