The Angelic Upstarts have been with us since 1977 in form or another. Fiercely political and unashamedly socialist they have played all over the world and brought their message of hope and defiance to hundreds of thousands of people. They’ve also wound up a lot of people we really don’t like. Most notably the far right, with their militant anti fascist stance.
We caught up with guitarist Neil ‘Newts’ Newton at this year’s Rebellion festival and started by asking for his thoughts on the latest wave of political punk music?
“The scene is looking really hopeful with some of these new bands coming through. There was a bit of lull for a while. I used to think it just the oldies like the Upstarts putting it out there. Where are the young’uns? Thankfully the past few years it’s starting again. Some of the lyrics are sharp as fuck. Like IDLES for reference, their song ‘Television’ the lyrics are fucking brilliant. They got it straight away. Its great seeing bands starting to get inspired to write meaningful lyrics again and starting to wise up. I’m seeing green shoots of resistance for want of a better phrase. Which is heartening as fuck. I went to see Queen Zee last night, for a live gig I was blown away, absolutely fucking incredible.”
You guys are from the North East where most people voted Leave. What do you think was behind that?
“People were poorly informed. People have this romantic view of the UK. That it’s going to be like it was in the 1940s. They weren’t even fucking born then? They’ve got this romantic view of vegetable gardens like Bedknobs & Broomsticks or something. The picturesque village green. In the 1940s we didn’t even have the National Health Service! We didn’t have full education. They’ve voted for people that are gonna rip your hole out! That’s who they voted for. They’re voted for a system that’s only gonna benefit those that want it. We’ll become an offshore tax haven. Its never gonna be for the benefit of the majority is it? Brexit is going to completely fracture the UK.”
Do you think that when it comes to a General Election people will wake up and have a proper think?
“It could go two ways. I think a lot of people are frightened to have an opinion. They’re frightened in case it gets jumped on. People tend to have a tribalist mentality depending on who they’re with. But I think deep down I would hope that a lot would have the sense to vote for the politics rather than the personality. Corbyn looks like an old Geography teacher. But so fucking what? It doesn’t matter what the fuck you look like. He could have shiny teeth and a nice tan and be an absolute bastard tyrant. It’s the policies, you have to look after people. If your elderly neighbor is struggling to put the bins out, you go and give them a hand, you not asking for anything for it. You’re just helping another human being who is struggling. Those sort of policies are what Corbyn represents and I like them. People say he’ll never make it happen. Well he wont if you don’t vote for it. What will they vote for? Someone who’ll just see the neighbor rot away and die. Because that is what these cunts will do. They don’t give a fuck. Tory cunts have always been the same.”
“There are some things that I don’t agree with Corbyn over. I think he should be more aggressive in dealing with the Blairites in his party. I think if they had just accepted him, he’d be in government now, but he got fucked over by the cunts in his own party. Those Blairite bastards. He needs to take a firmer hand. Like that Tom Watson, he should kick that cunt straight out.”
“He said time and time again about not going to war, what will come after but no one listened to him. They call him a terrorist sympathizer. They say he doesn’t care about the armed forces. But he tried to stop those lads and lasses getting killed in an illegal war. I have to admit to a little bit a bias here because I actually served myself.
How did that define you as a person?
I joined because of very limited choices, wanting to get away from home, wanting to travel. I thought it was my best option at the time. You’re trained to take orders unquestioningly, but it’s an extremely professional outfit and a lot of lessons I learned there have been carried through for the rest of my life.”
“You’re not fighting for Queen & country. That goes out of the window. You’re certainly not fighting for politicians. You’re fighting for the lad or lass that’s next to you. In the field it’s all about looking after each other. That form of camaraderie, them bonds, I think that almost a pure form of socialism because you’re sharing hardships, your sharing joy, your sharing tragedy and everybody is sharing everything. No one is getting an easy ride and you’re all in it together. Which I think are admirable qualities.”
“Its not like the first world war. But I fear now that we’re heading back towards that now with this jingoistic fucker (Boris Johnson) it like its turning into a Blackadder comedy. And that is frightening. Because there’s certainly no cunning plan is there?”
So what are your thoughts on Johnson?
“He has got quite a strong personality and he is viewed as a bit of clown. But he is a dangerous cunt. He’s a fucking idiot. He is like the UK Trump, We’re being led by idiots and buffoons. He is a proven liar. He is morally questionable. I really fear about where this is going. You know how they glorified the First World War? How it was all so jingoistic. The rightwing love this. They get fed all this patriotic shite and then we’ll be the ones that cop it. It’ll affect us the most. It’ll effect all of us. I’m scared for my kids I’m scared about what will be here for them. My real fear is if he ties in with that frog-faced cunt Farage, if he ties in with him to win the vote at the election.”
Do you think that people down in London have any idea what it is like up in the North East?
“No, but I don’t think that people in the North East have an idea of what it is like in London either. When you go into London its like there is a hand in your pocket wherever you go. The congestion charge, this charge, that charge. I watched a documentary on housing. There was social housing in Austria and they were building 7,000 social housing units a year and the UK hadn’t built that many in god knows how many years. In Austria you’ve got doctors and professionals all living in rented accommodation. There is enough room. There are community events.”
“Then they showed a family in London evicted because of the bedroom tax. They were living in a car. We don’t have the housing crisis as bad in the North East, it’s there but it’s not as severe as it appears to be in London. In some ways London has it harder, in some ways the North East has it harder. Everything appears to be a bit London-centric. I think the Tories punish those constituencies that don’t vote for them.”
Are we becoming worse as a society?
“What I’m finding is a common theme, I support Newcastle United and at the friendly game against Hibs a few days ago there were some chants for Tommy Robinson. The Show Racism the Red Card campaign was started by Ged Grebby in North Tyneside and gained momentum when Shaka Hislop, ex Newcastle ‘Keeper came on board. We’ve got Muslims in our team, we’ve got all sorts of creed and colours however you want to phrase it, we’ve got them in the team.”
“And then these fuckers, these idiots are shouting for Tommy Robinson, this is a personal thing, I don’t want to be around these fuckers at a match. They used to be in a minority. My concern concern is, to get to my main point, is that people don’t bother with facts anymore. They don’t bother to check this shit out. You’ve got arguably the worlds biggest library and source of research with the internet, every fucker has access to it on their phone. Anyone can just go: ‘Is that really true?’
“You know I say to the football lads, I say to them ‘I cannot stand the fact that Sunderland has beaten us six time in a row for the last six derbies, I don’t like it, but it’s a fact and I can’t do fuck all about it, it’s a fact. Lads will say ‘Yeah but we played the better football!’ and I reply ‘Maybe but fact is we still got beat’. On a very simplistic level that’s how I try & explain the importance of facts. I think that is right at the heart of it.”
“Some people can’t accept a fact when it completely destroys any opinion that has been delivered to them. They’re (Robinson fans) being manipulated, in the same way that they were manipulated back in the 70s and the same way they’ve been manipulated through history. ‘Your life’s shit, that because of these people over here’. It fucking drives me mad.”
So how do we communicate with people who are spoon fed this bullshit every day by the likes of the Murdoch media?
“I think it’s a case of fighting fire with fire really. My son’s school are pretty good with this stuff. There’s lessons in equality and I think there is where you really need to start. Because kids aren’t born to hate, no one is fucking born to hate, its taught. So if you can teach hate then you can teach love and I think more needs to be done in that aspect. And the key to that, I think when they’re a bit older is getting them to accept that opinions are not always facts. It’s as simple as that. I don’t think anyone knows the answer. There’s no quick fix, just counter them whenever you can.”
“The rightwing will always say shite like: ‘Ah you lefty tree hugger’ and use all those tropes. I just say: ‘Yeah I hug trees, what wrong with hugging trees?’ Just use humour to belittle them. Having said that I did feel sorry for that lad in the video that was done a few years back. I think its called ‘Muslamic Rayguns’?”
“I felt sorry for him because he was confused. You could see people around him who weren’t speaking. There was two lads standing behind that looked like Phil & Grant Mitchell from Eastenders. Typical, middle-aged characters. I thought that in a way they’re grooming him to complain about groomers. Well why just Muslim groomers? Why not any fucking groomer? Again look at the facts. The facts show that in between 2011 and 2016 the number of convictions for sexual offences in particular grooming, the majority was white UK, it wasn’t Muslims, it was white UK. There go, there’s some more facts.”
“When they talk about immigrants! To me, immigrants are just people from further down the road, who’ve moved a bit closer to us on the same global council estate, that’s all. “
“When they say: ‘Go back to where you come from!’
Right, where? Planet earth…?”
What is your experience with this kind of stuff when playing Europe?
“In eastern European countries its more prevalent. I can’t believe Poland of all places seeing a rise of the far right. Poland of all places! But it goes back to looking for somebody to blame. I notice it there. There is no denying that there is a shift to the right. You can tell by the political parties. That is how you take the temperature of a country. You look at it and you’re thinking ‘Right whose in charge?’ Fucking hell this absolute cunt who they’ve got in charge now. Fucking hell…”
“Some of the lads that I go to football with they say: ‘Are you not a patriot?” I go: ‘Well define a patriot, Can you not just love being alive, is that not good enough?’
“They ask me why I talk about Nazis? Its personal, I’ve got a disabled son, these fuckers would have him killed, they’d have him in a gas chamber.”
Interview & photos by Guy Smallman
Angelic Upstarts gigs & news HERE