The Angelic Upstarts, led by shaven-headed Mensi, flew the flag for back-to-basics punk from the North East – and for socialism and kicked off the much misunderstood Oi! movement.
I’ll admit I got this lot wrong. I saw the Union Jacks, the shaved heads and the bovver boots and I steered well clear of The Angelic Upstarts.
I saw them as a Geordie Sham 69 leading the charge of punk’s violent back-to-basics Oi! offshoot that swiftly became an expression of far-right skinhead culture.
In fact they were staunchly socialist in their politics and their songs, inspired by The Clash, were as anti-fascist and anti-racist as their mentors’ was.
Shaven-headed singer Mensi’s songs were fuelled by fury at working-class life in the North East at a time of extreme economic hardship, his lyrics lashing out at police and politicians.
The problem was they attracted the wrong crowd.
It didn’t help that they had been photographed in swastika armbands at the start of their career – like Sid, like Siouxsie – and kicking a pig’s head around onstage was always likely to inflame a crowd.
It was all a bit confusing.
They also played in front of an anti-NF backdrop reading “Smash The Front,” played on a Rock Against Racrism tour, and had self-evidently anti-fascist songs like Kids On The Street with the lyric: “All you kids, black and white / Together we are dynamite.”
Their debut single in 1978 was this dramatic and poignant number – The Murder Of Liddle Towers – about a cause celebre of the time: a Geordie man beaten to death in a police cell.
The original inquest recorded his death as “justifiable homicide”‘ a second inquest, held on appeal, ruled that Towers died by misadventure.
It was by no means their most inflammatory song: that would be the celebratory single Brighton Bomb, following the IRA attack on the Grand Hotel during the 1984 Conservative conference.
Despite many reunions over the years, and numerous lineup changes, the Upstarts were still going strong – still with the same fire in their bellies – until Mensi died from Covid in December 2021.