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Angelic Upstarts

Second generation punks spearheading the oi! movement, they, perhaps unsurprisingly for a northern punk band, cited the injustice of the class divide as one of their driving motivations. And there was certainly no love lost between ANGELIC UPSTARTS and their more refined London-centric punk cousins. Like fellow working class heroes, SHAM 69, Thomas “Mensi” Mensforth and Co were beleaguered by fascist skinheads disrupting their gigs and misinterpreting their political stance.
Formed in 1977 and from Brockley Whim in South Shields, Mensi (vocals), Mond/Ray Cowie (guitar), Steve Forsten (bass) and Derek “Decca” Wade (drums), spewed out their anti-fascist bile in the opposite direction of SKREWDRIVER or the incumbent COCKNEY REJECTS. The boys in blue were another sitting target for their righteous anger, an independently released debut single, `The Murder Of Liddle Towers’, condemning alleged police brutality on a local man a few years back, and winning them both the patronage of SHAM 69 mainman Jimmy Pursey and a deal with Warner Bros; Keith “Stix” Warrington was now filling the drum stool.
The Pursey-produced `I’m An Upstart’ and `Teenage Warning’ hits – both taken from the Top 30 set, TEENAGE WARNING (1979) {*6} – were straight-ahead, three-chord assaults on all things right wing, including the creeping plague of racism and the menace of the newly-installed Thatcher government. A place on board for the banal B-side cut of CLIFF RICHARD’s `The Young Ones’ was taking the youth sentiment a bit too far, and as for `Student Power’, `We Are The People’ and most of the rest on show, it seemed they’d ran into a idealistic cul-de-sac from the off.
Still, it didn’t take a genius to work out which side of the fence Mensi, Mond and Co were on, judging by the lyrical content on follow-up set, WE GOTTA GET OUT OF THIS PLACE (1980) {*6}, another tirade aimed at Britain’s would-be oppressors: the Tories. Led by the minor hit title track (once a chartbuster for The ANIMALS), plus `Capital City’, `Never ‘Ad Nothin’’ and `Police Oppression’, ANGELIC UPSTARTS were here to cause a bit of bovver. A switch to E.M.I. at the dawn of the 80s resulted in further personnel upheavals as the rhythm section was constantly shifting.
By 1981’s 2,000,000 VOICES (1981) {*5} and the unnecessary LIVE (1981) {*4}, recent acquisitions Ronnie Wooden and Paul Thompson (from ROXY MUSIC!) had been respectively swapped for Glyn Warren and a returning Decca Wade. When Tony Feedback was installed as the Upstarts new bassist, the disastrous STILL FROM THE HEART (1982) {*4} entered the charts at number er… zero, leaving their bosses no alternative but to let them go. The punk revolution had long since filtered out into the mainstream, but “oi!” band ANGELIC UPSTARTS were defiantly carrying on with their collectivist crusade over a series of independently released albums, kicking off with REASON WHY? (1983) {*5}.
LAST TANGO IN MOSCOW (1985) {*4}, POWER OF THE PRESS (1986) {*4} and BLOOD ON THE TERRACES (1987) {*4} were subtle as sledgehammers, but no one could accuse the Upstarts of selling out, or for that matter selling enough records to those outside the cauldron of their anthemic-loving fanbase. While their musical palate had broadened over the years to include the use of keyboards, the message remained the same, if even more vitriolic than ever. The contentious `Brighton Bomb’ single in ’85 had paid tribute to the I.R.A.’s failed attempt at killing the whole Conservative cabinet; after several years of Tory rule, Mensi (who found himself taken up on obscenity charges!) was obviously reaching the end of his tether.
Most of the band’s ardent fans were also giving up the ghost, and in the late 80s, the Upstarts finally pulled out the plug.
An ill-advised reformation in ‘92 saw the group (now Mensi, Mond and whoever) sign to metal/hardcore specialist Roadrunner; hardly their natural home. The resulting album, belatedly delivered by the people at Castle/Dojo, BOMBED OUT (1994) {*3}, was met with little enthusiasm, by either old fans, or new. Still, if there were prizes for perseverance, Mensi and his motley crew of Anti-Fascist soldiers carried on regardless, releasing retro live albums for anyone up for a bit of a `White Riot’ (a CLASH song they always seem to do); note that SONS OF SPARTACUS (2002) {*3} – down to Mensi and sidekick scribe Tony Van Frater – was their swansong studio set – one thought!
Mensi indeed opted to leave the band in 2006 (replaced temporarily by Chris White). However, the stalwart kingpin returned the following year, roping in guitarists Dickie Hammond and Neil Newton, bassist Gaz Stoker and drummer Brett Mulvaney. Testing the waters with a split album, THE DIRTY DOZEN (2011) {*4} – shared with Crashed Out – the ensuing years evaporated. That was until, the rebellious Upstarts re-emerged late in 2015 with a proper comeback set, BULLINGDON BASTARDS {*6}. Pulling no punches and compromising little to PC, the Oi! Factor rested with the always-topical sing-a-long `Tories Tories Tories (Out Out Out)’, `Don’t Give An Inch’ and `Obscenity’.
© MC Strong 1994-2003/GRD // rev-up MCS Nov2013-May2019

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