The Angelic Upstarts were formed in South Shields (Tyneside) in 1978 after the initial punk explosion had hit London. Their first single The Murder of Liddle Towers (1978) was released on Rough Trade and quickly became a classic punk single.
Their original drummer, Keith ‘Sticks’ Warrington, left the band to join the Cockney Rejects – possibly because the Upstarts allegedly sold his £500 drum kit for 20 quid without his permission or knowledge . . .
The band tended to attract one of two reactions. One school of thought castigated them as banal, inarticulate rabble-rousers who represented a pale reflection of punk rock, while another saw their work as a meeting of working-class ideology and musical aspiration. Mensi (aka Thomas Mensforth) was always liable to provoke such polarisation.
His lyrics made much of his impoverished upbringing and lashed out at London’s middle-class intelligentsia, as well as standard punk targets like the police and politicians.
Jimmy Pursey of Sham 69 produced the minimalist Teenage Warning (1979), a cul-de-sac of single-idea songs made palatable by the band’s wholehearted delivery and their denunciation of racism – a particularly admirable stance at a time when other skinhead bands, such as Skrewdriver, were flirting with extreme right-wing elements.
With the UK hit singles, I’m An Upstart and Teenage Warning (both 1979), they focused on the plight of the ‘working man’ (at this stage, it was generally gender-specific stuff), though their identification of the cause of that oppression was simplistic.
Angel Dust (The Collected Highs) (1983) was a useful compilation of their best early work, and paved the way for Reason Why? (1983), an album on which the Angelic Upstarts came closest to the intensity and diversity of The Clash.
Now with Tony Feedback (bass), Bryan Hayes (rhythm guitar) and ex-Roxy Music drummer Paul Thompson, they had also broadened their sound with the introduction of saxophones and keyboards.
Mensi was at his most affecting when reciting an unaccompanied poem, Geordie’s Wife – a brave step for a musician closely identified with working-class machismo.
The Power Of The Press (1986) incorporated working-class folk ballads such as Eric Bogle’s Green Fields Of France, while the controversial single release Brighton Bomb celebrated the IRA’s attempt to assassinate the Conservative cabinet.
However, there was limited evidence that Angelic Upstarts fans were growing with the band, and this was confirmed by their break-up in late 1986.
Following a slew of avoidable live albums and compilations, they reunited in 1992 for the lacklustre Bombed Out – a return to their hard-hitting punk roots. The career low-point here was another poem, the profoundly embarrassing Proud And Loud.
Mensi (Tommy Mensforth)
Keith ‘Sticks’ Warrington