The Angelic Upstarts formed in South Shields (England) in 1977 and released their debut single “Murder of Liddle Towers” in 1978. Jimmy Pursey of Sham 69 produced their first album “Teenage Warning” (1979). Their songs express the widespread feeling of anger and frustration of the British youth during the early Thatcher years:
Wind me up like a ‘Clockwork Orange’ / then you hide the key to my destination / no satisfaction — its all frustration.
Deeply rooted in the working class the Angelic Upstarts never held back with their opinion. Their origin in the Oi! scene made them popular with both punks and skinheads. Like The Clash and other bands with punk origin their music was influenced by Reggae music (“I understand”).
The Angelic Upstarts also acquired an unwanted following of racist skinheads. When the National Front and others of their ilk tried to adopt their music for their purposes they were tought a lesson in violence. The Upstarts did not only speak out against racism, join the popular “Rock against Racism” campaign or write songs. They quickly found that holding “I hate Nazis” signs and talking about it were not very effective. Instead they took up the fight on the discourse level of their oponents. Attacked by racist skins at their concerts they choose to retaliate — with their fists. Most of the time the racists kept their opinion, but lost their teeth.
The lyrics of their songs and public statements — especially by vocalist “Mensi” (Thomas Mensforth) — were often controversial. Using the vocabulary and symbols of racist and right wing politics they challenged their audience to deconstruct the semiotics of hatespeak. Often misunderstood and seen by many as contradictory, their display of patriotism, adoration the Union Jack or even pride in their skin colour (“I’ve got nothing against niggers but I’m proud to be white.”) was challenging, provocative or even offensive — depending on where you stand. Mensi and the Angelic Upstarts played with the ambiguous nature of signs. A dangerous game in a linguistic environment that is quick with labels and prefers naïve correspondence of signifier and signified to careful textual analysis and close reading.
Find out more by reading these interesting interviews: