Angelic Upstarts are an English punk rock band formed in South Shields in 1977. They are commonly regarded as the forefathers of the Oi! genre. One of the most politically outspoken bands of their era, they are known for promoting anti-fascism and working class solidarity. Although they were a skinhead band, they openly attacked the racism that was prevalent throughout the movement. As they went on, their music also progressed beyond the limited punk scope.
They were prolific during their first decade as a band, releasing eight albums in that time period. Their early gigs were often plagued with violence from National Front supporters. They have split up and got back together several times and over the past few years have been gigging consistently. Lead singer Thomas “Mensi” Mensforth is the only original member still in the band.
# 10 – Leave me Alone
Taken from their classic debut album, 1979’s Teenage Warning, “Leave me Alone” is a defiant teenage rebellion anthem with Mensi’s lyrics telling people not to tell him what to do. Clocking in just over two minutes, it says what it needs to say and any teenager who does not want to conform can still relate to it now. The track has a nice aggressive sounding riff and is fast paced and energetic.
# 9 – Woman in Disguise
Taken from their fifth album, 1983’s Reason Why? the woman in question in this song is a certain Mrs Thatcher. A scathing attack on the Iron Lady and her policies, the track was notable for it’s rather bizarre promo video which saw Mensi following a hooded figure wearing a rubber mask of her face which was made as part of a documentary he made about unemployment in the North East of England. This marked a point where the band were starting to branch out musically, with the riff for this track being melodic sounding and it has an impressive breakdown towards the end.
# 8 – Kids on the Street
From third album 1981’s 2,000,000 Voices this rabble-rousing Upstarts track sees the band acknowledging their working class roots with them talking about the real people on the streets, regardless of their look or skin colour with the lyric “long hair, short hair, black and white”. An energetic sounding number, it’s chanting chorus and cry for unity make for a truly great listen.
# 7 – England
A track that cause much controversy on it’s initial release largely due to right wing fascists misinterpreting it as a nationalist song, Mensi has stated that this song from 2,000,000 Voices is in fact an anti-Nazi song written as a tribute to the pain and suffering that the British working class went through during two world wars, where several members of his own family were killed. It is a slow and emotive song that is a particular highlight of the bands live performances, often used as a closer.
# 6 – 2,000,000 Voices
The title track from the third album is a rallying cry for the people in power to listen to the people in the streets. It is safe to say that the conservative government got many bands creative juices flowing throughout the 80’s, and the Upstarts were one of the bands making it very clear that they were not fans of Maggie.
# 5 – Never Had Nothing
Taken from second album, 1980’s We Gotta Get Out Of This Place (named after their cover of fellow geordies The Animals) this underdog anthem deals with a young man who has no job or prospects (as was the case for many British youth at the time) so decides to enlist in the army only to be killed in an overseas war.
# 4 – Police Oppression
The Upstarts were always open about the fact that they were not massive fans of the local constabulary and none more so than with this song from We Gotta Get Out Of This Place in which the title speaks for itself. Based on experiences that Mensi and co had themselves with police harassing themselves for being young punks, it is one of the greatest punk singles of the era. Very loud and very angry sounding, in many ways it is a song of its time because it was written when the band were very young. It also features one of their most iconic and distinctive sounding riffs. It was released as a B side to the next song which is…
# 3 – The Murder of Liddle Towers
Continuing with the anti-police theme this track taken from Teenage Warning deals with the real life case of Liddle Towers, a boxer from Durham who was arrested for being drunk and disorderly and was beaten so badly whilst in their custody that he later died from his injuries. Easily one of their most poignant songs, the song also has an intense atmosphere starting of slowly with the iconic quiet intro riff before building and exploding with the chorus in which Mensi shouts “Who killed Liddle? Police killed Liddle towers!” It was their debut single released in 1978.
# 2 – Last Night Another Soldier
This track from 2,000,000 Voices as the title suggests, is anti-war anthem dealing again with a young working class man who enlists in the army on to be killed in war in a foreign country. In an interview with a short lived fanzine published in Hitchin titled Rising Free, when asked if the song was referring to the British army in Ireland or the army as a whole he replied “The army as a whole, but both really, it’s about soldiers dying.”
# 1 – I’m An Upstart
From Teenage Warning , this is essentially the bands signature track about being a young rebellious upstart. It is a song which in many ways encompasses what punk and rock n roll in general is about, which is rebellion. Even when heard today 40 years later, it still carries the youthful spirit that young people can still identify with. The message is, you may get older but can always be an upstart!