As I sit in the glorious surroundings of the St Cecilia Main Hall, the first thing to hit me is the natural acoustics. This is a place where sound indulges itself. Where nuances and overtones grow in stature. The kind of place that any musician would love to perform. You might wonder why these things are essential for an Attila The Stockbroker gig? Are nuance and harmonics even relevant when it comes to Attila?
Who is Attila The Stockbroker?
OK. If you know, then please indulge this next paragraph. If you don’t, then you are in the same camp as I was some three years ago. When I arrived at the Edinburgh festival in 2016, I had been performing spoken word for around a year. I had very little knowledge of performance art, including poetry. In part, that was why I had decided to travel to Edinburgh in the first place. I was fortunate enough to be picked for a heat of the Hammer and Tongue Slam, hosted by Fay Roberts. Attila was the headliner and one of the judges for the slam. He and I shared a beer afterwards, and I learned.
Attila is a ranting poet from the Punk Era, who continues to enjoy a career in spoken word 40 years later. He started out in the 1970s, along with other ranting poets of the time. Attila and the other ranters would perform in-between acts at Punk gigs. I would imagine they could be a tough crowd! Hardly St Cecilia Hall.
The St Cecilia Hall gig at Edinburgh Fringe 2019
Attila is a poet and a musician. He plays a mean violin, which is his only classical training. Even in the heady days of punk poetry, he would accompany himself with an electric mandolin. This particular instrument was broken over his head during a fight with fascists at a gig in the early eighties. Attila replaced the electric mandolin with his mandola, (Affectionately named Nelson and a fifth lower in range if you’re interested).
At the age of 9, Attila started to discover early music. He was given a recorder at primary school and chose to explore the instrument and its history. From his research, Attila found out about more early musical instruments. This research has inspired Attila to build a fascinating collection.
And so here we are. It is 2019, and we are in one of the most beautiful rooms in Edinburgh. The building is home to an extensive collection of early instruments. The setting is perfect for a history lecture, a performance from a string quartet, even a classical concert. How is the self-professed “Ageing Punk Rocker” going to go down with a large crowd of people who seem divided equally between old punk rockers and music aficionados? Can Punk poetry and early music work together?
Attila The Stockbroker is a performer with a Passion
Right from the off, Attila is at home on the stage. You would expect this from a performer with his experience. What really stands out is Attila’s absolute passion for early music, the instruments that created those sounds and the political history of the day.
We are instantly transported into Attila’s world. His instruments are laid out around the stage with pride. As he begins to explain more about the music of the time, he demonstrates each piece in his collection in turn. Guitarist Calum Baird has only had one rehearsal with Attila before the show, but the two synch together really well. Calum provides a steady backdrop, varying his pitch and timing to suit the various anachronistic sounds that issue from Attila’s repertoire.
This isn’t just a demonstration of old musical instruments. It is a story of early British history, the politics of which have a striking similarity to what is going on around us right now. In this sense, the show is a beautiful way to create a platform which considers our modern dilemmas. Of course, there are resonances with the punk era too. The rise of the working class, the birth of socialism and the shocking rise of right-wing ideologies are all considered. The wealthy privileged are not let off the hook either.
The hour flies by. More than once, I look around the room at the scene before me. It is truly wonderful. A 70’s rant poet is playing 17th-century instruments and performing original songs and stories that cut to the quick of modern politics. Most important of all, it is relatable and thoroughly enjoyable.
Regardless of our reasons for arriving at the beautiful St Cecilia Hall, or our political persuasion, it feels like we have all taken something away. Throughout the performance, I watched the faces of the audience with interest. At the beginning of the show, there were intrigued looks, bemused looks and the odd smirk. By the end, all I saw was a sea of happy faces.
Today, I learned that a performer with a genuine passion for something they genuinely love can unite a room from opposite polar backgrounds. That a man who has spent nearly 40 years performing rant poetry, can comfortably slip into a new version of himself that radiates and inspires. Regardless of what you think you know about Attila, The Stockbroker, there is more to be enjoyed from a side of him that is currently finding its voice.
Check out Attila’s music project with his band Barnstormer 1649
You can find Attila’s Website here: http://www.attilathestockbroker.com/