“Ey-oop, Nick. ‘Ow’s thee’n’thine?”
It’s 1984 and this is the standard greeting I get from Obesa, the Barnsley bard, as he walks into The Bierkellar, the Leeds venue in which I run a weekly punk night. I’m on the door, collecting the money. It’s two quid entry every Wednesday, one pound fifty for the unwaged. For this they get three or more bands plus a DJ who plays discs and demo tapes.
Obesa’s a regular, rigged out in regulation black leather jacket replete with a selection of band names painted on in white and clusters of lapel badges. His legs are wedged into skin-tight blue jeans ripped at the knee. His sweating feet fit neatly laced into black Doc Marten boots.
A stocky figure, he’ll sometimes take the stage between bands and scream a stream of hard-core smash-the-system anarcho-poems into the mic. Most of the other regulars know him. His poems go down well and I always give him a few quid as a fee. He and some of the support bands would do these gigs for free, but I always pay performers, even if it means I lose money on the night. Having struggled to make a living as a performer for more than ten years, I’ve made it a rule to pay every performer who works for me, even if I can only afford a token fee.
A quarter-century later, in the pages of Ian Glasper’s detailed history of early eighties anarcho-punk, The Day The Country Died, I discover that Obesa’s real name is Karl Gallear and that he was the original lead singer with Kulturkampf, a short lived Barnsley punk outfit that formed in 1983, gigged sporadically, and disbanded in 1984.
They recorded two demo tapes but only released one track, on a compilation album called We Won’t Be Your Fucking Poor which came out on the Mortarhate label in 1986. That was the label run by Colin Jerwood who fronted the band Conflict. I had a track on that album too. Karl, however, only lasted in the band for their first couple of gigs before being replaced due to what bassist Paul Kirkwood describes as ‘a misdemeanour’. Deprived of a band, he became solo performer Obesa The Poet.
There was an extensive underground literature that went with the scene. Hunt saboteurs, anti-nuke campaigners, animal liberationists, anti-fascists and anarcho-activists all distributed leaflets. Local fanzines included Raising Hell which was 10p a copy from Leeds punk Sik’o’War who edited and published it. His mate, James Brown, also from Leeds, produced a photocopied fanzine, Attack on Bzag, and would go on to found lads’ mag Loaded and then to edit GQ. Bradford ranting poet, Seething Wells, produced another of these zines, Molotov Comics. All are now collectors’ items, with copies copping for silly prices on ebay.
And it was because of the ready market for this cheaply-produced literature that I suggested to Obesa that he ought to produce a booklet of his own. “’Ow’d y’mean, Nick?” he asked.
“Put some of those poems you’ve written into a booklet and sell them at gigs,” I said. “You could get a hundred copies run off for about five pence each and sell them for ten, that way you’d make back whatever it cost you to get to your gigs.”
He looked puzzled for a moment before saying “They’re not me poems. I ‘aven’t written ‘em. Me mum writes ‘em all fer us.”
I have this mental picture of a middle-aged mum in Barnsley, doing the ironing while thinking up poems for her son to scream about seizing the city, lobbing bricks at the cops, burning down KFC, raiding factory farms, squatting vacant buildings, overthrowing governments, scrapping weaponry and hanging the monarchy.
“Ey-oop”, Barnsley mum, “’Ere’s to the poems wot tha wrote fer thine”.