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David Rovics & Attila the Stockbroker gig

Salman Shaheen


I discovered leftist American folk singer David Rovics almost a year ago now, and have been thoroughly enjoying his music ever since. There’s no doubt about it, Rovics is simply a great musician, and one who has managed to succeed where so many have failed, in turning what is essentially a political manifesto, into some very ear pleasing songs. I’d describe him as the Dylan of our age, only Rovics can actually sing! Was that a bit controversial? Well imagine my excitement when I heard that David Rovics would be playing at a small café venue in sleepy little Cambridge, and supporting none other than the brilliant punk poet Attila the Stockbroker. That was me sold.


The night, as I knew it would be, was extremely entertaining, with perhaps only one downer to it. I’ve probably been reading too many of Jim Jepps’ reviews, so in like fashion I’m going to get all the grumpiness out first. The supporting act was appalling. There, I said it, you were rubbish mate! Of course everyone clapped out of politeness, but really, if I’d had a tomato to hand, it wouldn’t have stayed in my hand for very long! As I said before, one of Rovics’ great strengths is his ability to pull off performing a manifesto within a set of very beautifully performed, lyrically advanced and emotionally moving songs. The first guy on stage can be noted for his lack of this ability. His songs were overstretched and tedious and he lacked any stage presence or charisma. Fair play to the guy for wanting to express his admirably left wing political values through the medium of song, but he would have been much better placed to write them in an essay; as that’s pretty much what his songs were. To be fair to the guy, I did like his reference to middle England as ‘walking with dinosaurs’. But when he told us that a Velocerapter stole his tractor, I was left hoping it would come back for him sometime soon.


The rest of the night, which thankfully went rapidly uphill from there, was split into two halves, with Rovics and Attila doing one set in each half. Although I mainly went to see Rovics, I found myself equally impressed by Attila. If there was one word I could use to describe his performance, it would be charismatic. The audience was won over to him from his first word, right through to his closing sentiments. From the angry and the political, through the comically satirical to the outright, no punches pulled ‘Eminem, I think you’re a twat’ (I paraphrase of course) Attila never once missed a step. Hilarious as he was as MC Attila, he actually managed to pull off poetry in rap very well. Attila also has a rare gift in his ability to keep an audience awake during a poetry reading without the use of illegal stimulants. I can see Attila being an inspiration to my own work.


And now the reason why I was there in the first place, David Rovics. What can I say? He was brilliant. He was everything I hoped he would be. I only wish he had a microphone, so that I could sing along to my favourite songs without everyone else knowing how tone deaf I really am! Some of his songs were angry, others were heart warming, but most left you feeling a certain sadness. Rovics really makes you feel for the protagonists, and his regular use of the first person gives you the sense that they are a lot closer to home than the far off battlefields he sings of. Many of his songs are indeed very empathetic. Listening to them, I often find myself wishing there were another verse at the end, one where there might be a happier ending, but alas, often they are as bleak as the real world. Thankfully, however, he would end on a positive note. With a call for everyone in the room to make their way to Gleneagles to protest at the G8 summit, he sang one of his most uplifting songs; ‘After the revolution’. Ever optimistic, yet wise to its own naivety, the song can’t help make you smile. Smiling alone might not save the world, but it’s better than giving up!


Speaking to Rovics after the gig, he seemed a very down to earth guy. I hear Reuben managed to catch up with him at his anti-G8 gig, so keep an eye out for an interview with David Rovics in Counter Blasts coming soon. In the meantime, you can visit his website, where all his music is free to download and distribute. What a class act!


July 2005


For Socialist Unity ~ For Internationalism ~ For Peace ~ For Justice ~ For Unity ~ For Socialism