Angelic Upstarts – Small Wonder / Rough Trade Records – 1978

The Murder Of Liddle Towers

Police Oppression

Debut 7″ single by Angelic Upstarts re-released by London based Small Wonder and Rough Trade Records (working in partnership) a few months after the original North East based Dead Records release had sold out and several months before the band were riding high in the Top 40 with the second 7″ single ‘I’m An Upstart’ .

This track was mentioned in the comments of another post recently so for the folk that mentioned this classic track, here you are…

Text courtesy of Tony Puppy’s fellow muso journo at ‘Sounds’ weekly music paper, Gary Bushell.

Singer Tommy ‘Mensi’ Mensforth and guitarist Ray Cowie, known as Mond, formed the Upstarts in the summer of ’77 after getting blown away by the Clash’s White Riot tour. Childhood mates, they had grown up together on the Brockley Whinns council estate in South Shields and later attended Stanhope Road Secondary Modern school (Mensi got expelled from the local grammar school at thirteen for delinquency.)

Mensi worked as an apprentice miner after leaving school. Forming the band at 19 was his escape route from the pits. Mond worked as a shipyard electrician right up until their first hit. The Upstarts’ original drummer and bassist quit after violent crowd reactions to their first gig in nearby Jarrow, to be replaced by bakery worker Stix and bricklayer Steve Forsten respectively. The band were also soon to recruit the services of Keith Bell, a self-confessed former gangster and one-time North Eastern Countries light-middleweight boxing champ, who as manager, bouncer and bodyguard was able to maintain order at early gigs on the basis of his reputation alone.

The Upstarts soon attracted the attention of the Northumbria Police Force, who haunted the band’s early career like a malignant poltergeist. Police interest stemmed from the Upstarts’ championing of the cause of Birtley amateur boxer Liddle Towers who died from injuries received after a night in the police cells. The inquest called it ‘justifiable homicide’. The Upstarts called it murder, and ‘The Murder of Liddle Towers’ (b/w ‘Police Oppression’) was their debut single on their own Dead Records. Later re-pressed by Rough Trade, the song’s brutal passion was well received even by music press pseuds, although not by the Old Bill who infiltrated gigs in plain clothes. Charges of incitement to violence were considered. Only the Upstarts’ mounting press coverage dissuaded them. For their part the band were uncompromising. They appeared on the front cover of the Socialist Workers Party’s youth magazine Rebel soon after and accused their area police of being largely National Front sympathisers.

Official police action might have been dropped but unofficial harassment continued unabated. Mensi claimed he was constantly followed and frequently stopped, searched and abused by individual officers. The band blamed unofficial police pressure for getting them banned from virtually every gig in the North East of England – via the promise of raids, prosecution for petty rule breaking, opposing licence renewals and so on. The Upstarts got the last laugh though when in April ’79 they conned a Prison Chaplain into inviting them to play a gig at Northumbria’s Acklington Prison (where ironically Keith Bell had finished his last sentence). 150 cons turned up to see a union jack embellished with the words ‘Upstarts Army’, a clenched fist, the motto ‘Smash Law And Order’ and a pig in a helmet entitled ‘PC Fuck Pig’. The band hadn’t managed to smuggle in a ‘real’ pig’s head (they usually smashed one up on stage) but the cons revelled merrily in the wham-bam wallop of rebel anthems like ‘Police Oppression’, ‘We Are The People’ (about police corruption), and a specially amended version of ‘Borstal Breakout’ retitled ‘Acklington Breakout’.

The Daily Mirror splashed with ‘Punks Rock A Jailhouse’ (wrongly identifying me as the band’s spokesman.) The Prison Governor and local Tories did their nuts, with Tynemouth MP, the appropriately named Neville Trotter, condemning the gig as ‘an incredibly stupid thing to allow’. Only Socialist Worker printed a true record of the gig, quoting Mensi telling prisoners they’d be better off in nick if Thatcher got elected that summer, and urging punks to vote Labour as ‘Thatcher’s government will destroy the trade union movement’. (In reality Mensi’s brand sub-Scargill patriotic socialism was far removed from the SWP’s revised Trotsky-lite posturing).

The band’s salty populism and savage post-Sham punk attracted a massive following of working class kids in the North East, the self-styled Upstarts Army, while the power of their debut single convinced Jimmy Pursey to form his JP label with Polydor. The Upstarts were the label’s first signing and also their first sacking after a jumped-up Polydor security guard tried to push the band about. He took on Mensi in a one against one fight and went down like the Belgrano. Polydor dropped the band. They never bothered to ask for Mensi’s side of the story. Soon after the Upstarts signed with Warner Brothers. Their second single, the Pursey produced ‘I’m An Upstart’, was released in April ’79, charted, and was chased hard by the ‘Teenage Warning’ single and album

  1. Sam
    April 21, 2009 at 3:19 am

    The first photo serves to remind me how flabby we all were (whilst being skinny). Anyone who routinely takes their shirt off onstage these days will be sure to be buff and Adonis-like.

  2. Carl
    April 21, 2009 at 9:04 am

    Its years since I read anything by Bushell, but he was full of it, wasn’t he? lines like “went down like the Belgrano”. It seemed to pepper his “work”, for want of a better word…but I’d guess that at the time he was probably the most read of the music writers and most influential…

    I always preferred that Tony D bloke myself !!!!

  3. luggy
    April 21, 2009 at 9:55 am

    Great live band until it got too dangerous going to see them. Still got the scar on my head from the last time that I saw them!

  4. Carl
    April 21, 2009 at 3:34 pm

    A delightful memory to carry through the years…Luggy !!!

  5. dan i
    dan i
    April 21, 2009 at 6:53 pm

    I thought the Upstarts were great, but I agree with Carl about Bushell – hard to believe he used to churn this kind of pap out week after week. How many bands suffered from his publicity efforts – I am sure the Angelic Upstarts did. Very fond memories of seeing them at the 100 Club in 198wheneveritwas…

  6. Farmer Glitch
    Farmer Glitch
    April 21, 2009 at 7:06 pm

    Saw them at the much missed Nashville Pub late 70s I suppose – who knows – The Wall supporting (now there was a good band) – gig abandoned after 2nd or so Upstarts song due to punter losing an ear in a knife and flesh incident … !! How we partied back in the day …!!

  7. shammyleather
    April 21, 2009 at 8:43 pm

    Rough and ready live, I used to get the ferry over to South Shields to see them at ‘Bollingbroke hall’ there was always a few police vans parked further down the street.They couldn’t play anywhere around Newcastle a blanket ban was placed upon them, though even when they did put on a gig at short notice, as one time I travelled to Sunderland, it was called off 2 hours before hand by threats from the police. It’s funny that they were a local punk band but because they were ‘banned’ only a few who saw them live recognized them, for instance I was at a Stiff little Fingers gig/riot at the Guildhall in Newcastle and the place was chock full of punks and there was Mensi on his own and not one punk recognized him. I was talking to him and he was telling me they had just got a deal with Warner Brothers and the album would be coming out in the near future. They were to this day the best live band I ever saw at those early gigs.

  8. luggy
    April 21, 2009 at 10:00 pm

    It was outside a gig at the Nashville that I got attacked by a gang of teenage skins armed with lumps of wood. The Upstarts were doing a weekly residency there. Each week more & more brainless boneheads turned up. Their audiences in London changed really quickly to ones where it was just too risky to go to see them.

  9. Carl
    April 23, 2009 at 4:04 pm

    Like I said, Luggy…a delightful memory !!!!

  10. devotionalhooligan
    April 26, 2009 at 1:11 pm

    I saw them once or maybe twice over in south shields too… and later Mensi would always turn up at blaggers gigs… going to see certain bands in and around newcastle would mean a guaranteed kicking from the Sham army skins. The apostles had their gear nicked at one such gig.

  11. John No Last Name
    John No Last Name
    April 26, 2009 at 6:00 pm

    I loved this band until I saw them live, the reality of a sea of seig heiling skinheads was not one of my fondest memories and then the tube train home was always like something out of 28 days later. Crazy times, but inexplicably something about the memory makes me smile, though I’m sure it’s only because I somehow managed to escape any real violence. Great adreneline rush though!

    I must admit. It’s funny thinking back to all the violence at shows and not reflecting about what the hell everyone was thinking. To put it in perspective people got stabbed over liking Martian Dance more than 4th Reich, wtf???

  12. chris
    April 28, 2009 at 11:04 am

    Jesus! “Sham army skins” still around in the 80s and 90s?

    Isn’t that like teddy boys who refuse to believe Elvis is dead?

  13. andus
    April 28, 2009 at 1:53 pm

    Elvis is not dead.

    December 11, 2021 at 1:14 pm

    Knew these boys when we met up at a punk club in Whitley bay in 1977 (Gatbsy’s) and supported them (as emergency exit) a few times in their early days at the old 29 in Sunderland and Bolingbroke hall – Steve forsten left us to join them (good choice Steve !) and many many happy memories of these boys…..decca wade, one of the most incredible drummers, mond cowie – the steve jones of the north east and of course the enignmatic and wonderful mensi… my time i’ve roadied for the clash and joy division, seen the pistols, met loads of my “heroes” and heard some incredible music…..but when this track starts up i still get hairs on the back of my neck….. RIP you fucking genius Mensi -x- gonna miss you

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