Still Crazy after All These Years

Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England), March 23, 2006 | Go to article overview

Still Crazy after All These Years


Byline: By Jennifer Bradbury

It's 30 years since punk spat and snarled its way into the national consciousness. In the first of a two-part series, Jennifer Bradbury talks to North East punks who have survived the passing of time. Today it's the turn of controversial South Shields outfit the Angelic Upstarts

I defy anyone to reach the notes that Vera Lynn does," roars an animated Mensi as he gets on to his high horse on the subject of who are the best singers.

Well, I don't fancy defying him. Mensi's a massive bloke, solidly built, sporting a shaved head and earring. He's also got presence. Not a man you'd want to mess with.

"People are always asking me about punk music but I don't know anything about it," he adds. "It's basically rubbish. Now that Andy Williams, he could sing."

We're sitting in a pub in Jarrow. Mensi's sipping on a pint of cola, while bandmate Decca's on to his third pint of lager and what must be his 30th tab.

It's a surreal encounter. Here's Mensi, the main man behind the South Shields-based punk outfit Angelic Upstarts, a fanatical Sunderland FC fan (the top's a giveaway) and he's gushing on about singers who wouldn't, not publicly anyway, give the punk movement the time of day. He's also a grandad who is about to turn 50.

Remember this is the man whose most famous stage stunt involved kicking the head of a dead pig wearing a policeman's helmet. Now he's middle-aged, with 13 children and four grandchildren. The result, he says, of his rock and roll lifestyle.

Time has moved on and the man who was inspired to start his own band after listening to the anarchic tunes created by the Sex Pistols and The Clash has moved with it, albeit on his terms.

Mensi (Thomas Mensforth, for long) is old enough, big enough and wise enough to say what he thinks.

And if you believe the band's drummer Decca (Derek Wade), Mensi's always been a wise one.

"If John Lennon had written England it would've been a classic. But because Mensi wrote it....." Decca trails off.

It's the same old story as far as he's concerned. Mensi never got the recognition he deserved for his songwriting because he was in the Angelic Upstarts and with that came the inevitable baggage. Controversy has dogged them for three decades.

Before Mensi arrives at the bar I spend time with Decca, who now lives above the pub. He's the physical opposite to Mensi ( small, wiry, with bleached spiky hair. But Mensi's the man in Decca's book. It was Mensi who brought the Upstarts together.

"We saw the Clash at Newcastle Mayfair and Mensi decided to form a band," says Decca, now 49, a dad of four, and a grandad to boot. A dreamy look comes over him. It's hard to say whether that's caused by the memories flooding back or the alcohol taking hold.

"Despite the fact that Mensi can't sing, he writes a mean tune," says Decca proudly.

Meanwhile Mensi, currently in Russia with his 24-year-old internet girlfriend, reckons the best ever gig he went to was meeting Arthur Scargill. "No doubt about it," he shouts down his mobile. "Best gig ever. He was superb."

It's no surprise that Mensi was an admirer of the National Union of Miners' boss. Before embarking on a career in music, Mensi was a pitman at the former Westoe Colliery in South Shields. He went to the local grammar school but like many working class lads when it came to choosing a career, he followed his dad.

At the same time, childhood pal Decca was also following in his father's footsteps, enrolling as an apprentice boilermaker at Swan Hunter in Wallsend.

But Decca didn't last long, although he did complete his apprenticeship. He was playing in bands and learning his trade when his gaffer at Swans asked him to choose. The shipyards or music. "I said I loved the glamour of the shipyards and he gave me my cards. So I followed Mensi down the pits. …

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