Inspired by The Clash, Angelic Upstarts formed in Brockley Whins, South Shields, South Tyneside in 1977. The following year they self-released their debut single, “The Murder of Liddle Towers/Police Oppression”, and recorded the first of three Peel Sessions. In 1979, aided by Jimmy Pursey, they signed to major label Warner Bros Records for two albums: Teenage Warning (produced by Pursey) and We Gotta Get Out of This Place; the first and its title track were both Top 30 hits. The same year, the band made tabloid headlines following a gig in HM Prison Acklington, and also played on Rock Against Racism’s ‘Militant Entertainment’ tour.
Two Upstarts tracks including 1980 single “Last Night Another Soldier” were included on the same year’s various artists compilation Oi! The Album, beginning the band’s association with the Oi! subgenre, a label which singer Mensi later rejected. In 1981 the band signed to EMI’s revived Zonophone imprint for three further albums: 2,000,000 Voices and Angelic Upstarts Live in 1981 – top 40/Top 30 hits respectively – and Still from the Heart in 1982. According to Louder Than War, 2,000,000 Voices is “full of variety while giving up none of their energy, drive and honesty.. it was the perfect record for the Upstarts and the era. Still retaining the Punk might, but working in Reggae and Folk influences, presenting a band perfectly in tune with the turbulent times of 1981”. Still From The Heart saw the group embrace “a larger sonic palette. Tentative new wave influences, inflections of dub, and expressive horn sections are all over the album”.
In 1983 the band released the first in a series of independent albums, Reason Why?, “the strongest Angelic Upstarts record”, which included the “Woman in Disguise” single, described by Allmusic as “perfect pop”. Last Tango in Moscow followed in 1984, described by the Sunderland Echo as “another strong album”, by which time Mensi was the band’s only original member. Angelic Upstarts’ next album Power of the Press (1986) was re-released in the US the following year, renamed for the inclusion of 1985’s Brighton Bomb single. The Blood on the Terraces album followed in 1987.
Due to their anti-fascist stance and subsequent support of Anti-Fascist Action, the band were targeted by the neo-nazi Blood & Honour group, and their set at 1988 concert ‘Oi! The Main Event’ had to be abandoned due to crowd violence, although songs were included on the eponymous tie-in live album on Link Records as well as later Upstarts compilation Lost and Found. Despite far-right claims to the contrary, Angelic Upstarts were gigging in London again within a year.
Bombed Out (1992) was the band’s last album for a decade, featuring original guitarist Mond and hailed as a return to form. Mensi formed a new Upstarts line-up for 2002’s Sons of Spartacus with members of Red Alert, Red London and Leatherface. In 2006-7 Mensi briefly left the band, with Chris Wright of Crashed Out taking over vocal duties, although the return of Decca Wade on drums meant that the band retained an original member; in 2011 the band released a split album with Crashed Out, The Dirty Dozen. 2016 saw a new Angelic Upstarts line-up release what was to become their final studio album, Bullingdon Bastards.