Why did it take me thirty years to get around to buying this thing? I suppose because I thought it was fucking stupid - four Cockney gibbons jumping up and down oo-oo-oohing to a Sham 69 b-side, and not even one of the good ones. This was the impression I picked up from reading Garry Bushell's gushing praise week after week in Sounds, most of which was additionally concerned with impressing upon me that the Cockney Rejects would kick my head in should they ever encounter me walking down the street. They would immediately recognise me as middle class because I read books, still addressed my mother as mummy despite being fifteen years of age, didn't like sport, did like art, and was terrified of the hard kids at school; and having identified me as Lord Ponsonby-Fortescue-Smythe III, the Cockney Rejects would kick my fucking head in and then go to a football match or summink.
Of course, I've since come to recognise this classification of the working classes as violent gorillas who can't read and who spend most of their spare time burping the national anthem as a romantic misconception perpetrated largely by grammar school poshos like Bushell, but I wish someone had told me sooner. I always liked Sham 69 - who were obviously something of an inspiration to the Cockney Rejects - but I somehow felt Stinky and the boys were just a little too far in the wrong direction. Whilst I never mistook the whole Oi! thing for anything inherently racist - as has often been claimed - there was doubtless some of that element in there just as Sham 69 experienced problems with a far-right bonehead following they couldn't seem to shake, and if nothing else, Oi! always seemed kind of slow to refute its jackbooted reputation, at least generally speaking.
Nevertheless, with regard to hooligan credentials, I've probably worked with postmen at least as mental as any of the Rejects ever were; and as you get older you begin to see through certain social constructs, like the notion that any expression of working class culture still waiting for a retrospective at the ICA is probably in bed with the National Front. It's all bollocks, as should be obvious from these comments by Mick Geggus I've nicked from Louder Than War:
When I heard that Channel Four had used a section of Oi Oi Oi in a programme including themes of racism, I was so angry I nearly choked... If the privileged, middle class twats had even bothered to listen to the lyrics, they would know that the kids they come from everywhere, the east end’s all around means exactly that - a rallying call to kids across the globe, from Athens to Zanzibar... My band and I have fought narrow minded people from both sides of the political divide for over three decades now, and we have the scars to prove it.
Further evidence can be found on YouTube, should it be needed, not least a particularly satisfying clip of Jeff Turner going postal on sieg heiling fuck-trumpets at a gig back in 2014; which I guess leaves us with just the music.
One thing Bushell got right was this album having that same explosive energy as Never Mind the Bollocks, or whatever it was he said. For some reason I've come to think of Oi! as a sort of 90MPH cement-mixer version of punk - verse, chorus, verse, chorus, verse, chorus and it's over, with more or less every line being yap-yap-yap bark-bark-bark yap-yap-yap (pause for a single beat) Oi!
I don't know how I got this impression.
Some of it's like that, but not the good stuff, and not on this record. Mostly the sound is loud and lively, but still sharp and clear as a cut-throat razor; and the tunes are even poppy once you get past the brick wall of noise, and surprisingly happy too. Of course, as you might gather, there's some righteous class anger on here, but it's a pumped up adrenaline fuelled anger. It leaves you feeling good, and even with all the fists flying and dispensation of good-natured violence, there's a friendly quality to the whole enterprise. This record was speaking for an entire terminally marginalised culture, and the sheer camaraderie is irresistible, once you realise that these guys aren't the enemy, and they never were the enemy.
Like I say, I wish someone had told me sooner.