Garry Bushell. THE STORY OF OI! To the establishment, Oi was an upstart from a tower block slum who wouldn't keep in line. He was raucous and obnoxious, a human hand- grenade with a menacing disregard for authority. At best, Oi bands and their fans were viewed as gurning barbarians gleefully pissing in the coffee house latte. At worst, they were seen as modern day brown shirts responsible for the riots in Southall, Toxteth and the rest. Either way, Oi was too hot to handle.
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To the fast- talking wide- boys who adopted its name however, Oi was something else entirely. Stripped down to basics, it was about being young, working class and not taking shit from anybody. It was anti- police, anti- authority but pro- Britain too. A lot of the Oi kids liked a fight, and yeah, this is no whitewash, there was a far right element among them but this was 1. It would have been a miracle if there hadn't been NF sympathisers in the audiences. What matters is 1) Oi never suffered from Nazi violence the way Sham 6.
Tone had; the ag that blemished those early Oi! Oi's legacy is a world- wide street- punk movement which is vocally pro- working class and against racism, unemployment, state bureaucracy and repression. Discovered in the summer of '8. Oi found itself on the sharp end of the sort of tabloid crucifixion usually reserved for the more macabre mass murderers. Corrupting its meaning, the same media immediately tried to bury it. Inevitably their version of events was as watertight as a kitchen colander in a tropical monsoon. They said Oi was for skinheads (but it was always more than that), that all skins were Nazis (and only a minority ever were) and that therefore Oi was the Strasser brothers in steel- capped boots (but the bands were either socialists or cynics..
For starters Oi was the reality of Punk and Sham mythology. Punk exploded between 1. The album charts were full of po- faced synthesizer twiddlers and pretentious singers belting out meaningless pseudo- poetic lyrics. Punk seemed different. It was raw, brutal and utterly down to earth. Punk sold itself as the voice of the tower blocks.
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Most of the forerunners were middle- class art students. The great Joe Strummer, whose dad was a diplomat, flirted with stale old Stalinism and sang about white riots while living in a white mansion. Malcolm Mc. Laren and Vivienne Westwood tried to intellectualise punk by dressing it up in half- inched Situationist ideas, all the better to flog their over- priced produce to mug punters. Sham 6. 9, from Surrey, were the first band to capture the growing mood of disillusionment. Street punks were disgusted both by the proliferation of phoneys and posers and the Kings Road conmen with their rip- off boutiques.
But how much did Sham's Jimmy Pursey really know about borstals, football and dole queues, and how much was he feeding off the people around him? The Last Resort's Millwall Roi might have overstated the case but he summed up a common attitude when he wrote 'I wish it was the weekend everyday/But Jimmy Pursey didn't get his way/He liked to drink but he didn't like to fight/He didn't get his fucking homework right.'Cockney cowboys? As Julie Burchill once observed: . The forerunners of Oi! 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 1. 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 . The Upstarts got the last laugh though when in April '7. Prison Chaplain into inviting them to play a gig at Northumbria's Acklington Prison (where ironically Keith Bell had finished his last sentence).
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'. 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 '7. Teenage Warning' single and album. The Cockney Rejects were also the real deal, this time the sons of dockers from London's East End, but their music wasn't political. Thirty years of lame Labour local government had stripped them of any world view except cynicism.
Their songs were about East End life, boozers, battles, police harassment and football. I met them first in May '7. Two cocky urchins adorned in West Ham badges bowled into my boozer spieling back- slang and thrust their tatty demo tapes into my hand.
Like them it was rough, ready and suffused with more spirit than Mystic Challenge. I put them in touch with Pursey who produced their first demo tape. These songs re- emerged as the Small Wonder debut ep 'Flares & Slippers' which included the essential guttersnipe anthem 'Police Car' ('I like punk and I like Sham . It sold surprising well and earned them the NME epithet of the ! Both had been good boxers . They had little trouble transferring their belt onto vinyl. The Rejects' story began in the summer of '7.
Mickey was first inspired to pick up a plectrum by the Pistols' 'God Save The Queen'. Incubating in back garden performances in their native Canning Town as The Shitters, the Rejects only emerged as a real group after council painter Mickey recruited twenty- one- year Vince Riordan as bassist in 1. Previously a Sham roadie, Vince (whose uncle was Jack 'The Hat' Mc. Vitie) had marked time with loser band the Dead Flowers before he heard the Cockney call. Drummers were to come and go with the regularity of a high- fibre diet until Stix transferred from the Upstarts in 1.
Live, the band hit like a mob of rampaging rhinos, with Mickey's sledgehammer guitar the cornerstone of their tough, tuneful onslaught. Schoolboy Stinky was a sight for sore eyes too, screwing up his visage into veritable orgies of ugliness, and straining his tonsils to holler vocals best likened to a right evil racket. I was the Rejects' first manager .
After that, I bowed out to let a man I assumed was a pro take over. He was Pursey's manager Tony Gordon, who went on to handle Boy George (in the management sense). So little was money my motivation, that my price for signing the band over was a . In retrospect Gordon was bad for the band.
They really needed a Peter Grant figure, someone tougher and smarter than they were, to keep their energies channelled in a more umm, artistic direction. Under Tony Gordon, the Rejects's career soared briefly then crashed and burned. After getting evicted from Polydor's studios for running up a damages bill of . Their second EMI single 'Bad Man' was superb, like Pi.
L on steroids, but it only made the fag end of the charts. Their next release, a piss- take of Sham called 'The Greatest Cockney Rip- Off' did better, denting the Top 3. Their debut album 'Greatest Hits Vol 1' did the same, notching up over 6. Unlike the Upstarts', the Rejects' first following wasn't largely skinhead; in fact at first skins didn't like them.