27 April 2012 (gig)
16 May 2012
The Koko played host to the screening of East End Babylon, a fascinating and no holds barred rockumentary about East End born hellraisers, the Cockney Rejects.
Director Richard England (the executive producer behind Julien Temple’s Oil City Confidential) looks at London’s East End via a journey spanning over a hundred years, from the docks to the bombs of WW2, from football to boxing, and from aggression and desperation to punk music.
Above all, East End Babylon tells how this impoverished place gave birth to one of the most ferocious street-punk bands that ever lived - the Cockney Rejects.
Using archive footage and interviews, director England re-traces a culture and a way of life that is now all but extinct. At the same time, this is just as much the story of three dead end kids whose natural habitat included smoky boxing clubs and piss stained boozers and whose band would be the last word in rock n roll savagery. With their ‘take no shit’ stance and generally misunderstood by rock elite and media alike, the Rejects were truly a one of a kind band – combining punk n roll with football.
During the course of the film (Rejects guitarist Mick Geggus took on the role of executive producer), we follow the band and its road crew of West Ham’s infamous ICF hooligans as they take their furious brand of music on the road, resulting in running battles with National Front Nazis, rival football firms and legendary Top of the Pops performances - all culminating in the vicious and notorious ‘battle of Birmingham’ which finished the band as a touring unit. But all’s well that ends well and we also witness the redemption as the Cockney Rejects, now a worldwide cult who’s music has influenced some of the biggest bands on the planet, play to hundreds of thousands of people all over the globe, uniting kids from all backgrounds with their particular brand of rock and football.
Talk about redemption: after the screening and a brief break, the sound of a WW2 air raid siren alerted punters that, no, not German bombs but the Rejects were ready to blitz the stage with their presence and noise. With much cheering and the obligatory ‘Oi Oi Oi’ yell, the crowd welcomed brothers Jeff and Mick Geggus, as well as Tony Van Frater on bass and Nobby Cobb on drums. Picking up where the sound of air raid sirens had left off, the Rejects wasted little time with the usual “hello all and good to see ya” greetings and instead blasted straight into ‘Your Country Needs You’. Considering that the majority of the audience consisted of very tough-looking punk and skinhead types, the song’s title left me with a slightly bitter aftertaste. Still, the whipping beat and punchy rhythm made for a great opening number.
Next came ‘East End’ and ‘We Can Do Anything’, true words indeed from singer Jeff’s mouth! Sporting a tweed cap that contrasted with Mick’s Box Nation baseball cap, the aggressive punk sound was further emphasized by Jeff’s mock boxing moves. Fans and guests (amongst them former Sounds writer Garry Bushell) got into the spirit of things during ‘Power And Glory’. While scenes in the upper balconies were relatively civilized, it was a different picture down in the pit – albeit less hard-hitting than high spitting! Yours truly wasn’t too pleased getting drenched in lager while snapping away in the photo pen; neither was director English so I was told.
Plenty of pogo-dancing went on during the band’s best loved songs like ‘Babylon’, ‘Join The Rejects’ and ‘On The Streets’ and reached fever pitch during ‘Police Car’ and ‘War On The Terraces’.
Fans got what they were waiting for with ‘I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles’ (the Rejects cover version of the West Ham supporters song), and ‘The Greatest Cockney Rip-Off’ – a send-up of Sham 69’s ‘Hersham Boys’. There was no end to the band’s energy on stage; the performance was as animated as the songs were fierce.
After ‘Flares N Slippers’ (their first demo) came the evening’s crowning glory, the ultimate Cockney Rejects anthem ‘Oi, Oi, Oi!’ - with everyone joining in fast and loud:
“Hear that cry throughout the streets, we know just what it means
And even to the ignorant, it ain't what it seems
Through every shitty backstreet, the kids are all around
They all come and join the firm, cause they know that sound
They all try to ignore us, but we won't let 'em win
The wankers try to put us down, but we will smash them in
Cause we all say, that they're full of shit.
“I'm running down the back street
Oi! Oi! Oi!
I'm running and I'm free
Oi! Oi! Oi!
Cause we all know that's the sound of the streets.
I'm running down a back street
Oi! Oi! Oi!
Dr. Martens on our feet
Oi! Oi! Oi!
And you're all running down a back street with me.”
The premiere of East End Babylon and the Rejects’ live gig evoked the old spirit of anarchy and punk – if only for a few hours. On my way home (still drenched and reeking of lager) two punks of a certain age sat next to me on the bus, re-playing the recorded gig on their iPhones and yelling ‘Oi Oi Oi’. How times have changed. Back in the day, no self-respecting punk would have used an iPhone even if it were available.