Cadiz Music (label)
17 June 2013 (released)
17 June 2013
This no holds barred rockumentary about the original and best punk misfits of them all – The Cockney Rejects – is told through the eyes of the band. For the Rejects, there were only three ways out of the East End: football, boxing, and rock ‘n’ roll… Oi, oi, oi!
Directed by Richard England, who was the executive producer on Julien Temple’s much-praised music-docu Oil City Confidential (about legendary pub rock band Dr. Feelgood), East End Babylon is as fascinating as it is disturbing. Director England cleverly strung together a film that is comprised of archive footage, interviews, Temple-style animation, and of course, a story told by the band itself.
Old photos and footage of the East End docklands, as well as Canning Town (the place that would shape Jeff and Mick Geggus’ upbringing) transport the viewer back to a time still engraved in the memory of many. Immediately we get an idea of the roughness and toughness of this part of London. Worsened by the destruction through the bombs of WW2, and the resulting stance of ‘survival of the fittest’, it’s little wonder that the Geggus brothers displayed a ‘take no shit’ attitude from an early age. Video clips and photos from the brother’s early life, as well as a grand tour of the house they were born in (and it was a big family) provide an intimate insight of the Geggus family. The mood shifts between sentiment, humour, and a hardship our generation would struggle to grasp. Add the fact that robberies and all sorts of other criminal activity seemed as common as eel pie & mash in those days, it becomes clear that this particular corner of London offered few opportunities other than taking the straight route, or the crooked route. Or the musical route…
As guitarist Mick jokingly explains when he invites the film crew to the back garden of the house: “We invented punk music… During our adolescence, Jeff and I started banging on buckets.” Additional interviews with mom Jean (dad passed away in 1995) confirm that of all the siblings, Jeff and Mick possessed a particular passion for music. As Mick remarks, “Music was ever so important to us, it really was. We were brought up on a strict diet of TOTP.”
Further footage reveals the brothers passion for boxing (in particular Jeff aka ‘Stinky Turner’) and we even get to see the Peacock Boxing Club where the sweat-drenched training began. Forward a couple of years, and it wasn’t only the increasing strikes that shook the foundation of their turf, but the looming punk movement in general. Mick and Jeff, who were always incredibly close and “watched out for each others back”, had aspirations to join in the mayhem, but, as Jeff confesses “I had as much talent as the chair across the room, and I was useless even at drumming!” Clips of the aforementioned TOTP program depict a hit parade full of sexually ambiguous stars (Bowie, Bolan, Roxie Music) and oddball acts such The Sweet’s Steve Priest, or Peter Gabriel performing in a flower costume. Jeff Geggus: “David Coverdale kept going on about having his heart broken. I didn’t know what the f**k he was on about… As a kid, I had my f***ing heart broken every week on a West Ham football field!”
Not being disencouraged by this parade of ‘softies’, and after a shaky start in a couple of bands that were “truly atrocious”, The Cockney Rejects formed in 1978. From the outset they stood out not just because of their pounding and minimalist approach to rhythm and beat, but because some topics of their songs (street fighting and football hooliganism) spawned a following of its own. Eventually, they were taken under the wing of journalist Gary Bushell, who went on to become their manager. Bonding with other acts like Sham 69 (The Rejects’s 1980 hit ‘The Greatest Cockney Rip Off’ was a parody of Sham 69’s ‘Hersham Boys’), and gaining a loyal following, the band seemed to have achieved their goal of escaping the East End dead end via means of punk music, and even appearing on Top Of The Pops.
Alas, fame and notoriety were not to last, courtesy of the band’s often violent lyrics and open support for the West Ham football team. It attracted rival football gangs at almost every Rejects gig, and worse, right-wing Nazi fartys or ‘Boneheads’, as the band calls them. Despite the fact that the Rejects strongly distance themselves from the British right-wing party, they in turn seemed to have taken to the band.
Things got seriously out of hand during the bloody ‘battle of Birmingham’, referred to as the most violent gig in British history. Graphically reconstructed via means of animation and archive footage, it spelled the end of the band, with various members ending up in hospital and in the slammer. They fought the law, and the law one. As Jeff Geggus poignantly puts it: “I probably would have been safer in the boxing ring than in this f***ing business!”
Fast forward to the present, and we experience the rebirth and transformation of the Cockney Rejects, with a world wide cult following, a kicker rockumentary under their belt, one of their songs being used in a Levis’ ad, and praise from the likes of Joe Strummer and Shane McGowan (no surprises here), as well as the peace-loving Morrissey (somewhat of a surprise). And there you have it. Well, in a nutshell.
East End Babylon is as grounded and as honest as their protagonists, and you can’t help but warming to the Geggus Brothers and their world.
Liberally peppered with the F-word and footage depicting violence, the DVD boasts some cool bonus material, including the entertaining ‘How many Rejects?’ during which original bassist Vince Riordan is invited to autograph a framed T-shirt. Easy task you would think, but apparently not.