East End Oi! originators release great new album alongside forthcoming documentary film. Joe Whyte, who grew up punk and experienced it’s ups and downs firsthand, gives us his verdict.
My relationship with the Cockney Rejects over the years has been letâs just say, up and down.
When they first appeared at the tail end of 78, punk was in stasis. The Pistols had self-immolated. The Clash, despite the revisionist view of history, had temporarily disappeared up their own posterior, SLF had gone a bit pop and âstreetpunkâ was making its first inroads via Sham 69, UK Subs and chums.
Safe to say I was somewhat disillusioned by the whole thing by this point.
The Rejects were a brief breath of fresh air. Their boisterous attitude, disregard for the NME et al and their youthful energy were all a real positive. Add to that Mickey Geggusâ guitar: a full-throated roar that was the bastard son of Steve Jonesâs wall of sound. The first EP, (Flares And Slippers) was a riotous, irreverent slice of lo-fi hi-jinks that had as much in common with the TV Personalities and Swell Maps as it did with leather jackets and mohicans.
So far, so good.
My mates and I were all enthralled by The Rejects and second single Bad Man built on the promise of their debut.
Round about now it all started to go wrong for this young punk.
Bushell had appeared on the horizon and was furiously trying to start a scene around The Rejects. Unfortunately, The Rejects, (whom, incidentally, I firmly believe are much smarter guys than theyâre ever given credit for) seemed to be subsumed by all of the hype. They can be forgiven for much, being young lads at the time, but I wonder if they regret ever being involved in the whole Oi! thing.
Round about the release of the debut album, an interview with the band appeared in the music press. Asked about the then fledgling New Romantic scene, Jeff Turner stated words to the effect of, âYou come down our boozer dressed like that, youâre getting a good kickingâ.
Now, Iâm no New Romantic fan and frankly found the whole thing utterly laughable, but this remark cut right to the heart of where punk had taken a wrong turn. Wasnât it supposed to be us, the freaks, against the boorish mob who would do you in for looking a certain way?
Anyway, this is where I left the Rejects and their story afterwards is well covered in the forthcoming movie East End Babylon.
I encountered them again at Rebellion Festival a couple of years ago and was pleasantly surprised at how good they were, despite the Praetorian Guard of skinheads literally onstage with them.
This album dropped through my letterbox last week and Iâve lived inside it since then.
Iâm not exaggerating when I say that this is firstly, punk album of the year, and secondly, the best album the Cockney Rejects have ever made.
The Geggus guitar growl has never sounded better. Chords sounding like an invading army underpin every song. Turnerâs impish vocals are clever, impassioned and a little confrontational at times.
Opener Your Country Needs You sets the tone right away with slashing lead lines and pummeling drums. Geggus even manages a lovely Thin Lizzy-style guitar break mid-song.
A lyric about national pride might set the PC antennae a-twitching, but this is a heartfelt, well-thought- out paean to 21 Century Engerland and its national struggles that someone like Plan B would kill for.
There is a pathos throughout this song, (and the album) that implies a longing for a lost country and lifestyle that these East End boys clearly pine for. Nationalism is always a sticky one (just ask Morrissey) but the Rejects pull it off without any hint of small-mindedness. The breakdown in the middle eight with the sample of Winston Churchill even works when it really shouldnât. The overriding theme of the album is of loss, not just of the old ways and lifestyle, but of a country thatâs ran itself into the ground.
Itâs not all doom and gloom by any means. The Rejects know how to rock and thereâs fun aplenty in the grooves. I Love Being Me is something of a Jeff Turner mission statement, with its cheeky lyrics and joi de vivre amongst its Only Ones-borrowing guitar and loping bass runs.
Central song is title track East End Babylon. This could be the best song the Rejects have ever released. Double-tracked power chords herald thundering drums from Andrew Laing before Turner piles in with a lyric about his home turf that is in turn pained and proud. These boys have matured beyond belief musically and lyrically and this is a tour de force of punk rock passion. Weâll ignore the verse part nicked from The Cureâs A Forest as Iâm sure Mad Bob Smith wouldnât argue with The Rejects!
Believe it or not, Babylon even has time for a mid-song piano and whistling section (!) that lets Turner do his Artful Dodger thing to great effect. Simply irresistible.
Silvertown is typical Rejects, all sing-along chorus and scorching chords. It even has time for an acoustic guitar interlude towards the end. Streetpunk beware.
Itâs so refreshing to hear an album with such diversity (in all senses of the word), whilst still retaining a very real punk rock authenticity.
Guts, glory, passion and stories.
East End Babylon has them all in spades.
I can safely say that Iâm now a reborn Cockney Rejects fan and canât wait for the movie.
Join The Rejects!
All words by Joe Whyte. You can read more from Joe on LTW here.