The room is hot. Very hot. Flailing limbs are flying in joyous celebration. The booze is flowing and the feral howl of fierce punk rock is flying. This is as primal as it gets. The band are grindingly heavy, Motorhead meeting Crass on a drunken, good time night out that doesn’t hide from the real world. Like wild dogs ignoring the treacherous ditch of the vile and dying music biz Oi Polloi have rolled up their sleeves and taken their righteous message to the people.
The band have been agitating and provoking on the punk circuit for ever. Twenty years ago I reviewed them in Sounds music paper and said they were the ‘cough medicine getting forced down the throat of Thatcher’s Britain….’ I know this because their singer, who looks like a Braveheart Celtic warrior, bounded up to me in a Manchester street before the gig and told me.
For Margaret Thatcher now read Dave Cameron and sigh with frustration that we are still locked in the same scenario and that Oi Polloi’s agit pop lyrics married to napalm punk rock salvos still make sense after decades. If only they did sound dated! Or at least the lyrics sounded dated but they still make total sense in a system that is staggering around in the last days of capitalism. Bands like these with their idealism speak the truth and their DIY punk noise sounds even more vibrant and life affirming that it did when they started.
The band have been playing forever on an international circuit of grubby pubs, dingy squats with an old skool idealism and utopian ideals. In the 21st century many people would have you believe that this kind of thinking had died out and that everyone is happy to be a consuming monkey and that punk was content to be ddMTV polished but out there on the hinterland something is really stirring.
It’s a generally youthful audience that greets the band like legends after two great sets from the supporting John Player Specials and the Autamodads. The packed room is a frenzied throng of hippy punx, Crass punks, second wave beer monsters, weird sic fi looking gonzoid punks and sprightly youth who turn the front half of the room into fierce moshpit. All the years on the circuit have taught Oi Polloi a thing or two about entertaining and the banter flows easily in-between the fierce yet catchy songs. Musically there is an element of the singalong from Oi but it’s tempered with a witty intelligence to make the political points in a way that someone like the Subhumans also do.
The band are against all the isms and make sure the audience knows this. It feels good to be in a room where anybody feels anything and it’s also quite moving. The band are never hectoring though, their songs make a quick, sharp point and rush through a series of drunken singalongs that celebrate their anarchistic worldview point. Perhaps the perfect name for a punk band, Oi Polloi turn the venue into a sweaty celebration of the punk politic with great feral songs driven by a churning bass and with some basic yet imaginative guitar work.
Punk was only meant to last a couple of years but here is yet more proof of it’s lasting power. in 2011 punk is a folk form and these ancient institutions of band’s are the modern equivalent of the blues legends- people who have seen and done everything and yet still believe.
The tragedy is that outside this tight and really friendly community of punks band’s like this will never get their say. Too ribald and too alive for conventional alternative radio they will never get the play. Perhaps they are happy where they are. The punk community is a great community, accepting all kids of waifs and strays without question.
And that’s it’s power. People here really care and for once it really is just all about the music and all the other bullshit that goes with music is irrelevant. Oi Polloi at full throttle sound like one of the most vital band’s in the UK.
And that’s a victory.