From the NME, 25 July, 1981
The Oi stood on the burning dreck . . . ?
Mick Duff talks to Oi the poet Garry Johnson
In the space of three short weeks, all the worst misgivings concerning Oi have been conformed.
Firt, The 4-Skins, The Last Resort and The Business played a gig which was a catalyst for a race riot. Since then, the 4-Skins’ manager Gary Hitchcock has been exposed as a former member of the British Movement “leader guard” – along with Nick Crane, the now imprisoned skinhead pictured on the front of Sounds’ and Deram’s ‘Strength Thru Oi’ LP.
But if there has ever been any good in Oi, poet Garry Johnson is its personification. Swept along on a tide of misguided propaganda, and believing he was participating in some noble punk crusade, Johnson was initially attracted to Oi simply because it shared his affinity for social protest through aggresive music. Like many Oi fans Johnson only recently saw cause for apprehension.
“At the gigs of late, I started to notice a lot of people I’ve never seen before. They weren’t the regular Oi followers – they were a lot older an’ you could spot they were trouble makers straight off. Some were fascists, NF or BM, but the kids didn’t want nothin’ to do with them – but they were still there, menacin’ like.”
Chatting to me in a West End pub, Johnson naively maintains that the ordinary music fans involved in Oi are a strong enough force to drive the fascists out.
“The NF and the BM are the enemy. They wanna spoil it for us an’ we ain’t gonna let them. If they do take over, they’ll have all the kids to put out their propaganda an’ that would be terrible – so we’ve got to stop them!”
Ignoring them in the hope they’ll go away seems to be Johnson’s shaky solution; certainly words are the only weapons he’d use to fight an enemy whose power, conviction and organisation he clearly underestimates.
“But Oi can’t survive in its present form,” he adds. “Only the best people – the good people – will win throiugh an’ develop somethin’ a lot better.”
Garry Johnson deserves better and it’s easy to be won over by his youthful optimism, however gullible. But his poetry, in contrast, is more despairing – reflecting the awful dilemma of the million unemployed young people under 24, black and white, who’ve been dumped on the scrap-heap of Thatcher’s Britain with first hand experience having been out of work for over 18 months, in common with many of his generation, Garry feels he has no future in this country unless radical political changes are made and existing social structures / barriers are broken down.
“That’s why I sympathise with the rioters in a way, except it’s happenin’ in the wrong areas. They should all get on a bus an’ go to Twickenham or Tunbridge Wells. Hit the rich – it’s the only way this government will take notice. It’s no good lootin’ your own people an’ damagin’ your own area.”
Johnson’s poems appear on both ‘Oi – the Album’ and ‘Strength Thru Oi’. What they lack technically is easily compensated for by his insight and depth of feeling: an essential statement of working class youth’s struggle against oppression and the recession.
A collection of Garry Johnson’s poems, entitled Boys of the Empire, is available in pamphlet form from Manchester’s Babylon Books – phone 061-834 8296.