The Eyes of a Foot Soldier
“Little ghetto boy, playing in the ghetto street, watcha gonna do when you grow up and have to face responsibility?” Little Ghetto Boy, Donny Hathaway
The following piece is a brief journey through an appreciation of punk and Oi! music as a fledging teenager to becoming obsessed with unblemished soul music as an adult. I can place a connection between the musical genres through honesty, integrity and rawness. The genres are both real street music that comes from the heart.
‘Oi! the Album’ was released in 1980 and led the way for a musical force that had been brewing away since the breakthrough in the U.K. of punk rock in ‘77. Sounds scribe Garry Bushell had been the flagbearer of the proto Oi! bands that led to him compiling the album. In ‘79 there was no bigger active punk band in the UK than Sham 69, The Ruts had just broken through, the Upstarts credentials were rising and the Rejects had shook the punk foundations with ‘Flares and Slipper.’ The substratum for Oi! had strong roots for new bands to take inspiration from to forge their own directions. These second wave of punk bands took a more direct rawer route from the streets than many of the art infused ones of the first wave.
I never swayed too far from punk between the years of ‘79-83 but Oi! music for me in 1980 meant unity, honesty, identity and the voice of my generation. It was also to me the spirit of the Carry On films, Henry Cooper, Minder, The Harder They Come, maverick footballers, the Beano, Irn Bru, On the Buses, Lager Tops, Slade, Budgie, jumpers for goalposts, Bronco Bullfrog, Tiswas, Fish Suppers, Roy of the Rovers, The Clash, Choppers, Dick Emery, Desmond Dekker and Kes. It represented me and my life!
When ‘Oi! the album’ was released I’d just broken through into my teenage years and had been hanging on every word written by Garry since making a decision to buy Sounds over the Enemy in 1979. At that time my family had recently relocated from England to one of the five Scottish new towns called Livingston. We moved there in the summer of ‘78 from a tight knit Nottinghamshire mining community where punk was of minor significance compared to Livi, which had a thriving punk scene. I found punk to be exhilarating, inspirational and soon became an avid follower of all things punk.
Making that decision to buy Sounds early in ‘79 was easy for me because they championed punk bands, both old and new. Forty three years later I’m still searching to hear new sounds, but with a much broader musical taste than I had back then. I produced a fanzine in the summer of 1981 called Oi! Division. I was aged 13 and was influenced by a variety of fanzines of the time that included Rising Free, Ready To Ruck and No Solutions. Growing up in Livingston was hard during those years because all new towns are built on three stages; building houses, attracting a population and then job creation. We moved there between stages 1 and 2. We all had to find our own entertainment and producing a fanzine was my escapism of boredom.
I had a bit of help through Garry and Lol Pryor supplying me with bands contact details. I’d then make telephone calls to the bands to either interview them over the phone or we would agree that a questionnaire would be sent. I included interviews with the 4 Skins, Blitz, The Partisans and local band On Parole in the first issue, which struggled from a poor print. Garry included a small piece on it in Sounds, which included payment details. I then started to get a healthy amount of postal orders and hard coinage via my local postman from across the UK, Europe and the USA. My postman once asked my dad what was in the sacks of letters that he was delivering. I also sold a fair few locally, mainly to friends at school.
The first ever interview that I did out in the fields was with the lead singer of a local punk band called On Parole. I interviewed Liam in Rabs Bar, Deans, Livingston. That was also the first time that I got drunk and also led to me getting involved in the band on a managerial basis for the next two years. At that point I was 6ft and had begun to outgrow schooling. I was looking for a different education and my attendance in my final two years was sporadic. I had a lot of fun over these years, but on the whole that’s a different story.
I thought with the second issue of the fanzine that I wanted to widen the horizon a bit to cover a broader selection of punk bands, so I changed the name to ‘A Way of Life.’ I decided to use drawings rather than images that I’d acquired from Sounds, like I had done with ‘Oi! Division.’ The overall print was much better because of this. The first two fanzines were printed A4 folded and saddle stitched. I included interviews with The Business, Infa Riot, The Last Resort, GBH and Peter & the Test Tube Babies.
The second issue of ‘A Way of Life’ and third fanzine was printed as an A3 folded and saddle stitched affair. I upped the ante with this one and used a local offset printer, which meant that I could use photos with the interviews. Overall it’s probably the most professional publication out of the four fanzines I produced. I included interviews with Theatre of Hate, The Outcasts, Blitz, Discharge, Chron Gen, Vice Squad, Conflict and more.
The final fanzine was printed in the first half of 1983. I’ll say that things were changing musically and I wanted to further widen the coverage with the inclusion of Twisted Sister, Big Country and Laurel & Hardy alongside The Business, The Exploited and On Parole. I used the name of ‘Streets Where We Live.’ At that point the family had been uprooted to Edinburgh, because I was getting into too much trouble. Punk and Oi! had been my survival mechanism in Livi, but in Edinburgh the street sounds had a different vibe. Things were evolving rapidly with many bands breaking up or heading into a new musical path. Blitz rocked Oi! music with the electronic vibe of ‘Second Empire Justice,’ Red Alert dipped their feet away with ‘Tranquillity’ and the Upstarts came out with ‘Still From The Heart.’ The 4 Skins with Roi folded their cards after a 3 date tour in spring of ’83, The Business split and Infa Riot jacked it in after a fabled short span as The Infas.
I spent six months living in Auld Reekie but decided in the summer of ‘83, aged sixteen that I would move back to England to live in Manchester. I spent a year living in Burnage, a long time before the Gallagher’s brought it to the attention of the world. I moved in with my eldest sister and this saw the biggest swing in my musical taste. I signed on for the year and got to see the Upstarts as many times as my giro would allow me, but my musical taste was further evolving. I remember being round a friend’s house called Doyle and reaching for his copy of ‘Bad Man,’ and he snatched it back saying that he hadn’t played that for two years.
The music of the streets in Manchester was heavily focussed on the emerging electro sounds mixed in with a strong soulful vibe. It was a slow evolution, but I started appreciating Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five, Whodini, Afrika Bambaataa, Newcleus, Shannon and D Train. I also saw the Redskins for the first time and they blew my mind with their soulful sounds. They were the gateway for me to start appreciating The Four Tops, The Temptations, Jackie Wilson and soul music. I eventually dug deeper with soul music, whilst favouring the little label singers that never got a break they craved for.
My argument is that I can place a connection between Oi! music and soul music. Singers like Roi Pearce, Mickey Fitz and Roddy Moreno sang every note like they meant it with great gusto and passion. Obviously tonally and the melodies are very much poleaxes apart from singers such as Otis
Clay, James Carr and Lee Moses, but the bond is tight with the working class roots. I’ll take any independent singer who gives their all over any major label puppet that has little or no substance. It’s always been the same for me right back to when I first got into music. I’d rather champion the underdog rising through adversity than a heavily backed major label dud! The rare soul scenes of northern and modern soul are comparable with the working class roots of Oi! music with both music and also fashion.
I never walked away from Oi! music, because I’ve kept my eyes on how the scene developed. The widening of the arena globally is something that Garry and Lol should be proud of. The fact that bands like Rancid, Agnostic Front and the Dropkick Murphys salute Oi! music, whilst touring globally to large audiences is a good thing. The fact that The Business, The Last Resort and Cock Sparrer are appreciated across the world is an amazing achievement through some difficult times. That’s not forgetting the newer bands that provide a different magic to the original punk and Oi! sound with Hard Wax, Lion’s Law, Crown Court, Slalom D, Himnos, All Out Attack, Bishops Green and many more because the list is endless. I’m finding myself listening to more punk and Oi! band’s these days because of the last couple of years events. The working class really need a voice after a systematic attack of suppression. There’s life in the old dog yet!
“In unity there’s each other and your friend becomes your brother and in the tyrant’s heart will be a lesson learned” Solidarity – Angelic Upstarts