East End Babylon: The Return Of The Cockney Rejects

The East End's most famous band take you on a tour of their fabled homeland, full of football, fighting and scrawling 'fuck off' on stuff...
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The East End's most famous band take you on a tour of their fabled homeland, full of football, fighting and scrawling 'fuck off' on stuff...

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Oil City Confidential reminded music fans of the genius of the influential Canvey Island pub rockers Dr Feelgood. The executive producer of that piece, Richard England, has now taken the director’s chair for East End Babylon; a documentary that tells the story of the hardest band in the history of rock ‘n’ roll- The Cockney Rejects

The Rejects exploded onto the scene when punk was fizzling out. The posers had deserted to dress up and recreate 20s Berlin while The Clash were lost in the supermarket on the road to Nicaragua. Vocalist Jeff Geggus (A.K.A. Stinky Turner), guitarist Mick Geggus and bassist Vince O’Riordan came together to produce sub-three minute classics, combining the aggression and enthusiasm that had got people excited in the first place.

The band were not overtly political, they signed for EMI and played Top of the Pops, but the songs on their modestly titled 1980 albums, Greatest Hits Volume One and Greatest Hits Volume Two, succinctly summed up the joys and struggles of being a working class lad. ‘Here They Come Again’, ‘Hate of the City’ and particularly ‘I’m Not a Fool’ eloquently outlined the frustrations of disaffected youths consigned to the scrap heap. ‘On the Waterfront’ and ‘Join the Rejects’ lamented the failure of the first wave of punk. How those who had espoused the D.I.Y. ethic and stripped down sound that had inspired a generation had turned out to be middle class dandies merely waiting for the next fad. The Rejects’ authenticity connected them to their fans. Bash street kids with a ‘we can do anything’ attitude that propelled them from back garden gigs to the big time. No public schoolboy could ever write or truly appreciate a track with the glorious simplicity of ‘Bad Man’.

What set these dockers’ sons apart was their ability to write anthems; from the straight terrace chant of ‘East End’ to the self-aggrandizing bravado of ‘The Greatest Cockney Rip Off’.  Also in this category is their finest moment, ‘Oi! Oi! Oi!’; the song that literally changed my life. 32 years on, I still want to “kick down that fucking wall” every time I hear it. Rock ‘n’ Roll should be about rebellion- about down trodden kids sticking two fingers up to the world. Compared to more celebrated acts of music biz immaturity involving snorting coke off dwarves, Mars bar jiggery pokery and chucking tellies out of windows; the Rejects’ TOTP appearances are bordering on the heroic. A bunch of herberts from Custom House, fronted by a 15 year old kid deliberately miming badly to a song about how they have so much cash, they don’t have to go on the bus anymore.

The Rejects’ authenticity connected them to their fans. Bash street kids with a ‘we can do anything’ attitude that propelled them from back garden gigs to the big time.

Being true to themselves proved to be their downfall. For teenage lads, violence is an everyday fact of life. The Rejects did not shy away from this. In fact they celebrated it in ‘War on the Terraces’, ‘Fighting in the Street’, ‘Are You Ready to Ruck’ and ‘Police Car’- the latter containing an opening rhyme worthy of the Bard himself:

“I like punk, and I like Sham, I got nicked, over West Ham”.

The Rejects were unrepentant football hooligans and proudly displayed their affiliation to West Ham; releasing a version of ‘Bubbles’ to coincide with the 1980 cup final, as well as the more provocative ‘We Are the Firm’ and ‘West Side Boys:’

“We meet in the Boyleyn every Saturday
Talk about the team that we're gonna do today
Steel cap Dr Martens and iron bars
Smash the coaches or do' em in the cars”

Unlike other artists who have put up a tough guy image, the band could walk the walk. Jeff had boxed for England schoolboys and their entourage was packed with ICF faces. In London, they had very little aggro but when they took the show on the road, a real anarchy tour ensued. At every gig, the local football mob would turn out for a crack at the cockneys and the band and their roadies were more than willing to oblige. In those pre-internet days, the Chinese whispers reports that circulated bestowed legend status upon the Rejects. Consequently, the opposition firms waiting to confront them got bigger. One particularly brutal battle in Birmingham led to serious criminal charges and effectively ended the Rejects as a live band.

Confined to the studio, the group grew up and the curse of progression struck. Ever since Pet Sounds- it has become the norm for bands to turn their back on everything that made them compelling and vital in order to develop as artists. Like The Clash before them and the Arctic Monkeys much later, the Cockney Rejects made two stunning, life affirming albums then went off the boil. The metal influenced later works aren’t bad, but they don’t make you want to run outside and scrawl FUCK OFF on a bus shelter.

With the release of the movie, everything is in place for a Rejects revival. Last year, Join The Rejects - The Zonophone Years '79-'81 hit the shelves; a compilation featuring the first two LPs, Greatest Hits Volume Three: Live and Loud, plus all the non-album singles and Peel sessions. Better still, the band have reformed with the Geggus brothers backed by the rhythm section of Red Alert, one of the many ‘new punk’ outfits who came into being as a result of the call of the East End reverberating all around the nation.

In another era of mass unemployment, stifling conformity and anger on the streets- the rabble rousing Cockney Rejects sound box fresh. Check them out- if you think you’re hard enough.

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