❉ Brad Shepherd cracks open a six-pack of East End kids, suburban rebels and more.
Oi! (the exclamation mark is seemingly mandatory) must surely be the most maligned of all punk subgenres. In the minds of many, there are connections to right-wing politics and thuggery which (rightly or wrongly) have led to bands on the Oi! scene being somewhat marginalized. In truth, Oi! was actually quite a broad church. Sure, many bands fitted the Oi! stereotype, but you also had comedic bands (The Toy Dolls, Splodge), left-wing bands (Angelic Upstarts, The Oppressed), punk poets, and a variety of other ‘erberts, chancers, yobbos and the like.
This set contains the first six official Oi! albums (across 6 discs) released between 1980 and 1984, two of which contain bonus tracks. As with all of these Cherry Red box sets, a handy and informative booklet is also included which goes into a bit more depth about these releases and the story of Oi! in general. I was already familiar with many of these bands, despite never having owned or even heard any of these albums in their entirety before, so I approached this release with a keen interest.
The first disc contains 1980’s Oi! The Album, originally released by EMI, no less. The album kicks off with Oi Oi Oi by The Cockney Rejects, arguably the standout band on here. Guitarist Mickey Geggus has his face on the cover of the album (and indeed the box set) and their two tracks really sum up what Oi! is all about. Brash and aggressive, singing straight from the heart, with very powerful backing and catchy hooks and choruses. Other big names on here include The Exploited, Peter and The Test Tube Babies, 4-Skins, The Angelic Upstarts, and Cock Sparrer. Where Have All The Boot Boys Gone by Slaughter & The Dogs (already an oldie at this point, being recorded and released in 1977) is on here too, presumably because of the song title and subject matter. Isubeleeeene by Max Splodge and Desert Island Joe provides some welcome comic relief to the proceedings. It’s a great album, and a perfect intro to anyone new to the genre.
Next up is 1981’s Strength Thru Oi! which is where it all started to go wrong for Oi!, not because the music isn’t great (it is), but because of the presence of Nazi skinhead Nicky Crane on the cover. Garry Bushell (who curated this release) says this was an accident, and because it was a rush job, they weren’t aware who their cover-star was, but the resulting bad press and controversy did untold amounts of damage. A pity, because this release is nearly as strong as its predecessor. We get the first examples of the Oi! poets here (Garry Johnson’s work is among the best examples) and a mixed bag of the better Oi! bands (The Last Resort, 4-Skins) with the more humorous ditties by the likes of Splodge and The Toy Dolls.
1981’s Carry On Oi! contains more of the same, and introduces some new faces such as The Business, who for me are the stars of this album. We also have Garry Bushell’s own band The Gonads, who appear on this and every one of the albums from this point onwards. Again, not quite as strong as Strength Thru Oi, but a decent effort.
The last 3 releases here are 1982’s Oi! Oi! That’s Yer Lot, 1983’s Son of Oi!, and 1984’s The Oi! of Sex. There’s a definite progressive drop in quality here. Some of the poetry is almost embarrassingly bad, and there are some obscure bands on here who really don’t cut the mustard. Judge Dread (who I’d never associate with Oi!) is present on one volume, and there are some interesting tracks, but these albums don’t really compare to what went before. Garry Bushell’s Gonads, as well as his various side projects, feature heavily and there is an over-reliance on studio bands, perhaps an indication that the Oi! scene didn’t have any real strength indepth by this point. Each album is at least worth a listen though.
All in all, this release is recommended to fans of Oi! and anyone curious should give it a go. It manages to encapsulate what Oi! is all about – working class voices with something to say, even if those voices aren’t particularly eloquent. Subtle it ain’t, but there’s plenty to enjoy here. You might find yourself pressing the skip button a few times though, but the wheat more than makes up for the chaff.
❉ ‘Oi! The Albums – 6CD Box Set’ (AHOYBX378) is available from Captain Oi!/Cherry Red Records, RRP £23.99. Click here to order directly from Cherry Red Records.
❉ Brad Shepherd is a regular contributor to We Are Cult and is the frontman of punk band Monkish. Their debut album, “You Can’t Polish a Turd” was released in 2011, and the new album “Quorn is Murder” is out now: https://monkish.bandcamp.com/