❉ There are some classic Oi anthems here, with top notch musicianship – these tracks really deliver, writes Brad Shepherd.
I must confess to not being too familiar with The 4-Skins before I was sent this 4-disc set to review, and I’m not quite sure why they seem to have passed me by. Perhaps it’s because I don’t already own anything by them and I’ve never seen them live, but in any case, it was nice to approach a band with little or no prior interest for a change. As a fan of the Oi genre I was eager to fill in a few gaps in my musical knowledge.
“Hoxton” Tom McCourt is the only constant member here, and the band went through various singers and other musicians during their reign. He’s clearly the main songwriter and driving force here, and the standard of songs is high across the whole set. A lot of tracks appear here in various different versions, and although the back catalogue isn’t as extensive as some of their peers, these tracks really deliver.
This CD set contains all 3 albums recorded by the band up until their split in 1984, but the first disc is called The Original 4 Skins and contains a selection of tracks recorded by the first incarnation of the band, with Gary Hodges on vocals. His delivery is abrasive and to the point, and his is a classic Oi vocal style. Some of the production quality of these tracks is tad on the basic side, but this is a valuable record of a band finding their feet and taking their first steps in the recording studio.
Disc 2 contains what I would consider to be far and away the band’s best album, their debut effort The Good, The Bad & The 4-Skins. This was originally released in 1982 and the band are firing on all cylinders here. It’s a half studio/half live album, a format that can often fall flat. This works perfectly though, and we have the definitive versions of 4-Skins classics such as Yesterday’s Heroes, as well as brilliant live versions of Wonderful World (possibly their best song), as well as Evil, 1984, A.C.A.B and many others. Tony “Panther” Cummins slots in perfectly on vocals, and this sounds like a band in their prime. There are some decent bonus tracks on here too.
The third disc gives us 1983’s A Fistful of… 4-Skins, the band’s second album. “Millwall” Roi Pearce (of The Last Resort) takes over vocal duties on this effort, and brings his own unique style to the
proceedings. For me, he’s too closely identified with his own band to slot in perfectly here, and the danger is that it can sound like The Last Resort covering 4-Skins songs. That said, it’s a solid effort with some impressive lyrics and performances, but all-in-all it’s an inferior effort to the first album. Standout tracks here are 5 More Years and City Boy.
The fourth and final disc in the set contains the band’s final album (not counting 2010’s The Return, on which Tom McCourt was not involved). This is one of those faux live albums where the band play in front of their mates, and although the songs sound great, I don’t think any of these would be considered the definitive versions. Sadly, after this release in 1984 it was all over… for a good few years at least.
To summarise, it was enjoyable to investigate a band that I’d missed out on up to this point. There are some classic Oi anthems here, with top notch musicianship, although the overall standard isn’t quite as high as the likes of Cock Sparrer. Any fan of Oi should go out and buy this set, although the more casual punk fan might not get quite as much out of it. Sadly I won’t be able to see the band live as they’ve called it a day after their short-lived reunion a few years back, with vocalist Gary Hodges the only member remaining from the old days. As Tom McCourt said (when he was asked to participate in the reunion), the band “was about youth”. Good on him for sticking to his principles, up against a music industry full of people out to make a quick buck.
❉ ‘The 4 Skins: The Albums’ (AHOYBX359) is out now from Captain Oi!, a subsidiary of Cherry Red Records. RRP £19.99.
❉ 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/