4-Skins, Vice Squad, Anti-Establishment: Bridge House, Canning Town, London

Chaos is the rule

FORGET THE shambles that was Southgate, the Second New Punk Convention at the Bridge last Wednesday demonstrated once and for all that Oi doesn’t equate with ignorance and violence.

450 punters packed into this prime populist pub, skins and punks and soccer rowdies, West Ham, Spurs, Chelsea, Millwall, QPR, Arsenal, Charlton… and nary one word was raised in anger, not one beer bottle smashed against skull, not one boot crashed into groin… men, it can be done!

The pathetic, neurotic, pampered poseur-press wants to write Oi off as music for thick psychopaths because by continuing the vital rock ‘n’ roll tradition of street rebellion and raw outrage it challenges their self-important, self-congratulatory role as “arbiters of taste” and shows them up as the paranoid spoilt-brat snobs that they are.

Oi is about hard, fast, exciting rock music. It’s about having a laugh and having a say. It’s music by and for the people and every one of these conventions that passes off like this (the third one’s at Acklam Hall on March 4) is another nail in the rock-snobs’ coffin, not to mention a celebration of unity of outlook over regional barriers that proves we can win the battle that has marred street punk since Skrewdriver at the Vortex.

Anti-Establishment were up first with a five song set-taster that highlighted their weaknesses and strengths. The Antis deal in spirited punk in the Subsian high velocity mould with a couple of the numbers rivalling their formidable Lonsdale sweat-shirted singer Gavin Gritton in terms of bulk and impact.

Guitarist Haggis is particularly impressive in the fast’n’crunchy stakes and with plenty gigging they’ll overcome problems of presentation et al, but I reckon the whole band’s let down by the subject matter. Song titles like ‘I Feel Hate’ and ‘Disco’ suggest a striking lack of imagination, as if they’re writing punk-songs-by-numbers instead of following their own feelings and passions. It’s a problem they’ll have to deal with if they want to be taken seriously.

Vice Squad are an imposing sight if only because of their voluptuous sirenesque songster (and “definitely not a bird”) Beki, now apparently known as Gnasher Bondage, who with her alternately cocky and sullen expression and “sexy leather gear” makes for what we in the trade call strong visual impact.

The Squad’s songs are tight albeit traditional in the old-fashioned punk style and I had the feeling they’d be better off pursuing the more individual direction of ‘Last Rocker”s doomy epical fun. But anyway I guarantee the chaps will be on the receiving end of a decent length review in their own right very soon.

After their graceful stage exit the DJ started up a tasteful procession of prime Judge Dread discs, ending with the anthemic ‘Bring Back The Skins’ and the surprise appearance of the rudest man in the world himself to introduce “four particular friends of mine, a band just like one of my records, the 4-Skins.”

Thus the mood was set from the start. The songs might be deadly serious but the gig was gonna be a laugh not a battlefield and the band’s football preferences (various) were left out for the duration. Pre-song banter and even a couple of feeble audience jokes when the bass amp packed in encouraged the festive spirit but when the songs started you could tell they meant every word, and whereas the other two bands could have come from any time in the last three years, in terms of SPIRIT and what they represent the 4-Skins could only be TODAY.

‘Wonderful World’ kicks things off, more fluid than the album version, but just as heartfelt, Hodge’s coarse, hoarse, growl bemoaning the injustice of being “on the scrapheap and you’re only 17″ with raw passion, ‘Sorry’ is next, harder faster and as catchy as a six inch rusty nail with that great chorus shout “Shout it loud — I don’t give a damn cos I’m proud of what I am.”

Hodges is the focus of attention, taking the piss between songs and roaring furiously thru-out. Hoxton ‘Don’t-mention-the-Beatles-wig’ Tom’s bass is fat and juicy, and as broad and solid as he is himself. Rockabilly Steve’s guitar sound is basic and aggressive but individual (though the plangent ‘Public Image’ PiL connection I’d noted at rehearsals wasn’t obvious tonight). But definitely the best musician in the bunch is drummer John Jacobs, who’s flash, adroit, hard-driving and very impressive.

Obviously technically there’s lots of room for improvement (guitar should be much louder for a start) but the sound they make overcomes all minor quibbles, a glorious uncompromising racket with obvious Clash/Sham/Crass reference points but a real identity of its own. It’s crude and cocky, flash thrash and bash with no sugar coating and something to say every time. Each song is so soaked in spirit you just wanna feel the noise, and the front rows including Tony Barker and supposed rivals the legendary Harbour Mafia make like a Convention Of Trampolinists from the off.

There’s nine numbers, and Hodges pours his all into every one, but there are four real killers. ‘1984’ (“everybody sings about it and we ain’t gonna be different”), is a picture of Britain desolate and bankrupt set to a jagged aggressive music punctuated with explosive shellburst drumming. ‘I Don’t Wanna Die’ is a great anti-war anthem. ‘ACAB’, a raucous dissertation on Her Majesty’s Constabulary, is 180 seconds of pure raging fury. But the piece de resistance is definitely ‘Chaos’ an abrasive musical hand grenade, a disquieting Clockwork Orange style ultra-violence fantasy painting a horrorshow portrait of civil disorder and skinhead takeover. I love it.

“That’s the end of the set,” Gal announces, “We was gonna go off, wait for some sort of encore and come back again but what’s the point?” And the band explode into the newest number/anti-fashion anthem ‘Clockwork Skinhead’ followed by a trilogy of stage faves.

Tonight was a magnificent debut for the new line-up and in a world populated by pea-brained peacocks, flabby bizness men and fuddy-duddy Wough Twaders, bands like the 4-Skins are a real breath of fresh air. Yesterday’s anarchists are already today’s yawning bores and if you want a contemporary interpretation of raw rock ‘n’ roll spirit you need look no further. Like Jerry Lee said “You’re either hot or cold. If you’re luke-warm the Lord will spew you out of his mouth”.

The 4-Skins are HOT.

© Garry BushellSounds, 28 February 1981

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