‘We are everything that scares curtain twitchers’: the bands resurrecting the spirit of Oi!

The hardcore movement grew from working-class angst in the late-70s, but got tainted by racist aggro. Now a new wave of bands are reviving its cathartic anger – without the far-right associations

“Did you think this is a nice genre? It’s not,” says Trevor Taylor, singer with the formidable guitar band Crown Court. He is talking about Oi! – the ultra-aggressive post-punk musical movement that is enjoying a resurgence worldwide. Specifically, Taylor is referring to the capacity for many of the original early-80s Oi! bands to break up abruptly when members were sent to prison.

“Oi! is violent, tough, ugly music made by people from that background,” Taylor says. “I’m not trying to justify armed robbery but these things are part of the picture when you grow up in this shit, whether you want them to be or not.”

Crown Court are leaders of a youthful “new Oi!” scene, steeped in the same hard social realities as the trailblazing 80s groups such as the Last Resort and Cockney Rejects but ultra-modern in attitude. The band’s 2016 debut album, Capital Offence, injected fresh spirit into a movement that was regathering its sense of self-worth in the UK after decades of criticism and claims of far-right sympathies.

“My dream is to get on the BBC or something,” says Taylor. “These punk surges come in waves and I’d love to be part of the next boot up the arse. But we won’t change, we won’t beg for it. In a very politically charged moment we are probably everything that scares a curtain-twitching middle-class family.”


Jeff Geggus of the Cockney Rejects performing at Rebellion festival, 2016.
Jeff Geggus of the Cockney Rejects performing at Rebellion festival, 2016. Photograph: Lorne Thomson/Redferns

As well as being the new face of Oi!, Crown Court are also at the forefront of the modern skinhead scene – a subculture inextricably linked to Oi! and similarly reviled thanks to years of headlines about violence and ultra-nationalism. “You’re demonised just like that,” says Taylor, clicking his fingers. “Quickly, assumptions are made just for being young, working class and a skinhead. It is annoying but I will never grow my hair and never hang up these boots.”

In fact, several Oi!-associated bands had actively countered the racist element among their fanbases: Sham 69 played for Rock Against Racism, anti-NF songs were recorded by the Angelic Upstarts (with Their Destiny Is Coming) and Blitz (Propaganda), and anti-racism was explicit in much of the recorded Oi! poetry such as Garry Johnson’s poem United, which featured on the 1981 Carry On Oi! compilation. “Oi! wasn’t an inherently racist or neo-Nazi scene; its principal focus was class and included many who would see their politics as left-leaning,” says Worley. “There was lots of patriotism, of course, and flag-waving, but even that was often couched in class terms. No one actually seemed to listen to the music or what the bands said in the press. They just projected their prejudices on to Oi!.”

Taylor is succinct in his summation: “I think a lot of the older faces have been burned dirty,” he says. “I know some really good geezers from that era.” As for the elephant in the room, the palpable sense of affront in Taylor’s voice tells its own story. He points out that he grew up among Caribbean and Turkish communities in Tottenham, north London, with family members who are Greek and Jamaican: “Listen, I do not have any political leaning in that way, in any shape or form. Me and my mates are all from very different ethnic backgrounds. We don’t tolerate dumb shit.”

For Worley, class remains the defining element of Oi!. “The thing that crosses boundaries and why you currently have Oi! scenes around the world, in places such as China and Taiwan, is class identity,” says Worley. “It links all Oi! bands.”

The hunt for a genuinely incendiary working-class guitar band is an evergreen topic, from Noel Gallagher’s “rock’s gone middle class” tirades to the Telegraph’s “The return of the great working-class rock band” feature that focused on Australian punkers the Chats and Amyl and the Sniffers.

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