Exploding out of East London and influencing the evolution of street punk to date, COCK SPARRER are back with their first album in ten years, produced by Lars from Rancid, to show the young pups just how it’s done.
Cock Sparrer were formed way back in 1972, four East London school friends who had known each other since the age of about 11, with a penchant for West Ham United and the street-wise boogie of the Small Faces. Colin McFaull (vocals), Mick Beaufoy (guitar), Steve Burgess (bass) and Steve Bruce (drums), were eventually joined by Burgess’s cousin Garrie Lammin on rhythm guitar.
Gigs at the fabled Bridgehouse in Canning Town (owned by Terry Murphy, father of Gary Murphy, star of TV show ‘London’s Burning’) gave the fledgling band some experience of live shows, albeit often to one man and his proverbial dog, and thanks to another useful contact, a chap called Archie who was a doorman at the even more fabled Marquee, even graced the West End playing numerous support slots.
By now Cock Sparrer were supplementing their Faces covers with self-penned material, gritty-but-tuneful tales of life on the streets and football terraces, and building a following of like-minded hooligans. Famously, none other a personage than Malcolm McLaren got wind of this, and characteristically tried to get in on the act. He went along to the rehearsal room above The Roding pub in East Ham to check the band out, offered them a management deal and the chance to support his protégés the Sex Pistols at a strip club in Soho (presumably El Paradiso) but committed the ultimate faux pas by failing to get the beers in. Naturally, the boys turned him down, and who can blame them, the bounder.
However, when the punk explosion came, Sparrer, despite never really dressing the part, were ideal for the new movement: genuine street kids with attitude and great songs. A punk feeding-frenzy began among the record labels, either truly enthused by it, or, more often, just scared of missing out on the next big thing, and one of the latter was Decca. Despite adding the likes of Slaughter And The Dogs and Adam And The Ants to its roster, frankly, Decca never had a clue about punk, but that realization would only come later.
At first it all went swimmingly. At the label’s studio in West Hampstead the band were given Thin Lizzy producer Nick Tauber to work with, and, dream come true, a support slot on a Small Faces tour. Decca released two Sparrer singles, the all-time street-punk classic ‘Runnin’ Riot’ in July 1977, and a cover of the Rolling Stones’ ‘We Love You’ in November of the same year, but sadly both failed to chart. The band had also recorded an album, and to make matters worse, for some reason Decca elected to only release it in Spain the following year. After Lammin left they sold their PA (which wasn’t actually theirs anyway) and tried their luck in the US, after which little was heard from the band for a while.
Sparrer’s resurrection came when Sounds journalist Garry Bushell included their track ‘Sunday Stripper’ on his compilation ‘Oi! – The Album’ in November 1980, alongside the likes of Slaughter And The Dogs, Angelic Upstarts, Cockney Rejects, 4-Skins, Peter And The Test Tube Babies and The Exploited. This endearing mixture of the old school and ‘New Breed’ brought Sparrer to the attention of a new audience, even if ‘Sunday Stripper’ was in fact a curiously low-key chugger, albeit with saucy lyrics.
A new single, ‘England Belongs To Me’ (originally ‘London Belongs To Me’) was released by Carrere in 1982, as was, at last, the first official Cock Sparrer album ‘Shock Troops’, recorded at White House studios in Chelsea, and what a belter it was. The band continued for a couple of years, with varying line-ups, and released the ‘Runnin’ Riot In ‘84’ album on Syndicate, but then went back into hibernation for a while.
By 1992 Steve Bruce was running the Stick Of Rock pub, putting on regular gigs, including several by an outfit called The Elite, whose guitarist was one Daryl Smith, son of the man who signed Sparrer to Decca all those years ago! Surprisingly, perhaps, rather than take a terrible revenge on the boy, as the original members of the band were planning to reform the band for a show at the Astoria, they instead recruited him as second guitarist. It was a huge success, with street punk enthusiasts travelling from all over the globe to attend.
Enthused, the band signed to German label Bitzcore, releasing the ‘Guilty As Charged’ album in 1994, accompanied by a full European tour, and another album, entitled ‘Two Monkeys’, followed in 1997.
Over the years, Cock Sparrer’s reputation and fan base has grown in a way that must be mystifying to anyone only aware of their early Decca years, and now they headline festivals over contemporaries who actually managed to trouble the charts. Why? Well, my guess is that it’s all down to the songs. Never the most frenetic of acts, Sparrer always delivered a tune you could shuffle the boots to, and a chorus you could bellow drunkenly to. In short, they’re a lot of fun and completely genuine.
The band released their new studio album mixed by Lars Frederiksen, ‘Here We Stand’, out on Captain Oi! now. The boys seem to be pretty pleased with it. “We are all thrilled with the result,” says Steve Bruce: “It’s our first studio album for ten years and the best thing we have done since ‘Shock Troops’. Writing, rehearsing and recording it was just like the old days, there were strops, sulks, arguments, walk outs, laughs, and a fair amount of drinking. All that was missing was a good old punch up! But I guess we’re getting too old for that.”
And Daryl Smith concurs: “I’ve always thought that on the recent albums the songs were great but the production let the side down. My goal was to get the band in a good studio and record in a way that could get the best out of the songs. I’m really happy that we’ve achieved that and got the album that we’ve always wanted. Lars told me that he can’t stop playing it and in his opinion it’s better than ‘Shock Troops’, which although a bit controversial, is a great compliment.”
‘Here We Stand’ is out now on Captain Oi!
COCK SPARRER’S ALBUMS
‘Shock Troops’ 1982
‘Running Riot In ‘84’ 1984
‘True Grit’ 1987
‘Guilty As Charged’ 1994
‘Two Monkeys’ 1997
‘Here We Stand’ 2007
Download the following…
‘England Belongs To Me’ (‘Shock Troops’)
‘Argy Bargy’ (‘Shock Troops’)
‘Watch Your Back’ (‘Shock Troops’)
‘Running Riot’ (‘True Grit’)
‘Chip On My Shoulder’ (‘True Grit’)
‘Spirit Of ‘76’ (‘Here We Stand’)
The London quintet’s sixth album ‘Here We Stand’ shows that they’ve still got balls, they’ve still got tunes and they’re sounding better than ever! We caught up with the geezers to talk about how they’ve already laid waste to Vienna this year and now they’ve set their sights on Blackpool again…
So how was the Vienna Rebellion festival for Cock Sparrer?
“It was a cracking weekend. Met up with a load of mates, old and new and generally had a great time. We hadn’t played outdoors before so were a bit unsure as to what to expect, wondering if we could generate the same atmosphere, but the crowd really went for it. There was no need to worry that there was no roof – the crowd were singing their hearts out and were as loud as ever. Great bands, great atmosphere and a superb venue – the new banner looked really great (the bloke who nicked our last one at Blackpool 2006 did us a favour).”
You guys are pretty much the biggest old school punk act in the world right now. How did that happen?
“Ain’t got a clue. Think we’ve just kept on doing what we’ve always done. We consciously try to make sure everyone has a good time at the gigs and we worked hard on “Here We Stand” to produce an album that we would be proud of and one that everyone could associate with Cock Sparrer. We think we achieved that. Having the largest number of backing vocalists of any band on the circuit must help – only limited by the number of punters that turn up.”
Is there any difference playing in Europe as opposed to the US?
“Don’t think so, same crazy bastards worldwide.”
You seem to be incredibly popular at Blackpool’s Rebellion festival. Is it a pretty special show for you?
“The last one we did in 2006 was sold out and had a great atmosphere. Blackpool is special but so was Vienna recently and Wolverhampton for the album launch. It’s the crowd that makes any particular gig a special show not the gig itself. There are loads of good punk gigs up and down the country – from other festivals to DIY gigs in backrooms of pubs (which some of us still manage to get to!) but Rebellion is definitely the social event of the year, having a few beers with old mates (checking who’s still alive), hearing some old favourites and there’s always loads of new talent coming through.”
Any surprises planned for Rebellion 2008?
“Playing sober (won’t happen), different running order (won’t happen), loads of new songs (won’t happen), getting to bed before 06.00 (definitely won’t happen).”
What is your favourite Cocksparrer song to play?
COLIN: “‘England Belongs To Me’.”
MICKEY: “The first notes of ‘Riot Squad’ are my favourite – that initial animal roar tells me it’s going to be another great night and makes what little hair I have stand on end.”
STEVE BRUCE: “‘Because You’re Young’ – great song, everyone sings it, it’s a doddle for me to play and won’t induce a heart attack.”
DARYL: “‘England Belongs to Me’ for the crowd response and ‘Because You’re Young’ for the song.”
And finally, what three things should fans bring to a Sparrer show?
“A sense of humour, strong lungs and the capacity to consume a vast amount of alcohol.”
Cock Sparrer headline the Rebellion Festival in Blackpool August 7th – 10th.