Cock Sparrer - London, Kentish Town, HMV Forum - 26th March 2010 Print E-mail
Written by Ian B   
Monday, 05 April 2010 06:00

Sparrer_LondonDespite their career dating as far back as punk's glory year of 1977 Cock Sparrer never entered my world until late 2007 through a recommendation by our own Johnny H. Shortly after this epiphany, and on the eve of the band's infamous 'Here We Stand' Wolverhampton show, I whipped a ticket out of an ill Mrs H's hand before the Night Nurse had time to hint any recovery and I was on my way to discovering just how great a live band Cock Sparrer are.  

 

The thing is everybody appears to get into this band by word of mouth and pure chance, I know Johnny H did, I certainly did, and others you talk to about this band are the same, so why exactly are they such a cult band? They get naff all support from the media these days and looking back have had no real exposure from day one (other than the obvious via Sounds). Yet, despite this, they are cited by nearly every self proclaimed modern punk outfit around including global stars such as Green Day through to Rancid and the relatively new starters such as tonight's support Street Dogs. So despite the levels of underwhelming music industry support that they have enjoyed for over thirty years, you also have to ask how the hell does a band like this pull off selling out two nights at a venue this size? Especially with such a large contingent flying in from around the globe just for the occasion, and it clearly surprises the band tonight as lead singer Colin McFaull points out during their show, "I don't know why, we're as old as fuck."

 

There was the small risk of blowing an amazing memory to bits tonight, as the Wolverhampton show is in my Top Ten gigs of all time which, as a purchaser of a gig ticket or two during my twenty five years attending shows, is something of an achievement. The rare gigs that Cock Sparrer do these days, a 'hefty' schedule of six this year including these two London shows, are cleverly made into special events for the fans, and for the band a something of a "Jolly Boys Outing" as the fun they are having is obvious to all - there isn't an ounce of pretentiousness about Cock Sparrer, there is nothing false, there is no act, no pantomime, no pretending to be something they are not, what you see is what they are, which just makes it all the more real, regular blokes still having a laugh, going the footy, and having a drink together and despite these occasional gigs it is also to their credit that they don't milk every possible £1 out of it with ticket and merchandise prices.

 

AF_1Tonight then is about five bands but, unfortunately, the Über Röck Warriors don't arrive until mid way through Deadline's set, so apologies to The Rabble who we totally missed. So, as we walk into the splendid looking HMV Forum, Deadline appear to be going go down well with the swelling audience that is amassing during their set. Next up Street Dogs from Boston, Massachusetts, fronted by original Dropkick Murphys singer Mike McColgan. As you can imagine there are quite a few similarities between his former and current band, full of Boston Irish songs about the unions, working class and drinking. The songs themselves are good and they certainly know how to put on a show and get a crowd going but the in-between song rants about supporting your unions and "this one goes out for the workers" etc etc only seemed to cause the excitement levels to drop and it just appeared to lack sincerity in some way, and all this was before a Billy Bragg cover. Next Up Agnostic Front, and the pit is open for business. At the front and in total command of proceedings Roger Miret, proving why his legendary band fit in both punk and metal festivals with absolute ease. This is a class act and their nonstop touring ethos makes them one of the tightest acts of the weekend.

 

We're all here for one reason tonight, and that reason is Cock Sparrer. It's been eighteen years since they have been on home turf so the moment the intro tape kicks in the entire room is just waiting for the first lead notes of 'Riot Squad' to start proceedings. And we're not left disappointed, as soon as the first chord to the song comes out the PA "it's an off" as the crowd goes mental from the front to the back singing every word, the band jumping, moving, and spinning around defying their ages, extra mid rift poundage, and relaxed approach to touring - you get the feeling this is going to be very special already. Next up it's 'Watch Your Back' quickly followed by 'Working' and everybody (and I do mean everybody) is now singing along, including this usually much reserved scribe, which continues into 'Gotta Get Out'. The pace drops slightly with the playing of two less familiar tunes (for me) in 'What's It Like To Be Old' and 'Teenage Heart' before the Kentish Town choir is off again for 'Last Train To Dagenham', and 'Spirit of '76'. 'Tough Guys' and then 'Argy Bargy' follow, which we're all singing along to and there is another step up in crowd movement and involvement as the pit grows along with the smiles and nods of approval.

 

CS_1_Fri

 

I defy anyone not to enjoy Cock Sparrer live like this, often bracketed as simply street punk or Oi you can pick out those that they have influenced and those that they have been influenced by, from Slade, Dr Feelgood, The Who, The Small Faces, Sex Pistols, Madness, The Specials, Rancid, Oasis, yeah even Green Day, it's all in the mix somewhere with infectious sing along lyrics, jump around and shout along choruses, and some old school football terrace chanting. A formula, which was once described by rocker and writer John Robb as nursery rhyme song structures to ensure memorable as hell sing along lyrics. And in that you have why this band is so damn popular and why they continue to sell out shows like this. They simply play great music.

 

CS_2_FriSo the great music continues with 'Get A Rope', 'So Many Things', 'Running Riot', 'Chip On My Shoulder', 'I Got Your Number', 'Suicide Girls', 'Because You're Young', and 'Take 'Em All' - "the greatest  wanna fight the world song" ever written. Before we the crowd start off 'Where Are They Now' without the band, which continues into the second chorus with a little help from Colin before the band take over duties. The crowd continue to sing every word, nobody has any choice, nobody has any control, the event that is tonight doesn't give anybody any choice and dictates how you will act, you will sing, you will punch the air, you will enjoy yourself, you won't grumble about £4 for a warm can of beer, and you will wish tonight wasn't ever going to end.

 

The encores start with 'Sunday Stripper' and with Steve Burgess's bass kicking off proceedings with the usual powered bass line, then we're into 'Secret Army' before the band's seminal crowd pleasing anthem 'England Belongs To Me' which even Johnny H (although he will now deny it being a proud Welshman) was singing his little heart out to. Before the final song tonight 'We're Coming Back', maybe a subtle nod to the fact that the band will be back on the very same stage the following day, just as most of us will be back in the crowd.

 

Does it really get any better than this?

 

Oi Oi Saveloy. You can find out the answer to this question and many more tomorrow right here on Uber Rock, when Johnny H reviews Saturday's shenanigans that featured sets by The Boys, Penetration, UK Subs and The Exposed.