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This Is Hardcore: Cock Sparrer - Shock Troops

Gallows guitarist Lags picks his essential hardcore and punk releases – every Thursday on TeamRock.

Cock Sparrer are widely celebrated as the unsung heroes of punk rock. They formed in 1972, a few years before the explosion of punk music, making them one of the oldest bands of their kind still playing today. Currently they can sell out venues and headline festivals worldwide, but their beginnings reveal a band struggling to fit in with the upper echelons of the punk world. Cock Sparrer’s unwillingness to adopt the spiky hairstyles and safety pin fashion of the late ’70s meant they weren’t as commercially viable as bands like the Sex Pistols and the Clash. After a brief stint on major label Decca Records, the band called it a day in late 1978.

But by the 1980s, the rapidly changing face of music forced punk underground, and a new sub-genre known as Oi emerged from the streets. No longer out of step with musical trends, Cock Sparrer’s combination of no-nonsense pub rock and glam-tinged beat music was now leading the way for other Oi bands like Sham 69 and Cockney Rejects. It seemed the climate was just right for the East London five-piece to make their comeback, and Shock Troops marked their return in 1982.

With surprisingly slick production for such a small release, coupled with a keen ear for memorable hooks, Shock Troops still stands out today as a well-rounded slice of punk rock genius. The cockney tone of singer Colin McFaul leads the band through thirteen tracks of personal ups, downs and tales of East-End life.

Opener Where are they now? may sound upbeat musically but lyrically it’s an acrimonious examination of punk’s slow disintegration over the six years preceding the album. Who are ‘they’ exactly? Well, it referred to bands like the Sex Pistols, who were already relics of the punk age.

Riot Squad starts with police sirens and goes on to tell the tale of a friend who recently signed up to the police force, while the chorus boasts the catchiest ‘Woahhhs’ ever committed to tape. Take ’Em All recalls Cock Sparrer’s experience on a major label with a line designed to send shivers up the spines of record company executives everywhere: “Put ‘em up against the wall and shoot ‘em”.

Unfortunately, the rising Skinhead movement was strongly linked with Oi music, which attracted right wing gangs enticed by the prospect of violence at gigs and the anti-authority sentiment within the songs. Many of these fascist punks adopted album favourite England Belongs to Me as their anthem of racial prejudice, after mistaking Cock Sparrer’s British pride as an absolute condemnation of all other nationalities. Word soon spread and live appearances became meeting grounds for fights. The London punks were soon running out of venues willing to take them back.

It’s a shame that one of punk rock’s most accessible bands is often overlooked when revisiting the genre’s early years. Perhaps it’s because Cock Sparrer attracted the darker side of Skinhead culture, leaving them as commercial outcasts for most of their career. Yet their uplifting attitude and sense of melody still rings true in the sound of modern punk giants like Rancid and Dropkick Murphys. Shock Troops is the glorious sound of London’s East End, bellowing from the football terraces and flooding the streets. I dare you not to sing along.

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