Back in early 1977 in a small dock town in Essex once described by The Sun as a “grey desolate place stuck up the throat of the Thames”…..nothing was happening! Well not until three individuals took in their flares chopped up their hair and ventured on the train across the border (Barking) to London . They returned with exciting tales of strange goings on, bizarrely dressed individuals and a club called The Roxy. Bill Grundy had already kindly put The Sex Pistols on the map and to this young girl life was beginning to smell of more than horse manure and my heart was beating faster than when flirting with the local diddikais. Punk Rock had climaxed!
Yeah we dared to be different but by 1978 ‘different’ had become a uniform. Carefully packaged and sanitized punk saturated our senses. Even the daily tabloids that had just months before vilified us now offered the pretty, straight girls tips on how to perfect that sassy punk look. It was time to look elsewhere to escape the comedown. Enter the second coming of the skinhead. After all, who really wanted to be desirable? Sham 69 were still singing about the working class kids but the gigs were becoming more of a risk than fun. The right wing worker ants were intent on brandishing their egos without the clarity of thought and Jimmy Pursey spent more time lecturing the children than playing music and having fun. You remember fun dontcha? West Ham were our closest big football team and the Cockney Rejects were our nearest band in terms of what represented us, the underdogs, the working class street kids without the politics. Hell.. they were our mates! They didn’t have to pretend to be anything, they didn’t have to dress up or down. If there was a ruk they’d jump in. After every gig we’d grab a copy of Sounds to see whose name Garry Bushell had mentioned. It was never an ‘us’ and ‘them’ situation. But most importantly, they belted out tunes that we could relate to and sing along to. We had a voice again. This was taking punk back to its pure base element. We had humour, cynicism and a pretty accurate view of life from our perspective.
Based on the book by Jeff Geggus East End Babylon is not just a film about the lives of Jeff and big brother Mick but a story of the East End itself as seen through the eyes of a family. Richard England who was the executive producer of 'Oil City Confidential' cleverly sets the scene with some opening archive footage of the WW11 blitz on the East London dockland. From here, Ma Geggus begins to share her early memories and if you don’t warm to her immediately I’ll eat my many hats. We hear about the conditions that met both Mick and Jeff as they entered the world. As they begin to tell their own stories with warmth and humour you begin to feel a sense of pride that is almost contagious. Fiercely loyal, emphasis on family throughout, they get to put the record straight once and for all with a little help from those involved along the way such as Garry Bushell and Jimmy Pursey. Taking punches both inside and outside the ring, metaphorically and literally, they still come out fighting. As I take a glance around the avid viewers sharing the tale I see familiar faces from bygone days. I can’t always put a name to the face but you sense that everyone is in this story. It’s a story of hardship and at times sadness as well as humour. It’s more than a rockumentary, it’s an historical account and a social comment. Then suddenly in the old footage there’s one of us. The point is, we ARE in this story. You don’t have to be a West Ham fan or an Eastender to be proud of who you are or where you are from. From Top of the Pops to nowhere and back again, from Poplar to Poland, the Rejects are still living the story that is far from over.
This was never more evident than when the curtain lifted following the film to reveal the true stars of the night. Launching energetically into a full set, short, sharp, punchy songs …this is what it’s all about! Jeff as youthful as ever, bouncing about like he’s sparring with the crowd, one side of the stage to the other, the lyrics now more poignant after an insight into the lives that inspired them, East End, Unforgiven. Mick in his Hammers colours ripped into the guitar for all the old favourites like War on the Terraces, Bad Man, Where the Hell is Babylon, Join The Rejects, Greatest Cockney Rip Off, Police Car, and my personal favourite, ‘I’m Not a Fool’. It was fantastic to see them joined by original bass player Vince Riordan who they had lost contact with for a long time to cries from Jeff of “Let’s fucking tear this fucking place up. North London…the East is here!!!” ….Flares and Slippers kicked Camden up the backside as numerous fists punched the air in approval. Of-course the set wouldn’t have been complete without a rendition of I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles. The Cockney Rejects have long been maligned, patronised, under estimated and generally scoffed at…..because they are exactly what they are, just what it says on the tin, and that, ironically, is exactly what is going to stand the test of time in my humble opinion. I guess the lesson is, never give up, and in the words once said to me by Mick Geggus “Never look back”!