Once upon a time, the mainstream media demonised The Last Resort as the ultimate violent hooligan outfit, and their live shows were depicted as cesspits of mindless thuggery. In hindsight, you were probably just as likely to encounter tribal aggro and booze-fuelled scuffles, say, at a Crass or Discharge gig. At a time when Thatcher’s policies relegated hundreds of thousands to the scrapheap, working class youths had to assert themselves somehow.
Of course, that’s not what you expect to see at an average Oi gig today. Audiences tend to be older and wiser, and most have learned there’s a good way to avoid unpleasant incidents: leave your politics at the door, remove or cover up your factional insignia for the time being, keep your right arm or left fist to yourself. A simple, but effective code of conduct.
Now, if you insist on showing off your Ovaltinees t-shirt right in front of the stage, performing a kind of exotic dance routine with your back turned to the band – as done by a big bloke during the first few Last Resort numbers at their latest gig – chances are you’re deliberately pushing the envelope, but you’ll probably get away with it. We’re hoping you’d be just as charitable if one of us did the same sporting a Redskins tee. Indeed, when the striptease artist shed his Ovaltinees top to reveal a sweat-drenched torso, some of us wished he had kept it on.
If you, on the other hand, accentuate every chorus with a Roman salute, then you’re crossing a fine line beyond which people are bound to react. We shall return to this in due time.
The band to fire the opening salvo were The Ejected. Dagenham herberts known from the original Oi compilations, they bear responsibility for inspiring a swathe of religiously devoted Japanese bands such as The Discocks. While I’ve never been a massive Ejected fan, some of their tunes do pack a punch – e.g. ‘Young Tribes of England’, or brain-addled cold war fare such as ‘Afghan Rebels’ (as we now know, effectively a pro Al Qaeda song). Judging by the young age of his fellow musicians, only vocalist Jim Brooks seems to have remained from the original 1980s line-up. It was a solid enough performance, though I suggest it’s time to stop singing about ‘Dirty Schoolgirls’ once you’re pushing your sixties…
Fast-forward straight to the legendary Last Resort. Certainly, there could be no better place to watch this band than The Pipeline in Middlesex Road, formerly known as Petticoat Lane. The street served as a major stomping ground for the late 70s and early 80s skinhead revival and was a stone’s throw from the Last Resort shop that carried the band’s demo cassette.
The ‘War Pigs’-like intro of ‘Freedom’ that kickstarted the Last Resort’s set surprisingly led into ‘This Is My England’, the title track of their excellent 2013 album which, like the best British Oi, was outspoken, authentic, and political from an uncompromisingly working class perspective. By the time hits such as ‘Rebels With A Cause’ and ‘Working Class Kids’ came smashing in, this author’s critical faculties were truly gone. What can you say about this colossal band – except that they’re a far more powerful live act than any band in their age group has the right to be? Blinding show.
There are different accounts as to what happened in the audience some ten songs in:
1) The ‘bonehead’ martyr version: as a couple of far right gentlemen reported on the Last Resort Facebook page, “the reds attacked the gig”. Obvious nonsense – rather than attacking the gig, “the reds” were part of the audience and enjoyed themselves just as much as ‘the browns’ did.
2) the ‘apolitical’ version: the scuffles that broke out were merely a case of “kids” disrespecting the unwritten code of the pit, stamping on people instead of picking them up. However, they were soon “sent to sleep” by “the old guard”.
And then, there’s what I saw with my own eyes: two punters squaring up to each other. For the sake of anonymity, let’s call them Mr Scruffy and Mr Sharp. Mr Scruffy, who wore skinny jeans with his olive green MA-1 copy, raised his right arm and sieg heiled right in Mr Sharp’s face. Not once, not twice, but repeatedly. Understandably, Mr Sharp – who sported the hard & smart look known as ‘skinhead’ – didn’t take kindly to it.
Whether Mr Scruffy got his forehead split open there and then, or whether it happened in one of the subsequent brawls, who can say? He certainly got to spend the bulk of the night with blood running down his face. As one of the kids who were involved in the initial scuffle tells me, Mr Scruffy’s right arm had been going up again and again before they intervened. When they told him to stop, he would not. To claim he wasn’t asking for it would be a hard sell.
In the past few days, various apolitical folks from the ‘old guard’ have been quick to condemn the kids for ‘bringing politics to the gig’. They are less keen to condemn Mr Scruffy – the man who started with the politics, after all. Indeed, they’ve kept completely quiet about his actions.
Look – there were black punters in the audience. At least one Jewish skinhead was present. There were foreign skins among us. This is what today’s urban working class looks like. Throwing Nazi salutes, Mr Scruffy not only disregarded the aforementioned code of conduct, he also expressed contempt for a good chunk of the audience. Had he kept his bigotry to himself, he would have had nothing to fear except the fashion police.
Roi of The Last Resort is unafraid to say where he stands: “For me, people are people, I don’t care about their race or where they come from”. It speaks volumes that The Last Resort regard Grade 2, a multi-ethnic band of the ‘new guard’, as their mates. Likewise, the band’s original vocalist Saxby doesn’t mince words: “I am not homophobic, I am not a racist, I am not religious, I am not a fascist”, he sings in the Warriors song England.
These good people come from the same scene as you – but they speak out. Not because they’re ‘PC police’, but because they stand for working class unity. Where do you stand?