How’s that for a bizarre band name? The nice folks of Maximum Labour Records who sent me this slab of vinyl are certainly Oi historians: they have unearthed and remastered the demo tapes of a band from Brussels that had donned a skinhead image years before it occurred to any other Belgian punk band to do likewise. As early as 1980, Buzz Buzz and the Common Oi were seen on Belgian stages with closely cropped hair and – customary among first-generation Oi bands from the continent – more or less improvised skinhead gear. That’s early if you consider that it took the Germans and the French another year or two to get there – ‘Oi! The Album’ had only just hit the shelves.
Buzz Buzz and the Common Oi only played a handful of chaotic, often violence-ridden gigs before calling it quits in 1983. They never published anything and only recorded the 1981 demo tracks heard on this retrospective 12” EP, which were deemed lost until recently. Let’s get one thing straight right away: this music is of historical interest, and the label has done a great job preserving a little piece of forgotten skinhead history, enhancing the quality of the audio to near-listenable levels and adding a multilingual booklet that compiles photos, lyrics and anecdotes from the band’s short career – these people are fans who care. But nobody is likely to listen to the record for pleasure, at least not repeatedly. What we’ve got here is extremely basic punk, rudimentary playing skills and practically non-existent songwriting. Sometimes the band don’t consider it necessary to throw in anything resembling a chorus, so the vocalist just ends up singing near-identical lines over and over like a mantra. There aren’t any aural signifiers to distinguish this as a skinhead/Oi band either – instead of guttural vocals or glory-bathed chord progressions, we hear a shambolic punk combo that may just as well have appeared on Crass Records’ Bullshit Detector series.
What’s more, the lyrics are all in English. It wasn’t until a year or two later that singing in English became fairly universally recognised as the sign of the poseur in continental punk and Oi – rightly so, in my opinion. But at this early stage, approximating the British blueprints was more important than issuing messages straight from the guts, using the language that you spoke every day. This circumstance, on the other hand, allows us a glimpse into the attitudes and concerns of early Belgian skins, as reflected in these six songs. In ‘Reaction’, the singer laments that skinheads aren’t understood by any political movements or by society at large: “Blacks, whites, reds don’t like me”. He is just a worker when he has a job, he says, but “at the moment a wanderer”, i.e. unemployed. His enemies are “politicians and cops” – he likes his “country, music and friends” and is proud to be a skin. The “press says we are the nazis”, but skinheads are just a “reaction to this fucking society”.
Some of these statements are then contradicted in other songs, such as ‘Brussels’, where the narrator identifies himself as an “enemy” of Brussels and of Belgium who’d be happy to see his city’s demise and wants to “find another country” to live. These are just raw protest screams against unemployment, though: Brussels doesn’t offer him good work, he says, and many working-class girls are reduced to prostitution. ‘The Last Resort’ tells us about a street demonstration with “red flags” and “black flags” flying – “blacks, whites, the young are united” until 2,000 armed cops move in and bash everyone’s heads in. “The last resort is the revolution”, the song concludes – not quite so apolitical as initially indicated, then.
The other tracks offer 1) a fairly amusing story about picking up a girl and accidentally ending up in a Hell’s Angels bar with her, where self-preservation demands that the grease are acquainted with the full weight of bar stools hurled at close range (‘Proud to be Skin’); 2) the story of a gang member who ends up dead, although his real killers aren’t the enemy gang, but a society that offers young people no future (‘Johnny Was Dead’); and 3) some nonsense about the band (‘Buzz Buzz and the Common Oi’). On the whole, I’d say the lyrics are as honest and from the heart as you can possibly be when singing in a foreign language, and I found them to be far more interesting than the band’s music.
This isn’t a brilliant Oi record, and I doubt you’ll find yourself playing it more than once. But it’s a document that captures something real – an innocent time that will never come back. It’s unlikely to ever be reissued too, so once these 300 copies are gone, that’s it. Completists and history fiends, then, are well-advised to get this piece of vinyl, which captures the earliest baby steps of the Belgian scene.