welcome to the Skinhead Nation Hated by many, understood by few, the skinhead cult is a very different animal to that portrayed in newspaper headlines. Skinhead Nation takes you on a journey through the back streets of Britain, America and Europe to hear the skinheads' own story.

 skinheads rule okay!
One Law For Them

Part One
The Big Apple Bites back

Part Two
Among The Mugs

Part Three
Bring Back The Skins

Part Four
No Mean City

Part Five
Here Comes Johnny Reggae

Part Six
Violence In Our Minds

Part Seven
Ghost Town

Part Eight
Neither Red Or Racist

Part Nine
One Law For Them

Part Ten
Tougher Than Tough
Richard Allen skinhead books - buy them here!
The book version of Skinhead Nation is not currently available, but you can buy other skinhead and youth cult books online and by post from www.stpublishing.com
“Gangsta rap is black Oi!. That’s the best comparison. It’s the same working class ghetto mentality - against the world and fuck everybody.” So says Lol Pryor, former manager of The Business, one time proprietor of Syndicate Records and Link Records, and currently the main man at Dojo Records. What’s more, he’s dead right too.

The similarities go well beyond the fact that both styles of music are, albeit to different degrees, frowned upon by the mainstream. The bands go under similar names, CD cover artwork captures the same street atmosphere, and lyrically, the same themes crop up - gangs, violence, police oppression, urban decay, pride in your own kind. A different style maybe and origins that are thousands of miles apart, but when all is said and done, gangsta rap and Oi! are the products of the same back streets. In fact, there are more than one or two gangbangers in Los Angeles who cruise around the city with Oi! music booming out of their car stereo system. And I kid you not.

The big difference is though that despite the fact that both have their critics, gangsta rap is far more acceptable to the likes of NME and Select than Oi! will ever be. The reason for this is as clear as day. Gangsta rap is viewed from a romantic distance - the closest these people get to L.A. violence is watching Colors on home video. Oi! music isn’t like that though. It’s just that little bit too real, that little bit closer to home. It’s about the back streets of Britain where life has a nasty habit of slapping you one in the face.

From day one, Oi! has suffered from what could politely be called a public relations disaster. It’s no compromise attitude won it a loyal army of followers, but at the same time alienated everyone else for miles around. Outsiders rarely took the time or trouble to find out what Oi! was all about and so relied on the often repeated old faithfuls. Oi! is fascist rock. Oi! is crude, basic and worthless. Oi! is mindless noise. And so on and so on.

Greil Marcus, author of In The Fascist Bathroom (“A vital fin de siècle document” according to Rolling Stone magazine, “page after page of pretentious bullshit” according to me), dismissed Oi! as “1977 punk stripped of its humour and vision”. I didn’t realise the Pistols and the rest of the no future brigade had a vision, and as for humour, Joe Strummer was hardly up their with the likes of Sid James and Charlie Chaplin. The funniest thing about ‘77 punk rock is the fact that the likes of Greil Marcus take it so bloody seriously.

“Someone once said that the original wave of punk rock had been about art school students jumping up and down and being naughty and upsetting daddy,” recalls Lol Pryor. “I think Oi! really was about the kids coming in off the streets, out of the tower blocks and the building sites and it was just for real. People say that Garry Bushell invented it, but all he did was write about 20 or 30 bands who were there, and that gave it a focal point. For a time it was called real punk or reality punk, but I think the Rejects’ song, Oi! Oi! Oi! just summed it all up.”

“I honestly believe we were the first and only band to walk it like we talked it,” the Rejects’ Micky Geggus claims, and with some justification. “I mean, nowadays with bands like Guns N’ Roses, it’s hip to be hard. It’s how many tequilas you can drink and how many people you’ve bashed. In those days, we were blacklisted for doing what came naturally out of ignorance.”

Garry Bushell was the journalist at Sounds who championed the street punk cause while everyone else in the same game was falling over themselves to find the next big thing now that 2 Tone was about to be dropped. Oi! had been around under various names since the early days of Cock Sparrer and Sham 69, and at least in attitude for a lot longer still. “You can go back as far as The Small Faces, to be honest with you, for lads rock,” argues Mr. Pryor, “but what really crystallised it after the punk thing must have been Sham, Cock Sparrer, The Rejects, Angelic Upstarts, even The Lurkers and Slaughter & The Dogs.”

“Menace and them sort of bands were the harder edge of punk,” adds Mark Brennan, former bass player with The Business and the founder of Link Records who now runs the collector’s label, Captain Oi!. “They were the bands that I went to see and a lot of people I knew from those gigs then became The 4 Skins, Infa Riot and so on.”

Oi! was very much a continuation of punk, with each generation of bands inspiring the next generation. Members of The Cockney Rejects had been roadies with Sham, members of The 4 Skins had roadied for the Rejects and so it went on. Roi Pearce of The Last Resort and later of The 4 Skins was a roadie with Menace. And while all this was going on in London, street corner kids in other towns and cities were picking up guitars and forming bands too. “1979, we started as a punk band doing Clash, UK Subs covers, things like that, and a mixture of our own songs,” says Steve Smith, singer with Sunderland’s Red Alert who are still gigging, still recording and still knocking back too much beer to this day. “When the Eighties came around we had heard Sham, then the Rejects came along and we just picked up on that. We all became skins over night. The Rejects got us into the Oi! thing and we just got carried along with it.”

His brother, Patty, who is a member of another Sunderland street punk outfit, Red London, agrees. “Oi! is an extension of punk. When The Clash and the Pistols faded out, Oi! stepped in.” And as if to underline this evolution, you only have to look as far as the B side of Sham 69’s debut single, I Don’t Wanna (Step Forward), to find the source of Red London’s name.

Just as punk defined an attitude more than a style of music, the same was true of Oi! - something that will no doubt come as a big surprise to the “it all sounded the same” retards, but not to anyone who has actually heard any of the music. “Oi! is having a laugh and having a say - simple as that,” reckons Arthur Kay, bass player with The Last Resort. “It was good old street punk, punk without the pretension. It was kids in the streets strapping on guitars and giving it the big ‘un.”

Bands like The 4 Skins, Infa Riot and The Last Resort represent the hardcore Oi! sound with terrace chants over in your face street punk tunes. The likes of The Business and The Crack offer a far more melodic but no less street sound, very much in the vein of Sparrer, a superb band who were given something of a second wind with Oi!. Then you had cross-over mohican and studs bands like The Exploited and Vice Squad, who from time to time threw their lot in with the charge of the Oi! brigade. And of course you had the madcap element in the shape of The Toy Dolls, Splodge and others. And The Blood, one of the first bands to successfully bridge the punk-metal divide, were in there too with a depraved form of shock rock that really defies description (at least in a family publication such as this). Pat Gilbert was spot on in Record Collector when he wrote, “like most movements, Oi! was ultimately about a time, a place and a bunch of kindred spirits.”

To add to the confusion, not all of the bands associated with the music were happy with the Oi! tag. Blitz, who hailed from New Mills on the outskirts of Manchester and were in many ways the most successful of the Oi! bands, saw themselves as a straight-forward punk band. “Garry Bushell coined the phrase Oi!. We thought it segregated us from the rest of punk, when it’s very difficult to say what the difference was between Oi! and punk. If there was one, I couldn’t tell you what it is.”

November 1st, 1980, and Oi! had made it onto the front cover of Sounds in the shape of 4 Skin, Garry Hodges. Oi! The Album (Sounds/EMI), a compilation of old and new street punk bands, including Cock Sparrer, the Cockney Rejects, the Angelic Upstarts, Slaughter & The Dogs and The 4 Skins with Chaos and Wonderful World, came out the same month, and there was every reason to believe that Oi! would make it big time in 1981. A series of showcase gigs were organised in London at the start of the year, but two of the three gigs - the first one at Southgate, and the third one at Acklam Hall - ended in trouble.

The knockers were quick to condemn Oi! for encouraging a hooligan following, but the trouble was caused by outsiders on both occasions and it wasn’t just Oi! gigs that were kicking off at the time. In fact Oi! gigs tended to be peaceful affairs. “There was not the trouble at gigs people would have expected,” says Nidge from Blitz. “If it did arrive it was very small, the sort of thing you’d get at any gig.”

The Oi! bandwagon continued to roll however, and the Strength Thru’ Oi! compilation released on Decca in May made it to number 51 in the national charts. A number of large gigs were planned for that summer, but in the meantime a series of mini-festivals were organised which, in the words of promoter Dave Long, “would prove that Oi! is not about mindless violence.” Unfortunately, one of the gigs just happened to be at the Hambrough Tavern in Southall.

“Before Southall, Oi! was obviously the next wave of punk that was going to take off,” says Lol Pryor. “The 4 Skins had been offered a publishing deal, The Business had been offered a publishing deal, a lot of other big deals were being offered around, and Southall just buggered a lot of people up. A lot of people didn’t really want to know the truth and just dropped it and went on to something else, whether it was new romantics or whatever it was at the time.”

The gig at Southall featured The Business, The Last Resort and The 4 Skins. Spirit Of ‘69 covers it in all its glory, so there’s little point going over and over the same old ground. In a nutshell though, some minor disturbances before the gig involving local Asians and a handful of skinheads led to a full scale riot later that night, resulting in the gig being abandoned shortly before a hijacked police van was set on fire and rammed into the pub, setting it alight.

There was no doubt fault on both sides, but there was no need for the media or the politicians to find out what had really caused the riot - it was far more convenient to blame the Oi! bands and their skinhead following.

Lol was there with The Business that night. “With hindsight, people ask why was a gig held in Southall, but we’d played gigs in Lewisham, Deptford, Clapham, Stockwell, Hackney and elsewhere in inner-London, so why shouldn’t we play a gig anywhere else? Again with hindsight, certain people busing skinheads in on coaches with Union Jacks hanging out of windows wasn’t really a clever idea, and the three or four skinheads who decided to go up the road and start on some Asians in a kebab shop didn’t help the affair. But those skinheads were offered over to the police, but the police were reluctant to arrest them, and it got really out of hand. There’s the funny stories like the PA man who chained the PA down because he was worried about skinheads, and then when the pub was burning down, he couldn’t unchain his stuff fast enough. And The 4 Skins’ manager chasing the pub manager up the road for his money even although the pub was burning down.

“There’s the funny side to it and the bad side, but the stories that the press came out with - like skinheads were running out of the pub with petrol bombs . . . well, as you know, every pub in England sells petrol bombs behind the bar. There were loads of reasons why it probably happened, but what later appeared in the media was nothing like what really happened.”

Arthur Kay, who played with the Last Resort that night, agrees. “The Guardian was the only newspaper that gave both sides of the story. The tabloids gave a totally biased version and it was the end of Oi! as we knew it. It killed it. Bands like the Resort had to go underground. We couldn’t play a gig in London because of the GLC so had to play under aliases.”

The Southall riot put Oi! on the front pages of every newspaper in the country, but unfortunately for all the wrong reasons. It also saw the birth of myths that haunt Oi! to this day. As soon as journalists heard that the trouble was between Asians and skinheads, they didn’t need to know anymore. Oi! is skinhead music, all skinheads are racist, Oi! is music for racists, skinheads cause trouble, blame the skinheads, end of story.

“Since the Southall riots, all skinheads have been branded Nazis by the media,” complains Big Iain. “They are deaf to any other views. When I walk down the street, people will look at me and think, ‘Nazi scum’. I know I’m not, my mates know I’m not, but to the normal Joe in the streets that’s what I am. It’s hard to walk about like this knowing people hate you while you still feel pride in what you are.”

The Asian youths no doubt felt that they were justified in attacking the Hambrough Tavern that night, but whatever their reasoning, the fact remains that they caused the riot during the gig and continued to riot long after the gig was over. To suggest that the Oi! bands and their skinhead following were to blame, simply because of their very presence in Southall, is political correctness gone mad and gives credibility to a sensationalist media that it scarcely deserves. Would the same be said if a Moslem prayer meeting in a largely white area was petrol bombed by Christian white youths who found their presence inflammatory? And is it really such a crime to fly the Union Jack in the streets of Britain? Apparently so, if you are a white working class male.

“If you’re upper class you can take the Union Jack to the last night of the Proms and you’re a jolly good chap,” argues Arthur Kay, “but if you fly the flag at a football match you’re lower than a rattle snake’s arse.”

“Someone rang us up when we were running Link,” recalls Mark Brennan, “and he’d counted all the Union Jacks on record covers and was convinced it was some sort of right wing conspiracy. Trainspotters Weekly stuff really.”

Oi! was never just skinhead music either. It was for skins, punks, ex-mods, football casuals, herberts, anyone who cared to listen. Music for the football terraces. Just like with punk, the mod revival and 2 Tone before it, Oi!’s following was made up of mainly white kids, but it certainly wasn’t exclusively white kids that supported Oi!. What’s more, you are hard pressed to name an Oi! band that consisted of just skinheads back in ‘81. Not even The 4 Skins come close. Blitz were pure skunk - half-skin and half punk. “We had two skinheads and two punks in the band,” explains Nidge. “We were all listening to the same music, going to see the same bands, punks and skinheads all mixed in together. In the early days there was trouble between punks and skinheads, but it started to come together more about that time, 1980-81. We got to realise we were all into the same thing so it became more unified.”

In fact, if the truth be told, not all skinheads even liked Oi! music, and many thought it had nothing to do with the cult and its traditions, particularly when it picked up the gluebag following. Brian Kelson - “The new breed of skinhead was born out of punk. The music was just like rock music, heavy metal rock music. The clothes were so scruffy; big boots, hair shaved right off. Totally different music, taking drugs, sniffing glue - no original skinhead would have done that, dossing like a hippy.”

Today, it probably is true to say that most Oi! bands do consist of skinheads, and it’s also the case that most of its fans are skinheads now too. But that’s only because the music has received so much negative publicity that it has been left to the dedicated few to carry on flying the flag. It wouldn’t take much though to blow it wide open again, and get a wider, more varied audience jumping around to the likes of Sweden’s Agent Bulldogg, Italy’s Klasse Kriminale, Germany’s Voice Of Hate or England’s Mr. Mighty Men.

As for Oi! being political, there seems little doubt in the minds of those involved with the music at the time. “Absolutely not,” says Lol Pryor. “You could always get hold of a skinhead from up north maybe who would say it was a left wing movement, and somebody who was walking along the road outside Chelsea football ground - and I use that because the media loves to pick on them - who would say it was a right wing thing. I don’t think it ever was. There were people who had been involved in politics and if you ever get any working class movement of any sort, you’re going to get people who are involved in politics, be they left or right. These people had been involved, but I don’t think any of the bands had ever written anything political other than anti-Establishment.”

Mark Brennan agrees. “If there was any politics, it was street politics, politics with a small P, not party political nonsense. Things that concerned ordinary people from whatever area, whether it’s The Partisans from Wales or The Business from Lewisham. We did Sabotage The Hunt, but nobody picks up on that and says that’s a political song, but it was. Nobody picks up on Employer’s Blacklist. Last Train To Clapham Junction was about nuclear waste going through London. That affects everyone. Left, right, black, white. Oi! was the politics of life. It was more concerned about local issues, not The Clash singing about the Sardinistas. It was more on the ball. More realistic than idealistic.”

Again, as with skinheads, nobody is really interested in what Oi! stands for as long as they can label it as fascist rock. Until Matty smacked a Melody Maker journalist, The Blaggers ITA were the darlings of the music press because of their outspoken stance against fascism. When they signed to a major record label, they spent money that would have been used for throwing release parties for music business saps on full page ads in the music press, urging others to stand firm against racism. As any skinhead will tell you, The Blaggers started life as a fully fledged Oi! band, with House Of The Fascist Scum appearing on their debut album, On Your Toez (Oi! Records), so it’s as obvious as a kick in the balls that Oi! isn’t by definition racist.

“The Oi! thing was more of an attitude,” reckons Watford Jon, who now finds himself in Oi! band Argy Bargy after being a fan of the music for many years. “It was that stand up for yourself, believe in yourself, fight for yourself attitude, and as long as people have got the hump with the way they’re always told to do things, you’ll always have some form of Oi! music.”

There’s no getting away from the fact that part of Oi!’s support came from skinheads and others who were right wing - the same was true for 2 Tone, such were the times - but Oi! also had support from the left wing and from people with no interest in politics whatsoever. It’s a total fallacy that Oi! was racist rock. “We made it clear in songs like Propaganda that we absolutely weren’t right wing,” explains Nidge, “and we did the same through the interviews we did, so we never had a fascist element turning up at gigs.”

Outsiders who claim Oi! is racist music usually cite bands like Skrewdriver as examples, but as Ian Stuart said in an interview for Spirit Of ‘69 back in 1991, “We’ve never been an Oi! band. I would say we were a rock band.”

No Remorse’s Paul Burnley agrees. “It’s rock music really. It’s hard to define because No Remorse are different from a lot of bands, but we strive to be more Seventies style rock than heavy metal, thrashing guitars and stuff. We’re striving for the music to be powerful, but not to drown out the lyrical content. We’re not an Oi! band. We never really associated ourselves with the Oi! thing, although our music was very similar in the beginning to Oi! and skinhead punk music.”

Southall should have spelled the end of Oi!. It certainly stunted its growth for a short time - gigs were cancelled, shops refused to stock Oi! releases and the mainstream music industry couldn’t distance itself quick enough.

“A lot of people begrudgingly went into Oi!,” says Mark Brennan, “no different to how they begrudgingly went into picking up rap bands a year later. Industry-wise, nobody really liked it in the first place, but it was happening, they had to do something with it, and then Southall came along and it was all - ‘Told you’ - and that’s it. Knock it on the head and leave it. Whereas, things have happened since where people have been killed - nobody was killed at Southall - and they still fall over themselves to get their cheque books out.”

In fact, just ten days after Southall, a black teenager was stabbed to death at a gig at the Rainbow Theatre in London. If it had happened at an Oi! gig, you can bet your life that the moral majority would have been jumping up and down, calling for Oi! to be banned, but seeing as it was at a concert by roots reggae band Black Uhuru it was quickly forgotten. Hardly surprisingly, the Oi! bands felt they had been treated unjustly over Southall, a sentiment echoed on The 4 Skins’ debut single on their own Clockwork Fun label, One Law For Them.

They might have been down, but against all the odds Oi! was quickly to prove it was far from beaten. Carry On Oi! was released that October on Secret Records, and found its way to number 60 in the national charts. Amongst others, the album was dedicated to Martin Luther King, and Khalid Kharim and the Pakistani Punks and Skins. Other bands released singles, although big sales by the likes of The 4 Skins suspiciously didn’t result in chart placings. “If you look at the sales the bands were doing just before and after Southall, and compare it to what Carter and Manic Street Preachers do now, it was obvious Oi! should have charted at the time,” says Lol Pryor. “The first Business single did about 35,000 in the UK, The Blitz album did 40,000 in the UK with no promotion, no TV, no radio. That’s quite incredible really.”

Blitz’s debut album, Voice Of A Generation, was actually a top 30 hit, and underlines the generally held belief that they were the most successful of the Oi! generation. Like the others though, they had no great aspirations to conquer the world. “We saw an advertisement in Sounds for a new record label advertising for bands,” says Nidge of the band’s introduction to the No Future record label. “We sent them the four tracks we’d recorded at our own expense, and they said they’d release it as a single. They just pressed 1,000 copies, and we thought it would be great if we could sell them, and it ended up selling 25,000 copies so it was a big surprise. Suddenly, coming from nowhere to number two in the independent charts.”

For a year or so after Southall, the Oi! flag continued to fly proudly with little in the way of trouble. In fact the biggest danger to the general public seemed to be if you were unfortunate enough to be on the same stretch of motorway as Red Alert’s hired van. “We drove down to London in a big Luton van for a gig once, with 20 skinheads in the back, three lads in the front,” remembers Steve Smith. “And everybody was that drunk, it ended up with about ten different people having a go at driving the van. We were all young kids, 18 and 19, with one licence between us, and this happened going and coming back. And the van was all over the road, up on the grass verge . . . ”

Oi! though had given up any hope of making it to the centre stage again, and one by one bands began to call it a day. When Syndicate released the Oi! Of Sex compilation in 1984, things had reached such a low point that a number of the bands including Prole, Crossed Hammers and The Orgasm Guerillas were little more than studio bands dreamed up to help fill up the album. Label boss Ron Rouman explained the situation in the sleeve notes for the 1994 CD re-release of the album on the Captain Oi! label. “Although we were getting tapes in from new bands, most of them were crap and so rather than have a so so Oi! compilation we felt it better to alter things a little so that we got a great Oi! LP to help keep the scene alive. It must also be said that of all the bands on Syndicate the one we received the most mail for was Prole and we were actually going to do a Prole LP.”

Sadly, Syndicate weren’t long for this world, but the flame continued to flicker throughout the Eighties until first Oi! Records and then Link Records once again gave the music a whole new lease of life. Link especially, with its extensive re-issue programme and breaking of new talent, laid the foundations for today’s Oi! scene that has spread throughout the world. And nowhere is that truer than the United States Of America. The 1995 release, Backstreets Of American Oi! - Unreleased Anthems (Sta Press Records), contained tracks from no fewer than 25 bands from all over North America. Bands like The Anti-Heros from Atlanta, Georgia, Boot Party from Fresno, California and Sons Of Pride from Brossard in Quebec, Canada. And there will be other bands who didn’t make it onto this particular release, but who will turn up elsewhere. As the sleeve notes say, “It is true that the English set the pace for street rock-n-roll, and that classic bands such as Last Resort, Cock Sparrer, 4-Skins and the like are often imitated but will never be duplicated. England will always be respected for the introduction of Oi!. However, the time has come for the whole world to see who’s leading the race . . . ”

In terms of quantity, the above’s no doubt true, but in terms of quality only the top flight of U.S. Oi! bands come close to the standards set by their British counterparts. What’s more, a few of the American bands are really doing nothing more than playing Oi! by numbers, giving rise to the view that they are little more than second rate Last Resort wannabes. Even so, there are still at least a handful of Oi! bands in the States with the potential to produce music that could rival the very best street rock n’ roll sounds. It’s such a fresh, young and exciting scene, you can believe anything is possible.

One massive advantage American Oi! has over its British cousin is that it doesn’t have a Southall to continually justify. And given the multi-racial nature of the U.S. scene and the fact that the white power scene is totally detached from it, it’s never likely to have either. “There’s always been black people into it over here,” says Perry from Chicago, who is himself involved in a couple of Oi! bands at present, The Templars and Chapter 21. “I’ve always seen black skinheads over here, so to us it’s really no big deal.”

Interestingly enough, when media hysteria about Nazi skinheads was at its peak, the reality of the cult at street level was so different, that more non-whites were turning skinhead than ever before. Even so, you still get mugs who see that skinheads are involved and assume it’s some kind of fascist rock.

A young lady by the name of Laura runs a community radio show in Windsor, Canada, which thanks to a quirk in geography actually lies to the south of Detroit in the States. Although not a skingirl, she gives plenty of support to skinhead bands, with her playlist consisting almost exclusively of Oi!, punk and early American hardcore. “I’ve been called sexist, anti-female, definitely considered racist, fascist, right wing -and I’m careful what I play! I don’t want to play anything political, I’m not political myself, and I think it’s just because people hear the word skinhead in a song and think, ‘oh, this person’s a neo-Nazi’. That’s a minority though - most feedback is positive.”

The UK still seems to be able to come up with the goods musically, even if the bands are forced to go to Europe and even America to get anything close to recognition for their efforts. Recent losses like Another Man’s Poison and Pressure 28, two bands who led something of a new breed of Oi! in the early Nineties, are sorely missed, but there are still the likes of Blank Generation in Wycombe, Braindance in Norwich, and Boisterous and Crashed Out flying the Oi! flag in the North East.

A lot of the British Oi! bands and their following consist of skinheads who have been around since the early Eighties and who refuse to throw in the towel. The fact remains that very little new blood is coming into the cult in Britain these days, and the same is true of Oi!, and yet against all the odds, Hebburn in the North East throws up Crashed Out, an Oi! band made up of school mates. What’s more, they have managed to build up a decent size skinhead crew centred around a love of Oi!, boxing and the band.

Lee, who also plays with Cramlington-based Boisterous, followed in his brother Colin’s footsteps as far as discovering the joys of Oi! and boxing are concerned. Colin had also been a skinhead, so it was not too surprising he followed suit there too. After passing some cassette tapes of classic Oi! around at school and the boxing gym, more and more of his mates got into it, shaved their heads and a new generation of Hebburn Skins was born.

“Pop music is just crap,” says Lee. “Oi! is true life music, that’s what we’re in it for. It’s about things that really happen in the streets and it’s by ordinary people not pop stars that you can’t talk to.”

Cein, another Hebburn Skin, agrees. “Pop songs are all about love and happy endings, but that doesn’t happen in real life all the time does it? What’s so good about doing three chords on a keyboard and repeating it over and over again? That’s all it is really. Oi! music is about things that really happen.”

What’s really amazing about the Hebburn Skins is that they didn’t follow the vast majority of today’s kids into the dance scene. “I hate rave and all that music,” Lee explains. “It’s just crap. All it does is advertise drugs all the time - that’s all it ever goes on about. There’s just no point to it. Our music has got a point. It’s about real life, kids on the street, so why shouldn’t they listen to it? All the gangs are just raving, rappers, and it’s a load of crap. They should shave their hair and listen to our kind of music. It’s about everything they do on the street. All you rave kids with pants hanging off your arses, take a look in the mirror and then take a look at us. This is the real world.”

The current success of hardcore punk bands like Green Day, Rancid and Offspring (Offspring alone have notched up sales of over seven million CDs as of 1996) looks like it may spill over onto the Oi! scene. These bands were listening to Oi! music as kids and they aren’t ashamed to admit it. Rancid have been on MTV saying that Oi! is working class protest music and nothing else, and have regularly finished live sets with a cover of Blitz’s Someone’s Gonna Die Tonight. And in true street music fashion, labels like Epitaph are run by true fans of the music. The Business who are currently touring the States for the second time regularly team up with hardcore punk bands for shows, especially their good friends, Madball, so the cross-over is already happening.

All it is going to take is one band to breakthrough into the big time, and Oi! still has every chance of surpassing anything it has achieved to date. The talent’s most certainly there, and all they’re waiting for is the first glimmer of an opening and they’ll be straight in there.

Oi! is generally written off in most mainstream circles, but it has outlasted most of the so-called big acts that were around at the time Oi! first kicked its way onto the music scene. “A Haircut 100 single is worth tuppence today, while the 4 Skins first single is worth £15,” says Ron Rouman. “That’s a testimony to what it was all about.”

His close associate Lol Pryor naturally agrees. “When we started Link Records we were told by one of the largest distributors that we wouldn’t last three releases, and we lasted 300 before we wanted to do something different.”

The school of ‘81 have inspired a world-wide explosion of Oi! bands who can now be found all over North and South America, Europe, Australia, and elsewhere. The critics can knock it all they like, but one thing is for certain. Oi! Oi! music is going to be around to get right up their noses for many years to come. “Oi! is working class music,” says Steve Smith. “Beer drinking music. It’s a street level thing and there’s a real bond there. The media hates us, but we don’t care. The opposition to Oi! makes it stronger, and that drives us on.
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