London bad boys Cock Sparrer, soccer hooligans, notorious drunks and working-class heroes to millions of finger-wagging oi fans everywhere, never thought they would make it to America. Four blokes who get by installing central heating, working construction and the like do not dream big dreams. An American tour? No way. In the sporadic 25-plus year history of Cock Sparrer—they only recently reformed after a long layoff—they never imagined it. In the band’s heyday, American music fans were confused by oi, often assuming that most fans of this music, with their shaved heads and big boots, were neo-Nazis. And, though U.S. audiences are warming to oi, thanks to education provided by bands such as The Workin’ Stiffs, The Dropkick Murphys and to some extent Rancid, economic barriers and concerns have dampened prospects of long-distance touring.
Sure, there had been standout moments in Cock Sparrer’s career—opening slots for the Stones and the Small Faces, adoration of punk fans around the world, deification as a voice for everyday working Joes who don’t have the time to read Marx or the patience to deal with white upper-class socialists who don’t know what it means to scrape by in a blue collar. But in 2000 they figured it was time to do the unthinkable. With a short tour they steamrolled audiences in punk strongholds like New York and San Francisco and Live: Runnin’ Riot Across the U.S.A., their newest album on TKO Records, is an attempt to relive the magic.
Riot could easily be called Greatest Hits Live as Sparrer storm through their discography playing tracks that, though simplistic, show an element of class-consciousness and pub wisdom missing in much contemporary punk. From the first blast of “Riot Squad” through the climax of “England Belongs to Me”, quite possibly the most famous oi song of all time, the boys play their incendiary blend of straight-no-chaser rawk. No solos, no guitar worship, no posturing, just rocking; all over Riot we smell the ashes of punk’s dead spirit, the potential it once held to start a riot at any minute. Cock Sparrer will never be rich and they probably never will make it back to the U.S., but at least we still have their legacy on album.
For the diehard oi fan, much like it was for Cock Sparrer, Live: Runnin’ Riot Across the U.S.A. is a dream come true, and, for those unfamiliar with oi and Cock Sparrer, those who are missing out, this is a great introduction that should be supplemented with discs by the aforementioned bands, plus The Burdens and Sham 69. Do yourself a favor, pick up Riot, don your boots and braces, pop a cold one, crop your hair and stick two in the air; this is one you don’t want to miss for the second time.