Photo by Angela Owens
Skinhead oi! music seems to fall into two distinct camps these days: stridently politically minded, be it left or right wing, where the songs are generic and forgettable, or the other spectrum, sans politics, with the tunes being sanitized to the point of a dull, aggression-free monotonous racket. What's a self-respecting, aggro-loving bootboy music lover to do? The fine lads of London's premier skinhead outfit Crown Court have the antidote for your affliction. For a musical genre with such limited stylistic perimeters, it always amazes me how so many bands get it wrong. There is a certain esprit de corps present in the best current practitioners of this genre, a feeling of respecting & honoring the tradition from whence it came without losing the urgency that made it so vibrant in the first place.
Ever since starting up in 2014, Crown Court have released in quick succession: Trouble in London, their three-song demo, and & the "RuckNRoll" 7" harken back to that raw, anthemic oi! vibe well suited to pumping your fists in the air as you run down the backstreets with your mates, steel-capped boots & all. On the eve of the release of their upcoming new "English Disease" 7" on the righteous Rebellion Records, I spoke to bassist Nick & guitarist Charlie, and the band graciously allowed us to preview a stomper off "English Disease" called “Jack Jones."
Noisey: Where does the band's name come from? I'm hoping it's from the song by the old Scottish band On Parole!
Nick: You got it, hole in one!
Charlie: Yeah it is. All credit to Nick and (our singer) Trevor on that one. We wanted something that wasn't cliché. It stuck.
What exactly is the "English Disease"? Is it an actual pathological condition or a metaphor for something else?
Nick: Thatcher coined the term to describe football hooligans. If it were a pathological condition then our Trevor would have a severely developed case.
Charlie: We thought it was fitting to the band. When you grow up in England causing trouble runs in your blood and the world knows us for it.
Can you pinpoint exactly when you become aware of the wonderful world of skinheads & who inspired you take up the oi! banner?
Nick: Well growing up in London, you get exposed to all kinds of subcultures at a very young age. My parents were punks so I think I had a heightened awareness of different cults early on. As for playing oi!, along with hardcore, it's the greatest manifestation of punk music to have ever been conceived, and I think we felt there was a lack of bands playing the sound the way we think it should be done.
Charlie: I was always well aware of skinhead. It's something you can't avoid here. Lots of people where I grew up parents were ex-skins or involved in casual stuff. Both my parents were punks in the 80s, so I was introduced to punk and reggae from a very early age. We started Crown Court because we felt that there was a serious lack of good modern oi!. A lot of modern stuff sounds like Green Day in boots and braces. That’s not what oi! is to me. It’s rock 'n' roll that grabs you by the bollocks. Oi! ain’t nice.
After several decades of this subculture becoming entrenched with several subsets vying as the "authentic" representatives of the culture, what do you think it means to be a skinhead in 2015?
Charlie: I feel like people get wrapped up in this identity crisis with skinheads. They're constantly splintering. I haven't got time for that. I'm a boy who was born and bred in London who likes to dress smart and play punk and oi! People need to see the bigger picture stop and dumbing themselves down to fit into some old stereotype of British youth. People also need to understand the context of that political shit at the time. Skinheads were muscle on the streets at the time, so these big political organizations came along both left and right wing and used boot boys to do their dirty work. None of these political parties care about skinhead music and culture or the youth involved. People need to realize that.
Nick: Often those into the original late 60s / early 70s sounds and style will outright dismiss oi! and any contributions made by skinheads during the 80s. That's obviously fucking stupid. On the other hand, the oi! scene is often splintered with what is essentially subcultural political rhetoric and little else. Shit is boring and bares little relation to real life, real people or real politics.
Personally I listen to everything from The Gaylads to Larry Williams to Indecent Exposure (and a whole lot of other shit with no relation to the world of skinhead). I wear my turn ups at varying heights (but always sewn in). Sometimes my hair is cropped; sometimes it's a college cut short back and sides. Sometimes it'll be brogues; sometimes it'll be boots. If it seems like I’m making a big deal about clobber that’s because it’s a point that needs to be made: its integral to this cult but its not, or shouldn’t be, a rigid set of rules, respect what’s come before but ultimately dress well and do you. Sorry for digressing.
You guys seem to be well versed in your craft, can you share two oi! records or bands that might be a bit more obscure or underrated, either from the past or now?
Nick: Recently French oi! has been pretty trendy over in the UK but strangely few seem to talk about the Swingo Porkies 7". Best ever use of sax in oi! in my opinion and the first ever oi! band from France. Those guys did a reunion recently with Wattie from Rixe/Lions Law on vocals. Props to him and all his bands. Second, I'll go for Blade from Japan. They were active for a couple years in the mid 90s but have a very different sound from the Tokyo based SSS bands, much more melodic. Their song “Boycott” is one of the best punk songs I've ever heard. Serious dressers too.
Charlie: Listen to the Bootpower comps and get familiar with the real proto oi!
I love the fact that you guys are putting out 7"s, as they make, in my opinion, a sharper no-fuss impact. Any plans for an eventual full length?
Charlie: Yeah I’d like to one day. Who knows?
Nick: I mean we've talked about it, but fuck knows if it will ever happen. With all the other bands we do, Trev's unusual work situation and the fact we are pretty disorganized at the best of times, it'll be tough, but I think that's what we want to shoot for.
Back in the 80s my friends & I worshipped British oi! as most American oi! bands sucked. That seems to have changed. Any current US oi! bands you guys dig?
Nick: Plenty of good stuff from the US. Most recently that Vanity LP did it for me. Great skinhead influenced RnR. Definite Chiswick vibe. The other Radigan's Battle Ruins is excellent too. I don't have to mention the Templars and given how longstanding they are and how prolific they have been, "current" probably ain't the right word to describe them but they remain, to this day, the USA's greatest oi band.
Charlie: I’m gonna echo Nick here. New Vanity LP is great. In terms of all time, The Templars never put a foot wrong.
Give me your thoughts on the following LPs by legendary oi! bands that drastically altered their sound: The synth-driven Second Empire Justice LP by Blitz?
Nick: Good. All the No Future-released stuff is better, though.
Charlie: Bang into it.
The hard hock/NWOBHM sound of The Wild Ones by Cockney Rejects?
Nick: Good. But Greatest Hits 1 and 2 are all I really need on the regular.
Charlie: Good but I could take it or leave it.
The pop-oriented Volunteers Lp by Sham 69?
Nick: Shit. Tell us the truth all the way.
Charlie: Played it once. Never again.
Any plans for bringing the "Trouble from London" & touring the states?
Nick: We would love to, but it's gonna take someone with better organization skills than myself to plan it. We've only ever played three shows, one of which we jumped on last minute. If the offer is there I'd be up for it.
Charlie: I'm up for anything.
Last but not least: Hoxton Tom for President or Joe Hawkins as King of the Skins?
Charlie: No contest Hoxton Tom. For skins, say no more.
Nick: There's only correct answer. Award goes to Hoxton Tom McCourt. Best dressed man of the 80s, played bass in the best oi! band of all time, DJ-ed soul just for kicks. Legend.
Thanks for your time lads! Any final thoughts or comments?
Nick: Cheers for the interview Freddy. New Breed is my favorite hardcore comp of all time.
Charlie: If you love your subculture respect the roots and the future of it. Don't get stuck in some rut. I wouldn't be playing guitar without all the NYHC bands, so thank you for that.
Follow Crown Court on Bandcamp and Facebook. Follow Freddy Alva on Twitter.