Life can be fucking revolting when you're Scotland's best anarcho punk band.
Oi Polloi in Berlin, 1987. From left: Gangi, Deek Allen, the author, Chris Orr
I'm not sure if you've heard, but there's a royal wedding at the end of April. While most of London will spend that weekend waving little flags and gradually melting down into one amorphous, lager-wrecked, red, white and blue vomitoria, others will gather in some crustier corner to hoist their black masts high and celebrate a different anniversary. Yes – in one of those neat twists of fate, royal wedding weekend dares to fall on the 30-year anniversary of the first time Scottish anarchos Oi Polloi got together to shout and play loud music in front of other people.
I spoke to Deek Allen, the band's only ever-present member, as Oi Polloi rehearsed for their Fuck The Royal Wedding live spectacular. He was full of stories.
VICE: As you look forward to playing to one thousand anti-royalist punks, most of whom wouldn't have been born when you started, can you believe you guys have been around for 30 years now?
Deek Allen: We're more amazed than anyone. When we started were just a bunch of spotty teenagers attempting to play Exploited covers in a mate's garage with just one 15-watt amplifier and a drumkit composed of old buckets of fertiliser. Once we'd learnt how to cover enough of their songs badly, we played our first gig at a school charity concert. We didn't have a mic-stand so it was just held up by a mate at the side of the stage with his hand sticking out from behind a curtain. It was so dire that everyone apart from one person fucked off to the next room to watch a karate demonstration instead.
Oi Polloi, 2006
How did things develop for you after that?
Once we had some songs of our own we sought out some 'proper' gigs. We had a lot of difficulty finding them though. We ended up playing Under 12s' Youth Clubs and homes for kids with special needs.
Not exactly Hammer of The Gods. Did you ever feel like packing it all in, flattening your hair and getting a real job?
Bizarrely, what kept us going through those days was the enthusiasm of this guy from the north of Scotland. He used to send us a camera film each week to go up town and take pictures of ourselves posing around with our punk mates trying to look hard, and mooning and flicking V-signs at the camera. Of course, the fact that this guy we'd never met was so keen on encouraging us to bare our arses for the camera should have set alarm bells ringing, and lo and behold, it turned out that far from being the "19-year-old punk rocker with a green mohican" he was in fact a fifty-something convicted sex-offender.
Shortly after we'd rumbled him he stopped writing to punk bands, and started writing to skinhead acts encouraging the hapless skins to pose topless in front of Union Jack flags and give it Nicky Crane poses in their skintight Levi's so he could see their "balls bulging"... Again, no doubt for his own masturbatory pleasure, but to give him his dues he did find a pretty creative way to get around the social stigma attached to low-level paedophilia.
I suppose things could only get better for you after having a paedo as a patron.
Yeah, you could say that, but things have never been dull. We've had over 50 members in those last 30 years. Some of those people are now playing in bands like The Exploited and Disorder, but one guy's in this band Aberfeldy who had a song in a Diet Coke ad last year. It's weird looking back at the days when we'd gig all over Europe, the US and Canada, sometimes to a few thousand people at a time. Most of our shows now, though – like they were back then – are intimate affairs in hot and sweaty places full of people who are looking you right in the eye and dancing around on the stage (if there is one) while you're playing. We're not a hotels band. We usually end up staying with members of the audience after the shows.
I guess there must be times when decidedly un-street and decadent luxuries seem appealing, though?
Tell me about it. Some amusing things happen when you stay with those on the "crusty" side of things who think it's cool to be as filthy and stinking as possible. We've lost count of the number of times we've gone to stay at squats after gigs and encountered what look likes a post-nuclear nightmare with black rag-clad figures huddled around fires in various states of intoxication while wild dogs roam around piles of rubble on the wasteland where the squatted building is situated.
One time I was up on the roof of this squat doing an interview when the cops steamed in and started battering folk. We just pulled up the ladder after us and stayed on the roof till the coast was clear again, but by that time I'd lost all my bandmates and was stuck for a place to stay. Luckily this girl I met said I could stay at her squat down the road as one of her mates was away. "Nice one," I thought, especially as there was the unexpected comfort of a mattress. I got into bed and began to luxuriate, until suddenly I started to feel as if there were hordes of tiny insects crawling all over my body.
"NO," I thought, "this can't be happening. I must be imagining it." But sure enough, a couple of seconds later it dawned on me that it was fucking happening and after I leapt out of bed screaming I put on the light and the sheets were literally seething with an undulating carpet of fleas and lice. Fucking horrendous.
Then you have your ten-a-penny stories about dogshit littered floors – we went through one guy's LPs and there was dogshit on the record sleeves! – and pissed up wankers throwing darts at sleeping peoples' heads.
How about abroad? It always seems like the punk and squat scenes are more together and better organised over there.
That's what we thought too until we toured there. We played in this Polish squat last year and when we asked this guy where the toilet was he just looked at us as if we were dumb and said "Toilet is... everywhere." As our eyes acclimatised to the candelight, we made out crusty figures squatting in darkened corners like a scene from Macbeth; rivers of diarrhoea flowing into the already faecal-caked floor.
The worst had to be Cologne, though. When we arrived to play this squat this guy offered to give us a guided tour and started by saying: "There are three kinds of people who stay here: there are the political people and they are okay, there are the punks and they are okay... and then there are the people with body lice." He then took us into this cavernous basement that was just full of piles of rotting clothes and blankets, interspersed with buckets of something black and foul-smelling. "Don't go too close," he cautioned, "this is where the people with body lice sleep."
Turned out the piles of stuff were the nests where they bedded down and the buckets were full of putrefying shit and piss and were black because they were coated with a layer of floating dead flies – you had to see it to believe it. The after-party with these characters was something else, too – like a Hieronymous Bosch painting! Fearful of what further horrors lay in wait, we spent the night cowering inside our locked tour van in the midst of some subterranean parking lot while "the people with body lice" drank, danced and copulated outside all night long.
Having to put up with hospitality like that, haven't you ever been tempted to return your appreciation in kind?
Last summer in Finland some members of the crowd were really annoying us, so we mixed some of our own piss in with this brutal Finnish homebrew to give to them. We decided not to give it to them in the end, but one came over and demanded it from me – I tried to explain it wasn't for drinking, but he just snatched it from me and downed it in one.
The Finnish have tangoed with our urine more than once – another time our bassist was really drunk and relieved himself over this guy passed out by the front of the stage. When we got home there was a letter from some woman who had been there. She said she was a piss fetishist and that it was one of the best things she'd ever seen on stage!
Any more disgusting shit you want to get off your chest?
Once we stayed with this couple who were putting us on in Wales. Their relationship was on the rocks, and the morning after the show he demanded that we go to the pub with him and his six-month-old baby he'd been left in charge of. He'd drunk a two-litre bottle of cider for breakfast so was already out of it by the time we got to the boozer. He had a couple more pints, was swaying in his seat and burping and we were getting more and more worried about his ability to look after this tiny baby he had in his arms when suddenly he just went "Fuck – BLEEUUUUURGH" and puked up all over it – the fucking baby was covered in vomit. It was one of the worst things I have seen.
And you're celebrating thirty years of this? Some folk would rather do that time in a Thai prison, it'd probably be safer and more hygienic.
There are a few negative aspects to the underground punk scene, but the shit-encrusted, flea-ridden squats are thankfully the exception rather than the rule. Sometimes it's better that they are squats. In Poland (again) this kid told us we could "play in his girlfriend's house". We got there and it looked alarmingly normal – there were pictures of Jesus and Mary on the walls and stuff. When we asked them where their record collection was they got really evasive, and we realised that they'd just broken into any old house for us to do a gig in the living room.
Another time in Poland we stayed in this cheap hotel with the organisers, and they were testing out all these homemade Molotov cocktails in the shower and the wardrobes! They threw buckets of water on the blazes, but the room was wrecked and then the next morning they tell us the hotel's run by the Polish Mafia and we have to climb out of our fourth floor windows to get away.
Needless to say, plenty of gigs have ended up in full-scale riots, too – rubber bullets, water cannons, tear gas, etc. At one in Berlin the punks started throwing petrol bombs and the cops had to flee for their lives.
Oi Polloi have always been an uncompromisingly political band, and you're especially known for really hating fascists. Ever get in any bother with those guys? Having the word 'oi' in your name – and Nazi skinheads not generally being renowned scholars of ancient Greek – must have caused a few problems for you along the way?
That's a bit of an understatement. A couple of years ago in Switzerland, fascists put a bomb in the concert hall where we were playing, timed to go off in the middle of our set. Luckily someone spotted it in the nick of time and bravely took it outside where it exploded a couple of minutes later in a 20ft-tall ball of flame. Had it gone off inside, I wouldn't be here talking to you now.
Another time in Estonia the idiot promoter had decided to put us on the same bill as some fucking neo-Nazi band, who had such choice numbers in their repertoire as a version of the Beatles' "Get Back" with the chorus changed to "Nigger! Nigger! Nigger! Get back to the jungle where you belong." We had no idea about any of this – we'd been drinking in the van – so needless to say the mob of skins didn't take kindly to us opening our set with the song "Bash the Fash!" We had to physically fight our way out of the venue, and the only two people who came to our aid were the two ethnic Russian bar owners – a couple of Stalin lookalikes who pulled out nail-studded bats from behind the bar to lay into the boneheads.
Seeing as this is loosely related to the royal wedding, I should probably tell you about the close shave we had in Dublin once. There were a load of conservative Catholics in the audience who weren't big fans of our pro-choice abortion song "The Right To Choose".
OK. What happened this time?
They were gonna give us a serious kicking. We were only saved by the fact there was a local feud between two traveller families, one of whom were drinking downstairs in the pub. Luckily, their enemies had chosen that precise moment to break into their van, set it on fire and push it down the hill straight through the plate glass window of the pub, sending the whole place up in flames. In the chaos, the Pope's bootboys quickly forgot about giving us a shoeing. We're just hoping we don't get any angry royalists along to fuck us up at our Fuck The Royal Wedding show. Do you want any more? Have you got enough for the interview?
I'd say I've got about enough, yeah. Thanks very much for your time Deek, you lucky bastard.