Judge Daryl Loomis got out of his bad neighborhood through reviewing DVDs.
Unbowed. Undefeated. Unforgiven.
Back in the late '70s and early '80s, London's East End was likely the roughest, toughest area in the city. Brawls over pints and football were commonplace and walking the streets alone at night put a massive target on anyone's back. The working class families that inhabited the East End weren't necessarily bad, but being poor and living and working under bad conditions causes frustration, which can easily lead to violence and crime. But, like in the similarly working class locales that I'm more familiar with, from those conditions also come music. Punk music, to be specific, and the greatest punk act ever to come out of the East End was a foursome called the Cockney Rejects.
The Rejects were formed in 1978 by Jeff Geggus on vocals, Mick Geggus on guitar, Chris Murrell on bass, and Paul Harvey behind the drums. The bassist and drummer would change a whole lot over the years, Jeff and Mick continue to this day, touring the world and riling up audiences for more than thirty years. It wasn't always that way, though, and East End Babylon tells the entire story.
Relayed entirely from the perspective of the band members, we find not only about the band, but more important, about the world they lived in that built the kind of tension and anger from which punk emerges. As stated by one of the band, "There were only three ways out of the East End: Football, Boxing, and Rock 'n Roll." Music's how they were able to emerge, albeit after a long time and a bunch of legal trouble. The other two, though, are inherently connected to the Cockney Rejects. Lifelong fans of West Ham United, football was bred into them and their music, including doing punk renditions of their theme songs. When fans of rival squads attended shows, fights inevitably broke out, fights in which they often had to defend themselves against personally.
This is where East End Babylon takes its most interesting turn. Their most famous song, "Oi! Oi! Oi!," with its rough anger and driving rhythm, inspired the Oi! subgenre of punk, which was partially associated with Fascist British youth. These people, who would (unfairly) color the entire meaning of "skinheads," felt like the youthful anger would make good fodder for their racist movement. I'm sure it worked on a certain level, but the band mates vehemently disavow any kind of association with these people and, even thirty years later, appear viscerally disgusted by the notion that they had anything to do with it.
In spite of their popularity and controversy, major success eluded them. While they were signed by EMI as teenagers and even appeared on Top of the Pops, like so many young acts before and since, they fell victim to its predatory label and, soon, legal trouble and weariness caused them to call it quits. It didn't take them long to get back together and, instead of touring only England, they decided to head to continental Europe, where they found that they had fans and influence greater than they ever could have imagined. Today, they are cited as innovators, heavily influencing the popular punk revival of the late-90s and early '00s. Green Day and Rancid are no Cockney Rejects, not by a long shot, but it sure must make them feel good to know that.
East End Babylon comes to DVD by Cadz in an average release. The image looks fine, but given that it's all either interviews or archival footage, there's not much going on with it. The surround sound mix is similar, with clear dialog and strong sounding musical clips. The only extra is a set of deleted scenes that run about half an hour and provide additional, though less valuable information.
East End Babylon isn't the most elegant or artistic documentary in the world, but the voices of the band are more than enough. Director Richard England lets them speak for themselves, but does a good job in his own right of putting together the story of the band within the context of where they grew up and how it factored into what they became. It's an excellent story about an excellent band and, if you are in any way a fan of punk music, it's well worth checking out.
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