Cock Sparrer - The Albums 1977-1987 4 boxset reviewed

Cock Sparrer  The Albums 1978-1987 (Cherry Red/Captain Oi!)
Cock Sparrer The Albums 1978-1987 (Cherry Red/Captain Oi!)

This 4CD boxset gathers the early work of Cock Sparrer, a band from the East End of London who, over the course of a 45-year career, have been transformed from pub rock wannabes to street-punk legends.

Formed in 1972 while the members were still at school, they signed to Decca Records and released two unsuccessful singles, Running’ Riot and a cover of The Rolling Stones’ We Love You.

Cock Sparrer pictured in their early 80s pomp.

Cock Sparrer pictured in their early 80s pomp.

They sold so poorly that what was intended to be their debut album was released only in Spain, in 1978, though it was released in the UK in 1987 as True Grit.

It’s the 2006 Captain Oi! re-release, which was repackaged again as The Decca Years, which makes up the first disc here, though with its original name restored.

It’s a long way removed from the beefier sound of later years, though there are a handful of decent tracks, notably the singles, Taken For A Ride and What’s It Like To Be Old - the latter included here as one of five bonus tracks.

The lack of sales meant they were dropped by Decca, and that seemed to be that until some of their old songs were featured on the Oi! compilation albums compiled by Sounds writer Garry Bushell in 1980 and 1981.

They reformed in 1982, releasing their debut album, Shock Troops, in 1983, and although it didn’t sell well at the time, it’s packed full of terrace singalong anthems, and has long since been recognised as a stonewall punk-era classic.

Seven of the 10 tracks still feature regularly in their live set as they headline festivals around the world - the likes of Where Are They Now, Riot Squad, Take ‘Em All and Watch Your Back, and they‘re cited as an influence by many of today's streetpunk bands.

The 1982 non-album single England Belongs To Me and its B-sides are included as bonus tracks, and fit right in to a record which is one of my all-time top 10 punk records.

Sadly for Sparrer, an album which should have been as lauded as debuts by the likes of the Sex Pistols and The Clash passed largely unnoticed, despite a five-star review from Bushell in Sounds.

You got the feeling they had missed their moment, but they persevered, and two years later released the album which is disc three here, Running Riot in ’84, which, despite the presence of Think Again and The Sun Says, isn’t a patch on its predecessor.

The live versions of early songs Chip On My Shoulder and Runnin’ Riot offer a glimpse of what fans were missing as the band struggled to get gigs due to the rowdy following they attracted.

Again they went their separate ways, but a gig recorded before the split was released in 1987 as Live And Loud, and that makes up the final disc in this set.

It captures Sparrer in their element, playing live, as it’s only in recent years that any of their studio recordings have done them justice.

L&L includes many of the songs which remain staples of their sold-out gigs today, though this set is notable for their cover of The Clash’s White Riot, which isn't available anywhere else.

They’ve recorded songs which are just as good since, and I hope there’s a follow-up set to bring their story up to date. 8/10.