The punk business plan of Cock Sparrer

Oi! To the World
By BARRY THOMPSON  |  May 15, 2012

main_CockSparrer_480
LEGACY ACT "Our career seems to have happened backwards," says Cock Sparrer's Daryl Smith
(second from right, with Steve Burgess, Mick Beaufoy, Colin McFaull, and Steve Bruce). "We're more
popular now than we ever were in the beginning."

If you play in, work with, or write about bands, you've doubtlessly listened to dozens of wheeler-and-dealers pitch purportedly clever plans to "make it" in the music biz. Most of these schemes fall into the half-baked, get-rich-quick variety. But Colin McFaull, Steve Burgess, Mick Beaufoy, and Steve Bruce enacted an offbeat — and notably successful — marketing strategy when they formed Cock Sparrer in East London 40 years ago.

Their plan, so it seems, was to be carried out as follows: Step #1: spend the better part of the '70s fishing for industry support. Then give up and get day jobs after a few near-misses (most famously, they refused to play ball with the Sex Pistols' pied piper Malcolm McLaren, taking umbrage with his trend-mongering and refusal to pick up a pub tab). Step #2: once the gritty/speedy/catchy spirit of classics like "Runnin' Riot" establishes Sparrer as seminal setters of street-punk's breakneck pace, return by popular demand for the early-'80s Oi! upsurge. Step #3: re-deactivate before the end of the '80s. Step #4: after the Cock Sparrer legend snowballs for another handful of years, reunite once again in the '90s with a new guitar player.

"A lot of punk bands from the UK have reformed and gig, and there is a danger to becoming a heritage act — a retro, old-school band who's just playing to old fans," explains Daryl Smith, Skyping from his home on the outer reaches of London. Having joined Sparrer 20 years ago, he's the closest thing they have to a "new guy."

"When Cock Sparrer started, we really didn't have much success. Punk was quite successful in the UK, and a lot of bands sold a lot more records and were a lot bigger than Cock Sparrer. But our career seems to have happened backwards. We're more popular now than we ever were in the beginning."

main2_CockSparrer_480

Which brings us to Step #5. Though they're a key influence on Rancid (who declined our request for an interview), Street Dogs, Dropkick Murphys, and innumerable other punk conglomerates you're more likely to have heard of, Cock Sparrer's 1983 Shock Troops and the lightly post-punky Running Riot in '84 stand the test of time, whether or not famous muck-a-mucks cover any of the songs or name-check the band in interviews. Having acquired elder-statesmen eminence, Sparrer can enjoy the power to pack a house once a month or so, anywhere in the globe, at their personal convenience. This three-night jaunt around the eastern American colonies — the most consecutive shows they've done here since 2000 — brings them to Club Lido in Revere on Saturday.

The three-and-done approach for the US works just fine. "If we did a couple of months on the road, by the time of show number 40, there's no way we'd be as good as we were on the first night, and that's not fair to the people who came to see us," says Smith.

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