Harvey Taylor Interview with Cock Sparrer

May 25, 2012 by Harvey Taylor



Cock Sparrer are the greatest streetpunk band ever. Their debut full length 'Shock Troops' is still considered throughout the world as the greatest punk album ever made. The band formed when punk was still being conceived and throughout the years the band is still together and are all very good friends. They are also very polite and have many compliments about their peers in there local punk scene. I recently got Colin to answer some questions I had about the band.

Introduce yourself…
Hello I’m Colin McFaull, singer out of Cock Sparrer.

What was the spark that started the band?
There wasn’t one main spark. We were all in different bands at school and thought we’d have more chance of pulling the girls if we got together.

How did the name of the band come about?
We wanted something that reflected where we came from without it being too “Gord blimey Mary Poppins” and it’s a cockney phrase of familiarity and friendship, so it seemed to fit.

Originally the name was Cock Sparrow, what brought the name change about?
Cock Sparrer is the way that I would pronounce Cock Sparrow, so it really just simplified things when we were trying to get gigs and having to spell it out to promoters.

Cock Sparrer has appeared on countless lists of band influences, what would you say your influences were?
From an early age I grew up listening to what my older brothers listened to which would have been Tamla Motown and Stax singles. I guess my own earliest influence would have been The Small Faces. They lived around the corner from us and wrote song great songs. Steve Marriott remains my favourite singer.

The band formed in 1972, what was the scene like then or was there even a punk scene? There wasn’t really any type of scene in those days. The record charts were full of Glam bands. You had the occasional Ska song break into the charts but they were very few and far between. We were spending our time learning our trade, doing covers of other peoples’ songs and trying to earn enough money to go over the pub.

How has the scene changed since?
Totally. This was 4 years before the advent of Punk in the UK which changed everyone’s lives forever.

Some of your songs are political in nature, others directed towards the punk scene in general, and other come from personal experiences, how would you describe the song writing process?
We never really have an agenda when it comes to writing songs. We just write from the heart about subjects that are important to us at the time. They’re usually about things that have happened to us individually or collectively, or our take on a particular subject. I don’t think we’ll ever write songs about “What a lovely, sunny day it is today”, we’ll leave that to other people. Writing politically isn’t all about “Smash the State” but can also include how the decisions of others affect our daily lives, like the price of beer ha ha.

There is a story about Malcolm McLaren was going to sign the band, can you tell us more about the story?
We never got to the stage where it was discussed whether he signed us or not, we very quickly realized (and I think he did too, to be fair) that Cock Sparrer would never be anything other than Cock Sparrer. We weren’t prepared to compromise on anything and that wasn’t what he was looking for. But yeah, the story is true. He came all the way across town to see us rehearse in a small, crappy pub but went away empty handed.

The band released ‘Runnin’ Riot’ in 1977, only after several different record deals, can you tell us the story behind the release?
Runnin’ Riot was released in July 1977 and was our first ever single. We were signed to a major British label (Decca) who had us and Slaughter and The Dogs as their punk representatives. They had no idea how to deal with us and in true punk fashion we disagreed with everything they proposed. It was never gonna work and after “We Love You” was released later that year, we parted company.

Throughout the years the band has had a few lineup changes, can you tell us more about that?
There have only been a couple. Our original rhythm guitarist stayed around for a couple of years. He was replaced by a guy called Chris Skepis, who was as mad as a bag of frogs. Chris played on both “Shock Troops” and “Running Riot in ‘84”. After recording “Shock Troops” Micky wasn’t too keen on going back out on the road to promote it, so we got a fella called Shug O’Neill to replace him for a while. Daryl joined us on rhythm guitar for the Astoria gig in 1992. So basically, it’s the original line-up today, the same as it was back in 1972 with a new boy on rhythm, who’s been with us for almost 20 years. Clear as mud?

‘Shock Troops’ was the bands first full length album. To be honest it got me through several years of chemotherapy, and is by far the greatest punk album of all time. Can you tell us about the album?
We were given the money to record a single, “England Belongs to Me”, which we did. But we also used that money to record all these songs that had been hanging around for a while – we had managed to negotiate a load of cheap studio time – which turned out to be the basis of “Shock Troops”.

We just didn’t tell the record company. So after “England” was released and quite well received, they gave us some more money to go and do an album. The majority of which we already had. So understandably most of the cash went straight down the pub!

Can you describe the song writing process back then?
It’s not really changed much at all. Most of our songs are written by Burge who presents us with ideas that are either finished, part finished, lacking 3rd verses, middle 8’s etc. We then just muck in to get them completed. But in 90% of the time most of the songs are ready to go when he plays them to us.

Has that changed since?
Only in that Daryl was involved in the songwriting process on “Here We Stand”

‘England Belongs to Me’ is probably one of the greatest punk anthems of all time, how did the song come about?
It was originally titled “London Belongs to Me” and the strangest thing about this song is that we only had the title when we sold the idea to the record company. They said they wanted to hear it the next day, so Burge had to very quickly put something together. We often say that it took 10 minutes to write and 30 years to explain.

‘Take ‘em all’, another awesome Cock Sparrer song seems to be geared towards specific groups or a specific group, can you tell us more about the song?
We were pretty pissed off at the time of writing this song about the way that we were being treated by record companies – although looking back most of it was probably self- inflicted – so this was us giving all of these suits a lyrical beating.

You guys are big fans of West Ham United, how do you feel about the song being used by the Seattle F.C. fans?
I think it’s great. There’s also a club in Germany who go off at half time to the sounds of “We’re Coming Back”

Band split around 1980, what caused the band to split up?
We never really split up. For a band to split there’s normally a falling out but that never happened with us. The thing about Sparrer is that we’re mates first and band second. Even when we weren’t gigging we’d still meet up and have a social. The families are really close and the kids all get on. So much so that my son Tom and Burge’s son Jack are in a band together. Pirates Press have just put their first single together and they’re on the bill for Rebellion next year. So we never split, we just chose not to play live for a while.

During this time you guys toured an ex-postal truck, can you tell about the truck?
It was a beast. A great big diesel driven thing that went about 40mph downhill, with the wind behind us. You had to start it with a blow torch. We took it with us to the first night of the Small Faces tour in 1977 and they took one look at it, shook their heads and told their roadies to stick our small bit of equipment in with their stuff in their trucks.

Outside of the U.K., did you tour anywhere else in the truck?
Outside the UK?? We were lucky if it ever got us outside of Dagenham.
You guys have gone through a few lineup changes, tell us about the current lineup…
I believe that this is the line-up that Cock Sparrer was destined to have. Unfortunately Daryl was only 5 years old when we first started otherwise we would have grabbed him earlier.

After the split 2 studio albums were released, can you tell us about the albums?
I think you’re talking about “Guilty As Charged “and “Two Monkeys”. These are two albums that have some good songs on them but we never did them justice production wise. Again, it was a story of getting the songs recorded and mixed as cheaply as possible and then putting what was left, over the bar at the nearest pub. Daryl’s recently done a great job on re-mixing and re-mastering them and they were both re-released by Captain Oi last year and sound much fuller.

The band reformed around 1992-94, what influenced this decision?
We were offered the chance to play a gig at The Astoria in London. We hadn’t realized but since we last played, “Shock Troops” had become a bit of a cult album, several bands were referencing us as having influenced them in some way or another and someone thought it would be a good idea to get Sparrer to play this major London venue. We were pretty sure that no-one would be interested and turn up but thought it would be a good laugh to do anyway. Imagine how surprised we were when it sold out and over 2000 people came from all over the world for the show, had a great night and sang every word to every song.

Since you guys reformed you have worked only with independent labels, does this have to do with your past record deals?
In a way. We’re very careful who we work with now at all levels. We have got ourselves into the very fortunate position where our promoters, record companies, agents and merch companies are all people we can trust. They now form part of the extended Sparrer family and we all look out for each other. In Captain Oi in the UK and Pirates Press in the US, we have two record companies who do a fantastic job on our behalf and we’re very lucky to have them as partners.

Your last album ‘Here We Stand” was released in 2007, can you tell us about the album?
We never stop writing songs but won’t commit to doing an album until we’re pretty sure that the content is up to standard. We had loads of offers to produce another album in the 10 years after “Two Monkeys” but weren’t convinced that the quality was there. We got Daryl involved in the writing as well on this album and it gave us a bit of a different angle. We’d spoken to Lars from Rancid previously who had expressed an interest in getting involved if we ever did another album, so we got him in to mix it. That also gave it a bit of an edge which may have been missing previously. So all in all we’re very proud of it. We’ve had lots of positive comments and reviews of the album and feel as though we’ve managed a typical Cock Sparrer release but one with a bit more polish.

Is there another release coming soon?
No plans at the present but we are taking the first 3 months of 2011 off to do some writing. We’ll see how it goes.

You guys have done a large number of shows, is there a favorite band you like to do shows with?
We’ve been lucky over the years to have played with some great bands and it’s great to see the scene so healthy with lots of good, young bands coming through. I suppose if I had to name a few…from the US it would be The Dropkick Murphys, The Harrington Saints, Reducers SF, Flatfoot 56, Lower Class Brats, Off With Their Heads and from Europe…probably Argy Bargy, Deadline, Stomper 98 and many others.

Is there a particular show you remember that stands out in your mind?
There have been many. This year we played London for the first time in 18 years with two nights at The Forum which was great. This time last year we did two nights in San Francisco which is always brilliant. I suppose it could be The Astoria in ’92 which got it all going again or any of the Rebellion shows in England with over 150 bands on the bill. I dunno, too many to pick just one.

Is there a favorite place you like to do shows at?
No not at all. The last couple of years we’ve made a conscious effort to get out to places that we haven’t been to before or back to for a while and the reception we got in Texas was as good as the one we got in Belgrade, which was as good as the one we got in Vienna or Chicago.

Are there in plans for a tour in the works?
No, it would kill us. We will continue to do the odd gig and festival for as long as people want to come out and hear the songs. When they stop coming or say “oh it’s them again” that’s when the Martens get hung up.

What do you see in the future of Cock Sparrer?
We don’t really plan that well, so nothing’s mapped out for the next few years. We’ve got some gigs lined up for next year already and we’re talking to lots of people about lots of others, so we’ll see how it pans out.

How can people contact the band?
Either via The Official Cock Sparrer Facebook page or the MySpace site. There’ll be a new website early next year as well so contact details will be on there as well.
Cheers!


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**Photos by kind permission of Sam Bruce Photography

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