Where Are They Now? Cock Sparrer’s Colin McFaull and Daryl Smith

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When it comes to Oi! as a subgenre of punk, Cock Sparrer immediately come to mind. They originally formed in the East End of London in 1972 during the height of the glam rock era. They played glam covers before witnessing the birth of the first wave of English punk. In 1977, they signed on with Decca Records and released their first single, “Runnin Riot.” Unfortunately, the record did not chart well, and they were soon released from Decca. This was in spite of having a whole album’s worth of material already. This self-titled record would only be released in Spain, but later saw a U.K. reissue as True Grit after being picked up by Razer Record in 1987.

After several years on hiatus, Cock Sparrer began attracting attention within the second wave of U.K. punk. With songs about working class life (”Working”) and art-school-punk skepticism (“Where Are They Now”), Cock Sparrer fit right in with the Oi! movment. There, they found themselves among like-minded groups like The Cockney Rejects and Infa Riot. Over the years, Cock Sparrer have taken numerous breaks and released seven studio albums—among other recordings—and the most recent, Forever, came out in April 2017. On May 29, Cock Sparrer will play the Punk Rock Bowling Music Festival in Las Vegas, Nevada. This will be their third time performing the festival. Before venturing down to the city of sin, Colin Mcfaull and Daryl Smith chat about the relevance of punk 40 years on, the history of Oi!, recording Here We Stand and Forever, Brexit and much more.


SLUG: Cock Sparrer graced the stage at Punk Rock Bowling in 2011 and again in 2014. What material will Cock Sparrer be playing at Punk Rock Bowling this year?
Colin McFaull: We are really looking forward to playing Punk Rock Bowling again this year. We released a new album recently, Forever, and will be introducing a few of the songs from the album at the festival, as well as playing the usual crowd favorites like “Because You’re Young,” “Take ‘Em All” and “Riot Squad,” among others.

SLUG: Cock Sparrer have also played the Rebellion Festival. What do you think the differences are between the Rebellion Festival in Blackpool and Punk Rock Bowling?
Daryl Smith: There’s nothing quite like Rebellion. It takes place indoors (so no worrying about the British weather!) over four days and has six stages that play host to 300 bands, so the range of genres and subgenres of punk are all well represented. If you like Oi!, then you can see over 30 Oi! bands. If anarcho punk is your bag, then there’s the same again. If you like ’77 punk or the UK82 scene, then there’s a massive choice. In the last few years, loads of American bands have come over too, so the Rebellion crowd are getting to see the likes of Rancid, NOFX, Bad Religion and Pennywise alongside classic bands such as UK SUBS, 999 and Cockney Rejects—so it’s a really healthy mix. They also have a “new band stage,” which this year will have nearly 50 new bands showcasing their thing. It’s important not to be a “retro”  festival, but to bring the new blood through, too. So the main difference is the scale of things, bandwise. But there are many similarities. PRB is still very much DIY with Mark [Stern] and Shawn [Stern] doing their thing. Rebellion is the same—just a husband-and-wife team with no corporate sponsors. The main thing that Rebellion has is a 21-year history. So each event is now like a family gathering. In fact, a lot of people go to socialize as much as they do to see the bands. That’s another parallel with PRB. The first time we came, we were just blown away with Vegas and the atmosphere. But the second time we came, it was more about reconnecting with old friends (and making new ones). So in many ways, PRB has become the U.S. equivalent of Rebellion, as much a social gathering where like-minded people can meet, drink, laugh together and catch some great music. We can’t wait to be back!

Photo: Sam Bruce
Photo: Sam Bruce

SLUG: I’ve heard that Americans are more agitated than their counterparts across the pond. Do you see a major difference between how your American fans act compared to your British ones?
McFaull: What do you mean by agitated? Rowdier? I don’t think that’s true. Our crowds, both in the U.K. and the U.S., are there for a good time. There’s really no difference between the two. They all know all of the words to all of the songs and sing ‘til they’re hoarse.
Smith: In the U.K. and even the majority of Europe, the people that are left in the scene are so passionate about the music and the way of life that they don’t want to fuck it up for themselves and go back to the dark days of years gone by when you couldn’t book venues. So the scene looks after itself quite well. We’re lucky that our American fans also appreciate that the point of a Sparrer gig is a good night out with friends. I’m sure there are people that still think it’s the 1980s and gigs are about gangs and fighting, but it’s certainly a minority.

SLUG: We’re coming up on the 40-year anniversary of the first wave of punk. Do you think punk is still significant? And if so, why?
McFaull: Of course punk is still significant. Ask any kid who picks up a guitar for the first time. They still see it as an escape route from the daily grind. The thinking behind punk, i.e anyone can do it and fuck anyone who tells you otherwise, is still alive and well. Just look at the number of young bands coming through today
Smith: The main thing about punk is that DIY ethic. If you don’t like what you read in the press, start your own fanzine or blog; if you don’t like what you hear on the radio, start your own band, etc. It has such a positive spirit. Do what you wanna do. Believe in yourself. Challenge anything that you disagree with. Change what you don’t like. That attitude will always be relevant, so punk will never die. Musically, it might go through changes and evolve or revisit styles of past bands, but it’s never been about the clothes or the hairstyleit’s always been an attitude accompanied by loud guitars and a load of passion.

SLUG: Cock Sparrer started out in 1972. What was the music scene for you leading up to getting involved in the punk scene?
McFaull: For the five or so years before punk started in ’76, the record charts in the U.K. went from being filled with glam bands like T Rex, Sweet and early Bowie to mass-produced pop songs or copycat soul offerings. Cock Sparrer started by covering a lot of those glam tracks before we started writing our own songs, so secretly, we love all that stuff, but the other stuff was just taking up room. This was a time of massive change in the music industry. People forget that from Woodstock to punk was only seven years.

SLUG: Do you find that there is a large difference between what you guys are about, compared to other bands from the 1970s, like The Clash, Sex Pistols or Adverts?
McFaull: The Clash and the Sex Pistols were both brilliant and produced great songs and album,s but were in effect “Punk Boy Bands,” put together by manipulative managers who had their eyes firmly fixed on the publicity and notoriety that they could achieve themselves through their band’s quotes and efforts. Fortunately, out of that chaos came a number of individuals that saw through the bullshitincluding Strummer—but who couldn’t operate as a band for too long. Sparrer are different in that we were mates first before the band was formed. We’re still mates in the years that we weren’t playing and will still be mates long after we stop playing.

SLUG: Cock Sparrer reformed in 1982 as Oi! became popular. How was Oi! different from the first wave of punk at that stage of punk’s development?
Smith: At the beginning, Oi! was just another extension of punk. It quickly became known as being a “skinhead” thing, but if you actually look at all the early Oi! albums, they were full of punk bands. The difference is that these bands were from the streets and from the terraces. They weren’t part of the trendy West End of London “art school” punk. It was more working-class. Even the 4 Skins only had one skinhead in them. There weren’t any in The Business or Cockney Rejects or Infa Riot. But as this version of punk was more “real,” it attracted the bootboys and appealed to the skinheads. So suddenly, there was an audience that appreciated what we were doing, whereas the first wave of punk became more about the bondage trousers that none of our followers could afford. Anyway, who would go to a football match dressed like that?!

SLUG: I’ve always enjoyed Shock Troops, and particularly the song “Where Are They Now?” I’ve read that it was a song was about “the quiet death of punk.” I was wondering if you could elaborate about that period of time and more on what you are drawing from for the song?
McFaull: The song outlines a number of individuals who were influential in the early onset of punk in the U.K., but in the five or six years after 1976, had moved on, became disillusioned with what the scene had become, or simply [went on] to what they considered to be bigger and better things. By the time Shock Troops was released, punk had become big business and corporate, and the scene had imploded—the need to wear the “right clothes” having become the most important thing.

SLUG: Has Brexit or the travel restrictions placed by the Trump administration affected touring?
McFaull: The effects of Brexit haven’t yet been felt, as the U.K. is still in the process of extracting itself from the E.U. We do remember how difficult it was before the E.U. to be in a band and move freely around Europe, with visas being required to work and carnets needed to move equipment around. We’ll have to wait and see exactly what the effects will be. No one knows at this stage.
Smith: We’ve always had to go through tough travel restrictions to play in the US. We do it all properly, and that includes petitioning the U.S. government to get our visas and then going to be interviewed at the U.S. embassy in London. It costs a lot of money and takes a lot of time for a U.K. band to play in the U.S. if you want to do it legally. We also pay our taxes in the U.S., so everything has always been official and above board. So there’s been no further impact due to the Trump administration for us.

SLUG: How has Brexit affected the working class in the U.K.? Has it been a positive or negative impact, in your opinion?
Smith: If you believe social media, people would think that nationalistic, right-wing people voted for Brexit. But actually, a lot of socialist working-class areas voted for it. That’s fucked up the left wing in the U.K., as the parties are anti-Brexit, but their voters wanted it in a significant amount of places. So we’re in a real period of uncertainty, both with how it will affect us in Europe, but also what the fallout will be politically in the U.K. As Colin says, it’s too early to tell. The biggest problem in the run up to the vote was the misinformation and lies/fear spread by both sides. So many people voted based on things they were told that, in true political form, just weren’t true. In all honesty, there will be winners and there will be losers, and it will take time to sort itself out and settle down, but people have the ability to adapt, and we also have the ability to make change, so I’m sure things will be OK in the long run. If not, then that’s what punk rock is for, no?!

Photo: Dave Brown
Photo: Dave Brown

SLUG: Your last album, Here We Stand, was released in 2007, and you released Forever on April 21, 2017.
Smith: We waited until we had a collection of songs that we thought were good enough to release, so we never announced we were doing a new album. We’ve just been quietly working away on it, and in February this year, 16 new songs were mixed and mastered, and then we sat down and decided if we were happy to release them. That then sent everyone into meltdown, as we then had to get the album manufactured in record time! Thankfully, we have an amazing team of people at Pirates Press, and they managed to get everything (CDs, vinyl, 7” singles, cassettes, merch, etc.) all ready for our album launch. The vinyl cut it a bit fine—it turned up an hour before doors opened! We’re really proud of this album.

SLUG: Here We Stand was recorded by Vibrators bassist Pat Collier and mixed by Rancid’s Lars Frederiksen. What was the process like?
McFaull: We knew Pat and his studio well. Some of us had recorded bits and pieces in there from time to time. So when it came to choosing a studio location, it was a no-brainer. The original plan was for Lars to produce the album and be there for every session. Unfortunately, his and our work commitments meant that we had to make a compromise and ask him to mix the album once it was recorded. He did a great job.
Smith: If it wasn’t for Lars offering to produce the album, then it probably never would have happened. So that certainly gave us the inspiration to start writing. As it turns out, it was probably better that we got on with it ourselves (we know how to write a Sparrer song) and he mixed it (he knows how to make great-sounding records). So all worked out well in the end.

SLUG: What about the process with Forever?
Smith: With the new album Forever, the process was completely different. For a start, we didn’t rehearse any of the songs! We wrote them, sent some demos around the band and then we recorded in three different studios in the U.K. without the full band being in the studio at any time! In the past, we’ve suffered from good songs but poor production—mainly due to us taking the studio money and going to the pub and just recording with what was left over! This time, we paid for it ourselves, and we spent time thinking about the right equipment, engineers and studios, as we wanted the album to sound great and stand up next to other commercial releases.

Funnily enough, this is also a fan-funded album—but, without us actually having to ask them for any money, like the “crowd funded” or “pledge” campaigns do. Each time someone has bought a T-shirt from the merch stall or attended a gig, we’ve not been greedy and put the money in our pockets, but have saved it until we had enough to record an album. So this is truly a “fan-funded” album without us having to get the begging bowl out. I’m not sure how I feel about those “crowdfunded” projects. They’re OK if it’s just buying the products in advance to help the bands fund the recording, but some “punk” bands have been charging £2,000 just to meet them for a beer! What the fuck is that all about?! We would never charge anyone to be in our company. If you want to meet us, just join us at the bar or the merch stall, and we’ll have a beer with you!

SLUG: What does the future hold for Cock Sparrer?
McFaull: We have a very busy year in 2017 promoting Forever, with plenty of gigs all over the world including, of course, PRB in Las Vegas in May. We are doing a three-day residency at a club in Berlin in May and are looking forward to playing some small pub gigs in the U.K. later in the year, as well as some of the bigger festivals in the summer.

SLUG: It’s pretty remarkable that the core four band members still play in the band, and that the majority of the original band members have been at it for so long, also having known each other since age 11. How has that spoken to the band’s longevity and how might that lend to any new music that you have made/will make?
Smith: I think the fact that the other four guys have been a tightknit bunch of friends since school days and I’ve been with them for the last 25 years means that we have a stable group of friends. In fact, it’s more than thatit’s family. Too many other bands are chasing fame or fortune, or don’t actually like each other but stay together for the gig money. We’d all be together regardless of the band, and I think that shows in everything we do.


Cock Sparrer will headline the final day of Punk Rock Bowling Music Festival 2017 on May 29. The festival will showcase performances by Iggy Pop, Bad Religion, The Adicts, Choking Victim, Off! and many others. Punk Rock Bowling is held during Memorial Day Weekend (May 27–29) in Las Vegas, Nevada, just off of Freemont Street. Find more information at faceebook.com/cocksparrer and punkrockbowling.com.