The following is a short excerpt from ‘Oi! the Book’ by Gary Bushell about Sham 69.
“SHAM 69 were the first of the nascent street-punk bands to break through to a mainstream audience and also the first to capture this growing mood of disillusionment with the punk elite. They might have hailed from leafy Surrey but from Bermondsey to Easterhouse wherever aerosols were aimed at walls, you would see their name.
By self-definition, Sham 69 were for and about ordinary kids, kids from grotty council estates or trapped in dead-end jobs or in many cases lousy education factories that taught them to expect fuck all from life. Sham’s message was aimed straight at them. You know the war cry – “What have we got?” “FARK ALL!”
Inevitably the fans they attracted were hard as nails. Danny Baker, who wrote for Sniffing Glue at the time, was the first to note that Sham had caught the attention of kids who were more into fighting than music. One Millwall hooligan described the band to him as “the treatment – a proper punch up the trousers”; the Treatment being the name of one of Millwall’s
It was a chance remark at London’s Roxy club in 1977 that brought Sham to the attention of the reviving Skinhead cult. There were a couple of skins in the audience, as punk clubs were one of the few places that let them in. Singer Jimmy Pursey noticed them and said: “Ah skinheads, I used to be a skinhead.” The next time they played there were twenty there. It escalated from there.
Sham’s first following were gangs like the Ladbroke Grove, who were largely QPR, and the Lewisham Boys who also followed Adam & The Ants and were “punks, a bit weird but no mugs” according to Laurie Prior, later manager of The Business. The West Ham mob came slightly later but got closer to the band. Grant Fleming (later of the Terrible Twins, and a leading Mod face) and Vince Riordan (later of the Cockney Rejects) were Sham roadies; Grant became Pursey’s wing-man. By 1978, Sham security was provided freelance by the likes of Binnsy, Johnnie Butler and Gary Dickle – all West Ham skinheads.
Whole legions of hooligans, skin and working class punks flocked to Sham’s shows, attracted by their image, reputation and their songs. Sham numbers were populist; the words conveyed simple but powerful messages (‘It’s just a fake/Make no mistake/A rip-off for you/And a Rolls for them’) all coupled with massive down to earth choruses. ‘Borstal Breakout’, ‘Hey Little Rich Boy’, ‘I Don’t Wanna’…every brickwall anthem stuck into your brain like a cut-throat razor.
The band’s music was called crude, unsubtle and simplistic, and it was, but guitarist Dave Parsons had real power too, and a good head for hooks. “People say that we are not a punk band,” said Jimmy Pursey. “To me, we are the real punk band. We were in it right from the beginning, but nobody took any notice of us because we didn’t have an image to cling to…”
Sham fed off the people around them. Their song ‘The Cockney Kids Are Innocent’ started life as ‘George Davis Is Innocent’ – a slogan plastered all over the East End. (Davis was jailed for armed robbery in 1974. After a huge campaign he was released from prison in 1976 – only to rob again, and be jailed again in 78…and yet again in 1987.) George Davis never was innocent, but was Jimmy Pursey?
It is said that Jimmy dug his own grave with his gob. It’s certainly Sham were brought to the edge of oblivion by the hooligan element, which Pursey encouraged, but were sabotaged and ultimately destroyed by the neo-Nazi British Movement which he did not.
Pursey was an odd, mixed-up character, but this much is true. Although he always spoke up for his fans, he totally opposed racism. He once famously told Sounds: “It’s not true that all skins are Nazis but I’d rather have an NF skinhead come to my gigs so that I can turn round and say, ‘I’m anti-Nazi, what do you think of that?’ than a robot. Every gig we do is a Rock Against Racism (gig).”
But a lot of their shows were a like a trailer for Fight Club too. Football firm violence pushed Jimmy to the limit first. He was no fighter (and not much of a singer, more a shouter to be honest) and faced by bloody carnage Jim threatened to quit on more than one occasion. He very nearly walked away from it all after Sham’s gig at the London School Of Economics in January 1978 had ended in a massive ruck in the course of which the bar was looted, the till stolen and many students got bashed. £7,500 worth of damage was caused, which in those days was a lot of money – it was half the price of the average house. Clashes between rival football mobs at a gig in Hendon in February 1978 led to Pursey officially announcing his retirement before attempting suicide. A few days later he took a drug over-dose, but was saved by his then girlfriend’s mother.”