By the end of the 1970s, punk in Britain was splintering into several distinct strains, most of them quite “arty”. Oi! music was an attempt to keep punk a populist, street-level phenomenon, and most of it came from the working class of South London and the cockney East End.
When Garry Bushell, then features editor at Sounds, coined the term “Oi!” he gave us a punk subgenre that was loud, brutal, and extremely simple. In essence, it was punk rock that was most at home in a rowdy pub (similar to hardcore but not quite as extreme).
The Oi! movement was marked by strenuously collectivist politics and chanted football-cheer choruses.
Unfortunately, Oi! acquired a bad reputation when it was adopted by racist skinheads aligned with the neo-fascist National Front organisation and followers of the genre were universally labelled as an unruly contingent of violent, right-wing hooligans.
Most bands – and many skinheads – took pains to distance themselves from this unsavoury element, especially after a number of violent incidents at live gigs, but a few genuine white-supremacist bands (most notoriously Skrewdriver) were enough to give Oi! a stigma which it never completely shed.
When The 4-Skins, The Last Resort and The Business played a gig at the Hamborough Tavern in Southall in 1981, the gig was surrounded by rioting Asian youths. The acres of hysterical newsprint that ensued drowned out any chance of Oi! music getting a fair hearing, ever.
What contributed further to Oi!’s undoing was the movement’s utter hostility to the middle classes in general, and the trendy left in particular (see The Business‘ anthem, Suburban Rebels).
So as well as incurring the wrath of the right-wing establishment, Oi! also alienated the left-wing of the middle-class media whose backing had seen the punk bands through their own particular backlash five years earlier.
The mid-90’s punk revival led to a renewal of interest in Oi! and many favourite early albums were reissued, with a number of new bands popping up both in the UK and overseas.
The voice of Oi!! is calling you
With a message that is true
Punky herberts straight and skin
All of you come on in
Let them twist our every word
But we’re gonna be heard
Cos Oi! ain’t about having a fight
Oi! ain’t ever about black v. white
The voice of Oi! is unity
No them and us, just you and me
United is the thing to be
Power to the people, not anarchy
Think how strong we will be
United against society