Five album box set of the legendary North-East Oi band featuring the band’s first four studio albums and their Live album from 1981. Kicking off with ‘Teenage Warning’ – the album that set out the Upstart’s stall with the title track, ‘I’m An Upstart’ and the bouncing ‘Leave Me Alone’ sounding as belligerent as they did in 1979. The Sham 69 influence is obvious from the get-go, with the obvious difference of Mensi’s proud South Shields accent replacing the standard Cockney twang of most of their Street Punk contemporaries. The CD features the bonus single versions of ‘Liddle Towers’ and the classic ‘Police Oppression’.
The follow up to their debut, ‘We Gotta Get Out of This Place’ is in my opinion the strongest of the Upstart’s early albums with the anger and vitriol of ‘Teenage Warning’ being offset by both stronger song writing and performance especially on the outstanding ‘Never ‘Ad Nothing’ (covered by the Dropkick Murphys) and the album version of ‘Police Oppression’. Not surprisingly the band belt out a surprisingly faithful cover of fellow North East heroes The Animals ‘We Gotta Get Out of This Place’.
Featuring some of the bands most well-known live favourites ‘Last Night Another Soldier’, the patriotic ‘England’ and the prescient ‘Guns for the Afghan Rebels’ as well as further evidence of the bands antipathy to the boys in blue (‘You’re Nicked’), ‘200,00 Voices’ is another strong album by the band although it must be said there are one of two patchy tracks that make it a slightly less consistent release than the band’s first two efforts.
‘Live’ pulls together some of the bands most well know anthems recorded at the City of London Polytechnic earlier that year, and includes two spoken word poems that were only ever featured on this release. As expected from a live album from this era the sound quality is a bit hit and miss and Mensi’s vocal limitations are laid bare; that said it definitely captures the energy and anger of the band in the live environment. The 4 tracks from the flexi disk that came with the original album are also included as bonus tracks.
1982’s ‘Still from the Heart’ completes the set and was/is one of the Upstart’s most contentious releases. The Northern lads had always pioneered elements not associated with the nascent Oi scene (saxophone and certain English Folk influences for example) but for many the keyboards and pop sensibilities introduced by producer Steve Levine were a step too far, with even the Clash/Reggae leaning ‘Flames of Brixton’ failing to hit the mark. It’s not a great end to the first chapter of the Upstarts career, but kudos for not trying to gloss over this release. Thankfully their experiment with pop was short lived and Mensi and co quickly reverted to their earlier sound.
The box set contains some succinct liner notes for each of the releases – it would have been nice to have included a potted history/biography of the band and the lyrics but that’s a minor gripe. A decent way for new Oi fans to check out one of the pioneering acts of the genre. Ian Pickens