The 4 Skins – The Albums: 4xCD Collection (Captain Oi / Cherry Red)

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Few bands have garnered as many contrarian viewpoints as London hooligans The 4 Skins; not least among the MM staff; who seem evenly split between love, hate and uncertainty. Having run a rather troubled course during their brief but impactful first run, the band have always had their fans and detractors, and it’s fair to say that will always be the case; but in keeping with their current trend for releasing the entire early back catalogue of some the UKs most influential Punk/Oi/Ska bands, Captain Oi has decided that a new generation deserves the chance to judge The 4 Skins on their early recorded material.         

The Original 4 Skins’ contains tracks recorded by the band’s first line-up on their vinyl debut (‘Oi The Album’) with the sarcastic sneer of ‘Wonderful World’ and the rebellious ‘Chaos’. But the majority of tracks are from the band’s most stable, and in many people’s opinion, best incarnation with Gary Hodges (vocals), Hoxton Tom McCourt (bass), Steve Pear (guitar) and the multi-talented John Jacobs (drums). For me this is the most impressive of the 4 disks on offer in this collection, as it’s not only the strongest line-up of the band, but also features the majority of their best songs including ‘Evil’, ‘ACAB’, ‘One Law For Them’ and a tidy out-take version of ‘Clockwork Skinhead’. There’s also some decent bonus tracks including radio versions of the classics and a few amusing live tracks including a piss-take version of the Rejects’ ‘The Greatest Cockney Rip off’ reworked as ‘The Greatest 4 Skins Rip off’.

Plastic Gangsters’ kicks off ‘The Good, The Bad & The 4 Skins’ – the band’s first ‘official’ full length album and what an opening track it is. A luvverly little Cockney knees-up about an East End Gangster wannabe, complete with comedic rhyming slang and a reprise of the ‘Minder’ theme to boot. Due to contractual obligations ‘The Good…’ comprises of a studio side and a live side, which despite the inconsistency in sound quality is actually a pretty decent slice of Oi. The Studio side features some of the bands best known songs from the era of former roadie Panther on vocals including ‘Jack The Lad’ and ‘Remembrance Day’ while the live side reprises the bands earlier tracks played with Warts and All honesty (‘I Don’t Want To Die’ in particular sounds as if the lads had one too many pints before playing the set) and includes some entertaining banter between Panther and the crowd. The bonus tracks are a definite plus, including John Jacobs standout track ‘Dambusters’ in which he plays all the instruments and provides vocals for a ska version of the classic film soundtrack, and a spirited run through Slade’s ‘Merry Xmas Everyone’ from the ‘Bollocks to Christmas’ EP.

By 1983 bassist Hoxton Tom was the only original member of The 4 Skins left but had recruited ‘Milwall’ Roi Pearce from Last Resort, guitarist Paul Swain and drummer Ian Bramson to record ‘A Fistful of 4 Skins’ for Syndicate records which won the band positive reviews from many quarters particularly Sounds magazine who had always supported the band.  For some reason the songs don’t quite get under your skin as much as the bands earlier tracks, but it’s a solid release which, despite the constant splits and line-up changes, retains the urgency of the band while successfully moving the sound of the 4 Skins forward with some decent bass playing from McCourt and Roi’s voice fitting the band better than anyone else other than Hodges.

The 4 Skins parting shot was a live album ‘From Chaos to 1984’ featuring a career spanning 14 tracks recorded ‘live’ in front of an invited audience. It’s a stripped down affair – simple black and white cover with no graphics that encapsulates the bands dissolution – frustrated by the constant line-up changes, press reaction and their inability to play live following THAT incident. There’s a few obvious classics missing but it’s a strong finish to a band that helped to put Oi on the global music map.

Once again great packaging and booklet to accompany the CDs making this a well worthwhile investment particularly if you’re new to the Skinhead/Oi scene. Ian Pickens

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