East End Babylon
Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 7th July, 2012
Art and Anarchy have provided one of the themes of this year’s East End Film Festival (EEFF) that has been running all week at various venues in East London, so it was highly appropriate that Richard England’s feature-length documentary on the punk rock band Cockney Rejects should be shown at the Genesis Cinema in Stepney this evening. The band’s conception was in the bedroom shared by four Geggus brothers in an anonymous residential street in Canning Town, but became best known for its adoption by West Ham football club supporters. Jeff (aka Stinky Turner) Geggus on vocals and his brother Mick on guitar have been constant members of the quartet since its beginnings in 1978, though they have had a couple of changes of partners on bass and drums. But to understand them and their music, one needs to embrace the context of life in the area where they were born and grew up. This Richard England brilliantly does, by the deft use of vintage footage of the docks (where their father worked) and of West Ham in the blitz, and by stressing the importance of boxing clubs in the post-War years. There is also good use made of home movie clips of the Geggus family, with its rough-and-tumble games and infant music-making, and an endearing intermittent commentary throughout from the mother, who still lives in the (now smartened) house when not in her caravan, full of pink satin and fluffy toys. The band’s rise was based on extraordinary luck, good timing and sheer brass neck, but their readiness to get involved in fisticuffs and to become the centre of football hooliganism inevitably proved a drawback after a while. Having been banned from Top of the Pops — for being drunk and disorderly — they were then wrongly branded as being a rallying point for young neo-Nazis. But they later had a resurrection, aided considerably by foreign tours to Brazil and elsewhere, where their punchy lyrics, their West Ham shirts and their localism were a potent attraction. Jeff Geggus is a natural with words (liberally interspiced with the f-word) but both he and his brother carry the story through the film powerfully. The docklands they were born into no longer exists, as it has been transformed out of all recognition. But East End Babylon is a memorable testimony of one of its more unlikely products. There was apparently a misunderstanding at the EEFF about whether there was a Q&A with Richard England after the showing or not, so he was not present; a pity, as it would have been interesting to know how he found working with his subject.