Throughout the history of rock, musicians have often played down their middle class roots in an attempt to gain street cred. As director Richard England’s revealing documentary ‘East End Babylon’ makes clear, this is not an accusation that could ever be leveled at the Cockney Rejects.
Cleverly weaving archive and interviews we follow a band that sailed over the edge, probably because they had no clue where the edge was in the first place. Director England was an exec-producer on Julien Temple’s “Oil City Confidential” and he has clearly learnt from this experience to make a boisterous film that is as much a history of the East End as it is a rockumentary.
Fiercely proud of their roots the film delves into the lives of the protagonists with as much gusto as the Rejects’ music itself. “To some people it may have looked like a shithole,” comments lead singer Jeff Turner on the East End of London, “but it was our shithole.”
East End Babylon throws strikes, boxing, football, and music (not to mention unsuccessfully trying to shag Legs & Co from Top of the Pops) into one big blender and laces it with a healthy dose of East End humour. As one band member mentions on a lifetime of following West Ham: “You went to a fight and a football match broke out.”
One of the main things that I loved about this film is that you never get the feeling that anybody is pretending to be anything other than what they are and credit must go to England for producing an honest account of a part of British musical history that up to now has been ignored. The Rejects’ downfall ultimately came because they wore their hearts and their football colours too much on their sleeves. Hopefully East End Babylon will go some way to restoring their place as, to quote Joe Strummer, “the real deal”.