Fifty years of Cock Sparrer. Who would have thought that possible back in 1972? Perhaps not the five teenagers who helped form the band in East London, and most certainly not Sparrer’s newest member (of 30 some years), guitarist Daryl Smith, who just happened to be born the very same year.

It only feels like yesterday that I was holding my copy of ’40 Years’ the Captain Oi! released compilation of hits and deep cuts that got put out for their, err…. fortieth Anniversary, and therein also probably lies the “eureka” moment regarding tonight’s event. The concept of the evening being a well thought out affair, with Sparrer basically supporting themselves with a set of “rarely” or in some cases “never before” played songs taken from across their expansive back catalogue, with the guys also promising a few surprises along the way.

Originally intended as a one-off date, tonight’s show sold out so quickly that the band also added a second night on the Friday due to the fact that almost 70% of the original night’s tickets were sold to fans outside the UK, and the band didn’t want to see any of their UK ‘family’ missing out. Talk about giving the fans what they want, eh?

So, arriving in Camden just after what would have been full-time on any normal Saturday afternoon for a few pre-gig drinkies with some old London based mates the thing that immediately strikes me is just how many different accents are audible within our chosen boozer. There are people from all four corners of the UK and from what I can pick out from the constant excited chatter, most of the rest of the world is here too. The band’s legions of fans having assembled to raise a glass at one very special birthday party, and in turn celebrate the music of the undisputed champions of streetpunk, Cock Sparrer.

Although in saying this, I’ve always felt a little uneasy about labelling Cock Sparrer as just simply streetpunk, simply because, as their first set would soon prove, they are a band that really does transcend genres, and if you want proof of that just Google some of the tracks, I’m about to mention…you might just be in for a surprise…pretty much like all of us were tonight.

Getting into the Roundhouse with ample time to get a great vantage point (and by that, I mean one that’s close enough to the front for me not to require a week off work on the sick recovering) the lights soon dim and up goes the intro tape, which for the first set is the band’s cover of ‘Back Home’, a song which immediately hits the mark with the terrace hardened faction of the band’s fan base. What follows next though is probably the biggest curveball I’ve ever seen the band throw, as tonight it’s left to frontman Colin McFaull to step out alone and sing the often requested ‘Out On An Island’, the closing track from their seminal Shock Troops’ album, and I swear you could hear a pin drop if it wasn’t for the Roundhouse choir of skins, punks and just about every other demographic you can think of who join in come the chorus. Something that continues throughout both sets tonight.

Flanked by video screens that immediately spring into life as the band join their singer on stage, the story of Sparrer is retold by all five band members along with Will Murray, their legendary road manager (and sixth member) from their second single for Decca, their cover of the Rolling Stones’ ‘We Love You’ (a song drummer Steve Bruce swore he would never play live again), through to one of the finest songs the band have ever written in the shape of ‘One By One’ from their 2017 studio album ‘Forever’.  We get deep cuts such as ‘I Need A Witness’, ‘Bats Out’ and the rather wonderful ‘Battersea Bardot’ all given a well-deserved run out, complete with the added help of the Cockettes (namely James Bragg on guitar and backing vocals and Jet Baker on keyboards and backing vocals).

It’s this phenomenal sounding Sparrer line up that takes me back to my comment at the top about not wanting to pigeonhole the band, as these tracks as diverse as they all are, all have one thing in common and that is the top-quality songwriting that has been prevalent throughout the band’s entire career. Something that is once again hammered home during the 30-minute beer break between sets, where the audience is treated to a variety of different cover versions of Sparrer tunes albeit delivered in styles you would never have thought possible.  

However, doing the seemingly impossible is something the band have always excelled at, and as bassist Steve Burgess so rightly says during one of his talking head segments tonight; “for a band who never made Top of the Pops back in the day we certainly seem to have topped a lot of bills all around the world this past 30 years or so.”

And as their 2nd set of the night that showcases the band’s “greatest hits” illustrates, whilst record sales might mean absolutely nothing to the band, when it comes to writing top class anthems that touch your very soul, they really are world leaders. Be it a Poundshop Slade or a punk rock Chas & Dave (terms Daryl Smith uses as complements when describing their sound earlier in the show) the simple fact is there must be at least three or maybe even four generations of fans here tonight standing shoulder to shoulder screaming along to the likes of ‘Riot Squad’ and Runnin’ Riot’, and that alone speaks volumes. Plus, let’s not forget the very high percentage of (suicide) girls in attendance here too, something I know the band themselves are very proud of. We are their family, and tonight we’re all here to celebrate the magic of Cock Sparrer.

Granted I could have done without the pic of guitarist Mickey Beaufoy in white budgie smugglers that was flashed up on the video screens during ‘Because You’re Young’, but this retina-burning image was more than made up for by a pic of Colin with an 80s perm that has me roaring with laugher. This pictorial homage to days gone by perfectly illustrates that whilst they treat their songwriting and gigs very seriously indeed, the lads are certainly not afraid to stop and have a giggle at themselves.

Closing things out as only Sparrer can with ‘England Belongs to Me’ and ‘We’re Coming Back’ the latter complete with a KISS style ticker tape finale. I just hope that Colin’s earlier comment (prior to them playing new track ‘Take It On The Chin’) that maybe next year we’ll get an all-new Sparrer studio album, comes to fruition, as by the sounds of that tune there’s still plenty of tunes left in the ole boys yet. Until then though I think it’s safe to say we’ll have one hell of a live album to look forward to, as tonight was being multi-cam recorded, and I for one can’t wait to relive the magic of this most special of occasions all over again.

Exceptional stuff!