New Releases Reviews

Album Review: Cock Sparrer ‘Hand On Heart’

Oi Oi – that’s (more than likely) yer lot…

“This is probably our most famous song,” Cock Sparrer frontman Colin McFaull tells his audience at SO36, Berlin, ahead of a riotous ‘England Belongs To Me’. “People think it’s about exclusivity and it’s about separation. It’s not. It’s about integration, it’s about connection. It’s about being together…”

Seeing that 2017 clip as a European born, unapologetic, unrepentant Europhile inspired me to review a band I’d never listened to before. That and Cock Sparrer including New Model Army’s ‘My Country’ among their ‘50 Songs That Influenced Us’ playlist:

Fight all the ones who divide us rich against poor
Fight all the ones who divide us white against black
Fight all the ones who want their missiles in our earth
Fight all the powers who would lead us into war”.

I Belong To You

Fans will love this record. It’s a gang of mates, grandfathers among them, kicking up a typical racket for their very extended family. That’s the point. Community. There are, still, no illusions of grandeur from the five-piece, four of whom formed Cock Sparrow, as once they were, 52 years ago. Within a (big) shout of Bow bells.

Cock Sparrer cut their musical chops mixing pub rock with glam covers and the round ball game, ‘We’re not punks – we’re football hooligans’ the marketing had it a couple of years later, to spawn a clipped/stripped sound behind a boisterous vocal. 

In the thick of the 1970s milieu, keen for a share of the action, no less than Decca – previously home to the likes of the Rolling Stones, Small Faces, and Billy Fury – pushed Cock Sparrer into a studio to record two singles, ‘Running Riot’ and, topically, a yobbish take on the Stones’ ‘We Love You’.

While poor sales stopped the relationship in its/those tracks, Cock Sparrer made a mark on one Garry Bushell who saw them as a forerunner to the factional ‘street punk’ scene he fostered. Bushell went on to feature the band on two ‘Oi!’ compilations.

This is a review of Cock Sparrer’s unexpected eighth album though, not a history lesson…

Cock Sparrer live at Camden Roundhouse. Pic by Roberto Pavic.

With an average of about six years between LPs, ‘Hand On My Heart’ is a relatively big budget venture produced by James Bragg- think BC Camplight, Martin Barre- and ‘new’ guitarist Daryl Smith, a Cock Sparrer since 1992.

While it’s touted as their last, and there’s a wrap-up sensation about the songs, Cock Sparrer have done ‘final’ gigs before and they’re playing Shepherds Bush Empire and Glasgow Academy in May. So, who really knows…

Hand On My Heart’ dances to the band’s template, muscular rhythms teeing up McFaull’s cliché-heavy assault. It isn’t a concept album, as such, but there is a commonality among these 10 songs, or the majority of them – the passing of time/the mantle and looking after family/friends/fans.

“With my…” before McFaull can get into the heart of the matter, quite literally, the Cock Sparrer players crash into the title track behind him. Familiar to followers of the band already, it was released as a single back in January, so the 2024 journey begins:

“I hope you’ll cross the land and sea
and become all you want to be”.

For those not in the Cock Sparrer loop, that ‘Influences’ playlist is telling. In terms of chronology, it runs from The Temptations and Jimi Hendrix to Sigue Sigue Sputnik via the likes of Slade, T Rex, Kinks and Buzzcocks.   

Pic by Stevie Oi.

And there are a fair few ‘what does that remind me of?’ moments among the ‘Hand On My Heart‘ maelstrom. I can hear touches of Status Quo, who are on the list and, in no particular order, ‘Take It On The Chin‘ starts with an ‘English Civil War‘ riff – the Clash are in the Cock Sparrer mix too – while ‘Rags To Riches‘ has some overlap with ‘Party In Paris‘, the UK Subs single. Oh, and ‘Mind Your Own Business‘, led by a wiry guitar line rather than the full-bore rhythm assault, comes across like a small town take on Menace track ‘So Fuck You‘.

But the most clear-cut homage here is to the Motors, string arranger for Bring Me The Horizon and Mike Oldfield, Simon Dobson, bringing their whimsy to penultimate song ‘My Forgotten Dream‘:

“The nights would not get colder with summer always here
And friends would not get older and never disappear
That’s how it used to be
In my forgotten dream”

Hand On My Heart‘ builds up to its closing song, ‘Here We Stand‘, like pulling a bowstring back. Following a similar melody to ‘No Way Out‘, which sits at the record’s mid-point, with the same winsome ‘whoah’ backing vocals, it’s upbeat and urgent. A perfect ‘we’ll never let you down’ finish, inspiring the Cock Sparrer faithful to look out for each other.

Like the title track, ‘Here We Stand‘ is sure to see fans at gigs with one arm around a neighbour’s shoulders and the other raising a pint to the roof.

When the world does too much to ya
Everybody wants a bit of ya
When you’re reaching for a hand
HERE WE STAND”

Hand on Heart‘ is released via Cherry Red Records on 5th April 2024.

You can order your copy in all formats  HERE

Main Photo Credit: Sam Bruce

1. With My Hand On My Heart
2. Mind Your Own Business
3. I Belong To You
4. Rags To Riches
5. No Way Out
6. Take It On The Chin
7. One Way Ticket
8. Nowhere To Be Found
9. My Forgotten Dream
10. Here We Stand

Follow Cock Sparrer on Their Socials
Need more Punk In Your Life?