JEFF TURNER (COCKNEY REJECTS) About His Love Of Classic Rock, Working With UFO’s PETE WAY And Their Heavy Metal Sets With ANTHRAX

Cockney Rejects

From a tough working class upbringing in the heart of the East End of London, the Cockney Rejects were the embodiment of their environment from football to fighting, boxing to music they were in the thick of it. Mick Burgess caught up with lead singer, Jeff Turner, ahead of their headlining appearance of North East Calling in Newcastle to talk about the start of the band, Turner’s love of Classic Rock, working with UFOs Pete Way and their Heavy Metal sets with Anthrax.

You’ll be up in Newcastle on 30th September headlining the North-East Calling Punk Festival. Are you looking forward to playing up here again?

It’s going to be great. We can’t wait to play up in Newcastle. The North East has always been good to us. We last played up there about 5 years ago at the O2 Academy. It was great. You’re a passionate lot up in the North East and you can see that in how you love your football. I actually boxed in Washington back in 1978 for West Ham Select against a North-East Counties Select. It was an intimidating atmosphere. It was something else. There was always a great Rock scene in Newcastle with geezers in denim and long hair listening to AC/DC. It was great. We’re looking forward to the gig, it means a lot to us.

The Exploited were the original headliner but due to health issues of Wattie they had to pull out. How long ago did you get the call to step in?

We were put on standby quite a few months ago. Wattie had a heart attack a while back but there was a chance they could still play. I made sure nothing was booked for that date and 6 or 7 weeks ago we got the call that he wouldn’t be well enough and it just went from there. I hope Wattie recovers soon and gets back on the stage.

What sort of setlist have you got lined up?

We have about an hour on stage. It’s a real high energy show but it gets a bit tougher now that we are getting older. We like to change the setlist around when we can. It’s difficult though playing the later material as with most bands, the fans tend to like the first three or four albums as those were the albums that made us. With most bands nobody wants to hear songs off their new album whether it’s U2, The Rolling Stones or The Who. You made your name doing what you did so you need to play them that stuff. We’ll play a few songs we haven’t played for a while though from those first four albums.

There’s quite a line up there with Anti Nowhere League, Ruts DC and Angelic Upstarts amongst others. You must have crossed paths with a fair few of these over the years. Are you looking forward to catching up with a few old friends?

I don’t really mix on the scene to be honest and tend to keep myself to myself. Obviously Mensi from the Upstarts and Animal from the Anti Nowhere League are smashing fellas so it’ll be great to see them again. I’m not so keen on Peter and The Test Tube Babies though as there’s something personal between us from years ago but it’ll be good to see some of the other people. Most people on the scene are really good people.

You’re quite a rarity these days in that you still have three quarters of your classic line up. You’ve had a few changes along the way but would you say the definitive Rejects line up is you, your brother Mick and Vince Riordan?

That was our definitive line up. We always chopped and changed drummers but we’ve been solid for 16 years or so with Lainey who played in Leatherface and Red Alert but Tony Van Frater will always be a massive part of this band. He was a fantastic musician and he was like a brother and I wish he was still about. It’s good that Vince has always been about and he was the only one we could have to step back into the band after Tony died. After a lot of soul searching we just had to get back on with it and it was good that Vince was about. He was always up for it but not under those circumstances as he was very close to Tony as well. He actually played with Tony with us when we did a Wild Ones Heavy Metal set. He played guitar with my brother and Vince played bass. Vince is the only person who could fill Tony’s shoes.

Tony Van Frater was a local Sunderland lad who had been with you for a long time. His death must have come as a big blow to you?

We never say that coming. He was with us for about 15 years. There’s not one person who had anything bad to say about Tony. He was one of the funniest people I ever met in my life. He was something else. He had a personality like a hurricane. He was a fantastic musician and there’s not a day that goes by when I don’t think about him. We’ve invited his sister Ally and mother Brenda to the gig as we still keep in contact with them so it’ll be lovely to see them in Newcastle

You were formed back in 1978. What were the bands you were listening to prior to this that inspired your love of music?

I was brought up on a diet of early Queen, Aerosmith, Nazareth, Free and Bad Company. That’s what I loved growing up. When I first heard the Sex Pistols I absolutely loved them. I just thought it gave a chance to all working-class kids and I thought when I heard them, that I could do that. When we first started the band our ideology was to try and sound like the Pistols. So, them and the first two Ramones albums were the basis of our sound. I couldn’t sing a note so I just had to do what I had to do and shout with everything that I had and it just seemed to work.

Those days were great times to be into music?

There’ll never be another decade like the ’70’s. You had the big bands, the heavy hitters like Zeppelin, Purple and Sabbath who sold shed loads of albums. Then you had the Glam thing with Mott The Hoople, Sweet and T-Rex and they sold loads of singles but weren’t really album bands. Then in the mix there was Prog Rock like ELP and Yes then you got Punk, The Mods, Ska and the New Wave of British Heavy Metal with Maiden and all that. There was so much going on and so much variety it was impossible not to like music back then. It was fantastic and there was something for everyone. I wasn’t a big Ska fan but I look back on it and it was great as it was another thing and another way of music. That was the beauty of it as a youngster in London. Every night there were different bands on. We were spoilt for choice. I might go and see Yes because my brother-in-law was heavily into them and then the next night we go and see The Damned or The Clash and then AC/DC another night. To be there while that was happening was something else and I’d not have it any other way. I’d also listen to older stuff that my brother had like Cream, Jimi Hendrix and The Stones. I loved all that and The Doors too. I’ve been very lucky to have been through all that. I don’t get it so much with music nowadays and I suppose that’s just my age.

Your brother in law Chris Murrel was originally on bass for your first single Flares and Slippers. Why did he move on at that point?

He looked good and had started courting my sister but we wanted to get onto another level. He was OK but he took about 50 takes to get his bass parts right. He lasted one E.P then Vince came in.

You went from playing your first show with your new line up to signing to EMI in a matter of months. Did the speed at which things were developing take you by surprise?

Yeah, it was just too much. We formed the band in March 1979 and we’d played 3 or 4 shows all supporting other bands. We supported The Little Roosters in front of 30 people. Alison Moyet used to sing with them. We then played with The Tickets, The Damned and The Angelic Upstarts and that was it. We got the Flares and Slippers E.P out in the June or July of that year and by October we were signed to EMI on a four-album deal. I was still at school and was only 15 at that time when we signed. It was all a bit mad. My brother had to sign the EMI contract for me as I was underage. We knew nothing about the business. They promised us all sorts of things from money and cars. The only car I’d ever had then was remote control and I couldn’t drive. They gave us nothing but that’s just the way it is.

Did they try to change you musically or did they give you a free reign for your debut album, Greatest Hits Vol. 1.

They had quite a firm grip on us in some ways but we had a fairly free reign with the music and all of the artwork was done by us

That title is a real show of confidence in your material bearing in mind it’s your very first release?

It was all tongue in cheek. We were really young and thought it’d be fun to call our albums Greatest Hits Volumes 1, 2 and 3.

You are big football fans and have proudly nailed your West Ham allegiance to the flag. Did you ever get any adverse reaction to that in those early days?

Yes, it got really, really out of hand. I’m not going to blame other people from around the country because we were reckless. We were young and stupid and we did bring a lot of stuff on ourselves. Things got bad for us in Birmingham and Liverpool and in other parts of London because of our football connections. When you’re young you think your team is the only one. Being amateur boxers certainly helped us back then though. Looking back now, it was meant to happen. The football thing has done us proud all around the world and everywhere we go. We go to South America, Moscow and Japan and people are there in West Ham shirts. Times change and we all grow up so it’s all in good taste now.

You worked with UFO’s Pete Way on your Wild Ones album. How did you end up working with him?

We were big fans of UFO and went to see them at Hammersmith on their No Place To Run tour when they had Paul Chapman in the band. Ross Halfin had photographed both bands and we ended up striking up a friendship with Pete through that. We were really close. He said we could go a level higher and said we could be like Nazareth or early Aerosmith and getting a more Metal sound was the way to go then. Pete did a great job and I still look back on those times with fondness and I was still only 17 at the time. Pete was a lovely person, such a gentle soul. He was really the frontman of UFO. Phil Mogg was a terrific singer but he was no frontman. Pete was really the frontman of UFO and Steve Harris from Iron Maiden learned everything that he knew from Pete. His roots are in West Ham as well. UFO have never been the same since he left. He’s an absolute legend.

Do you still go by your nickname of Stinky Turner?

Yes, I still get it from time to time. Everybody had a Punk name back then whether it was Johnny Rotten, Rat Scabies and Sid Vicious so I thought I should have one. My Dad said there was a kid in his class at school that used to mess himself called Stinky Turner so I thought I’d have that as my Punk name and it kind of stuck. Some people still call me Stinky. I don’t mind.

Why did you go through that Metal phase in that mid-period of your career?

It was like a natural progression for us. The fans never really went with it but some stuck with us through that but if you get to the stage where you don’t want to express yourself and try to improve then what’s the point. There were only so many albums you could do about fighting and football. At the time it was right for us to progress in that way and I don’t regret any of it as we are still here and we’re still doing OK. You should never be afraid to give things a try. It’s stood us in good stead though as we still get invited to play at Metal and Hardcore festivals where we can play our more Metal material. A few weeks ago we played with Anthrax and we went down really well.

What about The Outfit, your side project. What’s happening with that?

I love it. It’s something I took on with all local lads from Canning Town and I knew their Dads. We were originally going to do a Gorillaz type of thing but we couldn’t afford a cartoonist. We’re a six-piece band and it allows me to get into what they do and I add my bit to it and there’s no rules so we can be as diverse as we want. I’ve been quite in demand at the moment as I’m also doing something with Sulo Karlsson from the Swedish band Diamond Dogs. We’re doing an album so it’s nice to do different things. It’ll always be the Rejects for me but it’s good to be doing different things as well.

What are your plans going into 2018?

We have 15 dates in the UK before the end of the year. We’re making plans to go back to America next year and we’ll see what else comes up and obviously in 2019 it’s our 40th anniversary so we might do another E.P or another album but only if the material is good enough. If we can’t get close to the first three albums then there’ll be no point. We don’t want to cheat anybody if it doesn’t work so we’ll see how it goes and if it comes close to what we were doing 40 years ago for our 40th anniversary then it might be worth putting out. We might have one album left in us but I’m a 54 year old grandad with two grandad kids and can I really do what I could when I was 14 or 15 but you never know. I’m also trying to talk my brother into doing a Hard Rock album and go out under the name Geggus which is our family name. Maybe we’ll have achieved everything by then and it’ll be time to ride off into the sunset. You don’t want to stick around too long. If we can get through the next two years I’ll be happy with that.

The Cockney Rejects headline North East Calling Punk Festival at Northumbria University, Newcastle on 30th September.


  • Mick Burgess

    Mick is a reviewer and photographer here at Metal Express Radio, based in the North-East of England. He first fell in love with music after hearing Jeff Wayne's spectacular The War of the Worlds in the cold winter of 1978. Then in the summer of '79 he discovered a copy of Kiss Alive II amongst his sister’s record collection, which literally blew him away! He then quickly found Van Halen I and Rainbow's Down To Earth, and he was well on the way to being rescued from Top 40 radio hell!   Over the ensuing years, he's enjoyed the Classic Rock music of Rush, Blue Oyster Cult, and Deep Purple; the AOR of Journey and Foreigner; the Pomp of Styx and Kansas; the Progressive Metal of Dream Theater, Queensrÿche, and Symphony X; the Goth Metal of Nightwish, Within Temptation, and Epica, and a whole host of other great bands that are too numerous to mention. When he's not listening to music, he watches Sunderland lose more football (soccer) matches than they win, and occasionally, if he has to, he goes to work as a property lawyer.

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