UK SUBS - Complete Punk Singles Collection
For the last night of the Rebellion Festival I took in Captain Sensible who had temporarily jettisoned the rest of the Damned and was playing a solo gig. He tended to introduce each song with a preamble and at one point extolled the virtues of Charlie Harper of the UK Subs. His point being that the true spirit of punk was not now embodied in say someone like John Lydon, who only occasionally returns to his punk roots, but rather in someone like Charlie Harper who has talked-the-talk and walked-the-walk for the best part of 35 years.
And as if to prove his point awaiting me on my return was a package from those nice people at Captain Oi records that turned out to be the definitive UK Subs singles collection. Included is every one of the 28 singles the band has released from C.I.D. in September 1978 through to Warhead (2008) from er 2008.
What can I say about the Subs that has not been written a thousand times before? Part of the original punk movement in 1976, they were originally christened the UK Subversives. Founded by Charlie Harper, guitarist Nicky Garratt, and bassist Paul Slack, their style combined the energy of punk, but retained an element of the then thriving pub rock scene. Since then they have carried on regardless whilst most of their early contemporaries have long since disbanded. The only constant throughout has been Charlie, although the list of ex band members is legendary (including Lars from Rancid and Knox from the Vibrators). In 1993 they gained some notoriety when Guns n Roses covered their track Down on the Farm on their covers album The Spaghetti Incident. Of late the band has been more settled with Jet on guitar, Alvin Gibbs on bass and Jamie Oliver on drums, indeed it was this line up that I saw play a cracking set at Rebellion a few weeks ago.
Uniquely all their 23 albums have stated with a letter of the alphabet in chronological order, from debut Another Kind of Blues through to last years Work in Progress. However with Charlie stating that once Z is reached no more albums will be issued, we may fast be approaching the stage of little, if any, new Subs material being issued. Although I cannot think for one moment that the band, and especially Charlie, would ever give up playing live. Therefore it seems apt to look back at their extensive back catalogue and whilst it seems a bit pointless to individually review every track, I have chosen a few highlights to eulogise.
C.I.D. The first single by the band from September 1979 and my first taste of their unique style. Starting with a crescendo of guitars it quickly establishes the trade marks of the band, pumping bass, guitar hooks and infectiously catchy choruses. It related the experience of visiting Soho and having your collar felt by the police and I still cherish my blue vinyl copy (anyone under 30 please look up vinyl on the internet!).
STRANGLEHOLD Few singles can have a better introduction than........ ..1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 Gonna do a dance and it goes like this! It is difficult to put into words the thrill I got as a teenager seeing the band perform it on Top of the Pops. It certainly was a refreshing change from the normal turgid rubbish they showed. It remains a firm favourite live and if you listen closely at the end you can hear the question several promoters must have asked after the Subs had rampaged through their venue Whose gonna clear up the mess, thats what I want to know
WARHEAD I suppose if the Subs were to live or die by one number this would be it. Anyone who cannot immediately recognise the bass line intro cannot truly be called a punk. Above all else the song has stood the test of time and is spookily prophetic given todays perilous global political situation. Its opening line of Soldiers of Islam are loading their guns could easily have been written yesterday and not over 31 years ago. Just to prove they were more accomplished musician than given credit for the B side was an instrumental track played by Charlie on the harmonica, as well as a raucous cover of the Velvet Undergrounds Waiting for the Man. Again a perennial live favourite which now includes an acapella middle section that truly makes the hair stand up on the back of your neck. Truly a punk classic.
NEW BARBARIANS Actually originally an Urban Dogs number (Charlies side project). Fittingly heard here as a live version as it is definitely a standard when seeing a Subs gig. All the trades marks of the band that weve come to love all heavy drumming and thudding bass and shout-a-long chorus. Interestingly when this was recorded in 1986 their bass player was Plonker Magoo! I sometimes miss the absurd monikers that punk band members gave themselves and it sure beats Dappy and 50 cent any day of the week!
HEY SANTA Unique release from the band. More akin to something that would be found on The Yobs scurrilous Christmas Album. It turns out to be a cover version of a Kevin Bloody Wilson song that earned the NME single of the week in late 1987. Disgusting, insulting and entertaining all in the same breath. Dont play to the kids or your Granny!
RECLAIM THE STREET Turn of the Millennium release. Again rather prophetic given the recent events in major cities around the UK. As always catchy as f*ck and including a section with the vocals in French. Power punk at its finest and all the more poignant as Dave Goodman, the late producer of the Sex Pistols finest moments, was at the helm.
In truth I could have picked any number of the tracks on this CD as favourites as ultimately, if you like one UK Subs number, you are going to like them all. Constant changing to court fashion may be a virtue that the trendy press like NME extols, but in reality giving the fans what they want is the reason the band is still going strong.
So dont just sit on your hands, get out and buy this CD or at the very least see the band live. How many other bands that have been going 35 years, still tour relentlessly and give everything every night? Not many Id wager and although Ive said it before, Ill say it again, its about time that real music legends were recognised in the Honours List not just brown nosing, corporate wankers .
Sir Charles Harper, it has a nice ring to it!!!