A different story: memories of Subway Sect

January 27, 2013

Harry Kari

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Looking back at the punk innovators, over the years.

When I was about 15 and first getting into new wave and punk rock, I used to read every single piece written about it I could find it in the music press. When these movements became more popular, the bands started coming to play in Portsmouth, which was where I went to school.

Subway SectI was generally too young to get into the clubs and, being four feet 11, I couldn’t fake it either. Anyway some of the bands started getting quite well known and would bring their not so successful contemporaries on tour with them, playing larger venues like the Guildhall. Ticket prices were low, about 50p, so me and my brother Dan were able to start seeing them in the flesh.

I first saw Subway Sect supporting Buzzcocks, and even then I realised they were better than a lot of other bands I’d seen. This was not just because they were more professional in their playing, but because the music and attitude felt different. Our friend Justin came with us to that first gig, or “concert” as we thought of it then, and he bought the single they had for sale on the T-shirt stall. All I could afford was a Buzzcocks badge. We loved the single, ‘Nobody’s Scared/Don’t Split it’, borrowed it and recorded it onto a cassette with ‘White Light White Heat’, which Dan’s art teacher had lent him. We played that tape until the oxide came off. Rough Trade then released ‘Ambition/Different Story’ – another great single.

A year or so later in Camden or Kensington Market (I’m not sure which), I came across a bootleg tape which was purportedly recording sessions for Subway Sect’s first album, which had never seen the light of day. Although it was not the best quality, we played it and copied it so much we managed to record over the middle of ‘Double Negative’, which still annoys me to this day. It turned out all right though, because Rough Trade released ‘Retrospective’, a compilation of John Peel Sessions covering most of the songs on the Bootleg in about 1984.

I somehow managed to miss the album, ‘What’s the Matter Boy?’, but it probably came out in a month when other equally “important” records were released and I could only afford one LP (long player) a month. It probably didn’t help that the reviews were lukewarm – I was still young and impressionable and didn’t realise the music journalists had their own agendas. It took me a long time to get round to listening to it but when I did it was a revelation. It is still one of my favourite records. I have always listened out to see what Vic Godard, Subway Sect’s frontman, is up to. I haven’t always liked it, but it is always interesting.

A few years ago I was told by a friend that Subway Sect were playing at his club ‘Tapestry’ in Euston, beneath a church. ‘1978 Now’ had just come out, so I went along. It was like I was 16 again. But, even better than that, the band I play bass in supported them at Nambucca, on Holloway Road, at the end of last year. The only regret being it wasn’t 1977 at the Roxy.

A couple of days later, I went into a new record shop which had opened locally (Kristina in Dalston) and had a look through their singles and found a copy of ‘Nobody’s Scared’, which I snapped up immediately. I had been looking for it for about 30 years. When I say looking I hadn’t really been trying that hard because apparently, as the man in the shop told me, he had more than one copy and it was easier to find than ‘Ambition’. I wonder, has someone been repressing them over the years?

 

 

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