With their first release in over eight years entitled ‘Work In Progress’ ready for release in 2011. We take you back to 1993’s ‘Normal Service Resumed’, the. Word of warning the following interview contains bundles of football banter in-between the music. As Charlie Harper was watching the Swindon promotion play off final…
Steve Janes talks to a distracted Charlie Harper about 10 minutes into the second half of the Division 1 play off Final clash between Swindon and Leicester City. The match was living up to its billing according to Charlie, on the state of the game; he replied “great, but it’s too close”. Mental note to self, don’t turn on the football, the office is busy enough without two of us taking sport might leave any reader, and my fellow staff a little restless. I digress but can help with one disagreement from the 190’s; the UK Subs were inspired by the Damned at the birth of British Punk, the now equally legendary Charlie Harper formed the Subs out of his then R&B outfit The Marauders in late 1976. Starting out as The Subversives, the name was shortened to The Subs and then changed to U.K. Subs, with the prefix taken from the first Sex Pistols single Anarchy In The U.K, With that cleared up, I press on…
You have just finished mixing the tracks for ‘Normal Service Resumed, It’s that fresh none outside of producer, band and label AnR have heard any of the album. I know it’s a little soon, the album has not got a release date yet, but can you tell us about some of the tracks?
“There’s a couple of reggaefied stuff similar to the likes of “Warhead”. There’s one almost like an ethnic kind of style in straight reggae. There’s a few kind of thrashy punk rock stuff. The thing about the album is it had lots of energy and it is very powerful. We just go in there rocking.”
How is the album, compared to the last one, ‘Mad Cow Fever’?
“‘Mad Cow Fever’ and ‘Japan Today’, we only used 50% of our potential. With this album it is closer to our full potential.”
I remember when I saw you supporting Stiff Little Fingers, one of the songs that impressed me a different version of ‘Another Cuba’ from the ‘Japan Today’ album.
“Yeah we rearranged it because Brian could do the piano bit on the bass and it sounded good. To be able to do that, he had to play in a different key, D instead of A. I found I could sing it better, it worked really well. It gave us a new lease of life and that’s why we were asked to record it again but we didn’t put it on the album, we left it as a demo.”
How many tracks are on the new album?
“Fifteen on the album and I think seventeen on the CD. Also, there’s a free album with the CD, ‘Live in Croatia’, which was recorded earlier this year in February.” A corner nearly comes off, but the header goes wide, catching the sharp intake of breath by Charlie coupled with my impression the life as a member of UK Subs is hectic, to say they are hard working is an understatement, I go for broke.
It must have been a really tense time!
“Yeah, it was because there were people shouting out, what about death camps because there is a general feeling that if there was oil there the US would be in there to sort it out, but because there is no oil, they have to die. Only stressing that the Government isn’t caring and if there’s no money in it for them, then they don’t give a f**k…”
What do you make of the lack of press you seem to suffer from?
“We’ve done a good album this time, so there is no excuse, it’ll be a bit of a laugh to see what they come up with. It will be interesting to see who slags us off the most. Some writers refuse to be trendy and will hopefully give us an alright review.”
How have you managed to keep going for so long? You still seem to be fresh when I rang you yesterday you were out, busy delivering leaflets for your upcoming gigs.
“That’s what it’s like; you have to put a lot of slog into it, giving out leaflets and putting up posters on a rainy night. It’s like the old punk thing 99% won’t do, you’ve really got to work at it. Unless you do that, you won’t work.”
There’s temporary halt in proceeding as Swindon take a 3-1 lead, surely there is no way back for Leicester City. After Charlie replies “It is Swindon.” I understand two things Charlie has been a Swindon supporter for long time arguably too long and football supporters worldwide have the same anxieties. We both gather our thoughts…
Would you say mainland Europe has a stronger scene than Britain at this point in time, maybe from a more balanced Euro music press?
“Yeah, I think so. Germany has a strong scene and that is just one country, whether any other country is strong or stronger, Holland is just about the same perhaps. Then again, not putting England down, England is the most musically rich country I the world, it is second to none, we have every diverse form of music.”
Newsflash: Leicester pull one back. Its 3-2 to Swindon.
You got good reviews of your last single – “Hey Santa”
“Our last little gem. I was on the train to Brighton and there were these Aussies on the train playing a tape by Kevin “Bloody” Wilson and he was just strumming a guitar and singing this song and I thought it would be a good punk record. So next time someone called from Australia I got them to send that tape for me and it adapted really well to a punk song. Kevin Bloody Wilson is like Jasper Carrot, he goes on stage and does really rude songs, but unlike Jasper Carrot he’s completely blue.”
We drift off into tales of venue promoters, punk in general and have a laugh after Leicester City pull level with less than ten minutes to go. Even I a confirmed Sunderland fan, start getting caught up in the drama called a football. The tension is too much for Charlie. The phone line has been quiet for a couple of minutes, apart for occasional shouts of “oohhhh” and the odd downbeat protests of “That was never! A foul” punctuated by the odd shout out of “ref!”I decide to make the dying minutes of the 1993 Division 1 Play off final. At least for Charlie who could not join the 73,000 at Wembley due to touting commitments, we start swapping footie jokes before the fourth Swindon goal goes in, from this is greeted by, from the other end of the telephone, all I can hear a pure screams of joy, rarely have grown men every squealed and roared with such delight.
There are a matter of minutes left in the final, I have a novel idea why not ask Charlie Harper, lead singer of UK Suns, one last question before the celebrations begin – just don’t make it football. I decide to back track…
The response to UK Subs seems to be a lot stronger in Europe. Why do you think Britain is more apathetic?
“They missed out the period when we were big here and we had to do it honestly and toured every year until we became more popular. A trendy band could go over to Europe and be very popular in Britain but they have to prove themselves in Europe. The underground movement doesn’t move in trends like it does here, there is a lot of kind of trendiness on the scene. Bands like the Levellers are trendy here and no-one wants to listen to anything different. Even the crusties are trendy.”
The full time whistle sounds over the telephone line, that’s it Swindon do win 4-3 to beat Leicester City. Shaun Taylor is a hero, talking of Swindon legends, Charlie Harper is up there, the effect of UK Subs certainly goes well beyond the borough boundaries and much further afield.
It’s been eight and a half years since the Subs last proper studio album was released, but here we are in 2011 with what is arguably one of their best efforts since the glory days of 79 to 83.
14 tracks recorded through the summer of 2010 at Pat Collier’s South London studio.
13 original numbers, including a re-recording of 2008s ‘Creation’, plus a version of The Sonics ‘Strychnine’ which has become a firm live favourite over the last couple of years.