early-01.jpg (11953 bytes)UK Subs - The Early Years - By Nicky Garratt

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Chapter Two - Band From The Pubs

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UK Subs - The Early Years
1 London
2 Band From The Pubs
3 John Peel & CID
4 In The Charts
5 U.S. Subs
6 Top 10 & The New Subs
7 Endangered Subs
8 The Cold War
9 Aftermath

Table Of Contents
UK Subs Main Page

Back To Bands

I called Charlie and his roommate Greg told me to come over that night to his apartment in Clapham Common. I arrived there around five o’clock on Wednesday. Charlie was not there yet, but Greg played a demo of the band, which turned out to be the UK Subs. There were two songs on the tape, ‘I Couldn’t Be You’, (Written by John Presley from C.C. Riders/Maddening Crowd), and ‘I Live In A Car’. (The demo was produced by John Presley and John Astor at Tooting Music Center). I was impressed.

UK Subs At 'The Western Counties' - Oct. 1977 (Steve Slack, Nicky Garratt, Charlie Harper)Charlie showed up around an hour later and Greg informed him, “Hey Charlie, I’ve found you a guitar player.”

Charlie looked down at me while I squatted on the floor looking at the band’s press kit. “Great,” He said, “We’ve got a gig friday.”

That night I learned ‘I Couldn’t Be You’ and ‘I Live In A Car’, also ‘Road Runner’, by Jonathan Richmond plus a new song Charlie was working on, ‘Tommorow’s Girls’, where I changed the rhythm from an R & B style to a dampened punk style. Thursday night we met again and re-worked ‘Ronald Biggs’ into ‘B.1.C.’ I took a break and went to the phone box at the top of Victoria rise to call Kate, but the phone was not in the best working order. When I returned, Charlie used the experience for the lyrics to ‘Telephone Numbers’ which I thrashed out the chords to. Later Steve Slack came by (he was the bass player) but he’d given notice that he was quitting to form a band The Dazzlers with former Subs drummer Rob Harper.

The Subs grew out of a local Tooting/Clapham area R & B band called The Marauders. Drummer Rob Harper, who did some early shows playing for The Clash, pushed the band’s direction toward punk - he was the drummer on the demo I’d heard. As the Marauders became the UK Subs they picked up Steve Slack on bass and a black guitar player called Thomas Anderson who co-wrote 'C.I.D.' before becoming a missionary in Africa; but they kept a lot of the R & B covers like Talking Book and Wooly Bully.

For Charlie this was the latest in a line of local bands he’d been in since the sixties, including funk band Bandanna, in UK Subs At 'The Buccaneer' - Nov. 1977 (Charlie Harper, Nicky Garratt)which he played bass and Charlie Harper’s Free Press. One of these early line-ups included Scott Goram who later joined Thin Lizzy. Using temporary drummer Steve Jones (not of The Pistols), who played in a local fusion band, and Steve Slack staying on until we could find a replacement, I played my first gig with the Subs in early October 1977 (at the Tooting Castle), just three days after I joined. After making it clear that I only wanted to play punk not R & B, Charlie agreed, but with only our six song set (which we played three times), UK Subs at 'The Castle' Tooting - Dec 1977 (Steve Slack, Charlie Harper, Nicky Garratt)clocking in at around 10 minutes it was clear there would have to be an adjustment period. The next day, Saturday, we did another show, this time at the ‘Western Counties’ in Paddington, but supplemented the band for this and the next show with Greg, Charlie’s roommate, on rhythm guitar and Arthur a local sax player. After those first three shows we continued playing each week at the ‘Castle’ and ‘Western Counties’, but now as a four piece. Our audience were mostly local pub types but with a small core of punks showing up. Our set grew with songs like ‘World War’ and ‘Totters’ (Later changed to Rockers), as we dropped all the covers. We all wore the drainpipe trousers, sometimes with shirts and narrow ties. I had red ink splattered on a couple of my shirts. We all wore buttons with slogans. Charlie had sparkling black plastic pants he sometimes wore but often wore army paints or an army jacket.

Now we set to the task of looking for a replacement for Steve Jones and found this maniac drummer, Rory Lyons, (He later joined ‘King Kurt’). He and his girlfriend Zebra, (who is pictured on the Roxy WC1 album in the bathroom), were firmly in the punk scene and had some contacts north of the river, i.e., ‘The Roxy’ and ‘Vortex’ clubs. Rory joining the band was in many ways a pivotal point as it marked the birth of the Subs as a purely punk group.

Another of Rory’s contacts gave us our first television appearance on ‘Southern Report - Punk Rock’, when we were filmed playing live at the Buccaneer club in Brighton on the 18th of November 1977.

We based ourselves out of Charlie’s hairdressing salon (which can be briefly seen in the Julian Temple film ‘Punk Can Take It’), where we stored our battered Marshall P.A. system in the back room along with drums, amps, baskets of towels and a huge supply of hair care products. The Salon, became both meeting place and hang out over the next year mostly because it was one of the few places where Charlie could be found with any degree of certainty.

UK Subs At 'The Buccaneer' - Nov. 1977 (Rory Lyons, Charlie Harper, Nicky Garratt)Charlie was, and still is an enigmatic man, forgetful, artistic, barbaric, cultured, but always interesting. He does not drive, but he always seems to have a ride. Always ludicrously popular, demands on his time ensured he would forget some appointment or other. Never more so then when juggling the band with his own hair dressing salon. Many times he asked me to meet him there at 12 noon assuring me he would be there for his first appointment. Maybe by 2.30 he would show up to a barrage of two or three women screaming at him, late for their day’s activity. Yet Charlie’s clients loved him and usually came back. I often heard them ask “How’s your band Charlie?” He would reply in his thick London accent “Oh yeah.... great, you know, we’re doing really good, just played down at........” etc.

Charlie was already divorced from his first wife, Rita, when I met him and has two son’s, Charles and Christen, by that marriage. His girlfriend at that time, Paula, was from Liverpool and figured strongly in those early years, (She can also be seen in the Salon scene in Julian Tempels film on the Subs).

Rory Lyons And Nicky Garratt Goofing Around At The Roxy 1977Paula and I got on OK but there was some underlying tension between us which thankfully we did not let get out of hand. On occasion I saw her as a meddling girlfriend, other times I saw her as a strong woman who had some good influences on Charlie. I think she saw me as somewhat of a dictator who had too much control over Charlie (but I can assure you, no one has control over Charlie). Paula became our model for new punk styles. Charlie would sit her down in the salon and dye her hair different colors while various other band members would yell “Do it leopard skin”, or “Make her look like a sea mine”.

Penetrating the ‘Roxy’ and ‘Vortex’ clubs and playing shows out of London brought us the start of a following which would become like no other punk band. Punks were appearing at our ‘Castle’ and ‘Western Counties’ shows, which Charlie had UK Subs At 'The Roxy' - Dec. 8th, 1977 (Steve Slack, Charlie Harper, Nicky Garratt)played at with various line-ups for years. It started to get rowdy. The punks were pogoing, tables got knocked over, we were playing louder and louder and I started jumping from my amp, sometimes onto my knees, sometimes into the drum kit. Steve, an excellent bass player, was fairly static, while Rory found my antics funny and sometimes joined in. I wanted the band to be the most intense live band around and as soon as we hit the stage I would get caught up in the moment and go wild, hurling mike stands into the drum kit and even drop kicking Steve off the stage at the ‘Marquee’. Charlie always kept his rapport with the audience, and like his salon clients, they loved him. Not just the punks, but the bar man, bouncers, drunks and business men. Everyone was Charlie’s friend.

Rory was not getting on well with Charlie however. Charlie’s flakiness was getting to him and in turn Rory was talking very disrespectfully to Charlie calling him an “old man”. I know this hurt Charlie, in his early thirties at the time, and it also hurt me. It finally came to a head at one of our rare rehearsals in November when it came down to a “him-or-me” situation between the two of them, and as Steve Slack still intended to leave, it was really up to me. Of course there was no choice.

News had come that a second album recorded at the Roxy was going to be made. After the success of the first one (Roxy WC1), we were excited to find we’d been asked to play. Steve and Rory offered to stay until after the recording which was to take place December 31st 1977. Meanwhile Steve Slacks’ elder brother Paul was learning the songs ready to audition after Steve left. Despite looking a little like a young Humphrey Bogart he had the inside track. Steve’s younger sister, Joanne, was also starting to hang out with the band, and her boyfriend, Dave, became our first roadie (again seen in Temple’s salon scene). Joanne, her punk name was ‘Cindy Yob’, was probably the inspiration for the song 15 as that was her age at the time. She is also the model on the cover of the Tomorrow’s Girls 7”.

The Roxy recordings, poorly attended and chaotic, went down as planned with a ramshackle bunch of lesser known punk bands who had played there over the last year or so. The Roxy, considered by many to be the birth place of British punk, was a small room downstairs with a hanging out area upstairs. Every square inch was covered with graffiti, The Sex Pistols, Wire, The Clash etc. The bathrooms were completely open, usually without doors attached, and used by both sexes together. Prior to becoming the first punk club, the ‘Roxy’ was a lesbian S & M joint called ‘Shagarama’s’ so the leap to bondage trousers and dog collars was not a big one. In every dark corner human punk creations lurked, sitting on the stairs, plastic, pin, chain and zip covered youths were on view. Unlike ‘The Vortex’, a punk club only on some nights of the week, the ‘Roxy’ was the punk mecca. The complete UK Subs recordings from the show eventually came out as ‘Live Kicks’ (On Stiff Records) and has been re-issued as ‘UK Subs Live At The Roxy’.

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