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

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Chapter Seven - Top 10 & The New Subs

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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
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Nicky Garratt, Steve Roberts, Alvin Gibbs, And Chalie HarperBy the summer of 1981 the business surrounding the Subs was getting shaky. We had changed agencies a couple of times and both the label and management were behaving erratically. By June 1981 GEM records, unable to renegotiate with the UK Subs management and having no other acts of consequence, closed its doors. In addition, a backlash against the band was being mounted by New Musical Express, among others, although Sounds and Melody Maker remained strong supporters. The band were in somewhat of a slump, with so many tours behind us and new sounds coming to the forefront we were in a sort of vacuum having burnt ourselves out, both in business and creatively. The only bright light was interest from abroad. Ramkup, our management, however were negotiating a new deal with NEMS records, not the most respected of labels, but a deal was on the table better than the one we had with GEM. With many reservations, we moved over to NEMS and started working on a new album.

Although some of the songs on Diminished Responsibility were interesting, I knew the next album must be a quantum leap better. I had produced a couple of 7” for the Subs, co-Produced “Brand New Age” and produced some other bands like “3 Times A Day” and “Manufactured Romance” so, I wanted to give it a shot. Alvin and I had talked to Guy Stevens, who produced the Clash’s “London Calling”, but after a manic hour or so around his house he started suggesting we bring in keyboards, female backing vocals, a different singer and change the name of the band!

Endangered SpeciesJacobs Studios, a residential studio in Surrey, was booked in August and September to record. Jacobs was an old farmhouse/manor with a swimming pool in the back, a pool room and large living room with a banquet table. The studio area was in the old barn with tons of wood and multiple levels. Since 1979 I’d been using a Gibson SG for rhythm to get a bigger sound than the Stratocaster, then I played all the lead solos with the Fender. On one of the last tours, Charlie had picked up a Gordon Smith GS1 guitar to play rhythm on “You Don’t Belong”. I was very impressed with the sound and started using them, (Custom finished for me by Gordon Smith). I opted to use the Gordon Smiths for rhythm and still used the Stratocastors for lead. (Always through Marshall 100W amps). Several days into the recording, NEMS had not come through with the deposit for the studio and the owner was getting nervous. I called the label and was told “it would be taken care of”. Sure enough the next day a guy in sunglasses and a black suit showed up with a suitcase full of cash. Welcome to NEMS records!

Countdown“Endangered Species” was by far our best album, but it was not immediately recognized as such. The Single, “Countdown” written by Charlie and Alvin, didn’t make an impression on the charts for two reasons. First it was a slow “Killing Joke” type of song ill suited for the peppy chart shows, and secondly NEMS simply didn’t promote it nor Endangered Species, aside from a full page add in New Musical Express. In fact NEMS folded shortly after the record came out. We, on the other hand, again took to the road to promote it.

Charlie Harper Holand 1981The UK leg of the Endangered Species tour started on October 9th 1981 at one of our strongholds, Middlesborough and ended in Gillingham on the 25th, then rolled straight into the European leg ending in a Scandinavian tour with the last show in Juva on Dec 12th. The shows were, for the most part, less well advertised. There was no label support and by this point no vinyl available except the weak “Live Kicks” reissued in Europe. 1981 did end with a bang though as we played third from the top of the bill at the Christmas On Earth punk festival in Leeds with Black Flag, The Damned, the Exploited, Chelsea, Vice Squad, Anti-Nowhere League, Chron Gen to around 7,000 fans.

1982 started as 81 finished, little or no support from agency, management and no label. In an effort to break out of the slump, we contacted a new management team based in New York and planned for our second US tour. In the meantime, we played a bunch of one off gigs, like the Marquee and the 100 Club.

Steve had been drinking more of late and was frequently a problem. On the last Scandinavian tour he was arrested at the airport for riding on the baggage carousel. Funny, but if we’d had a gig the next day we would’ve had to cancel. We knew that he wouldn’t be able to function for the duration of the upcoming US tour with up to five flights per day. He was fixated on Keith Moon and delighted in telling stories about Keith’s pranks. We tried to advise him to be Steve Roberts not Keith Moon to no avail so we had to let him go. To me this was the single worst decision the Subs ever made, even though we all were in agreement and it was probably the only decision we could make. This line up of the Subs, boasted four individuals, each with a unique strength, and to quote Iggy Pop, be careful banishing your demons because your angels may leave with them!

John Towe (aka Kim Wylie), stood in for the few one off shows. John, a friend of Alvin’s, had spent the last few years drifting from one band to another starting in the original “Chelsea” with Gene October and Billy Idol, staying with Billy as they formed “Generation X”, but had also played in “The Adverts” and with The Damned’s Brian James (Along with Alvin). The permanent replace was Mal Asling from the current Chelsea line up. We recorded an EP A.W.O.L. (which was not released until 1987). Chelsea was managed by Miles Copland (the Police’s manager and owner of IRS records), and brother Ian ran FBI booking agency, (the third brother of course played drums for the Police). Katie Durst, who was the courtesy girl for FBI and had met us at JFK airport on out first US tour, had moved to the UK and was dating Mal. In fact it was Katie’s suggestion that we called “Wartoke Concern” the US management company. Run by Jane Friedman and her partner Laura Lorry, Wartoke rented space to the Copland brothers for their management and agency. Jane Friedman had a long history in the music business dating back to the Velvet Underground and early Stones and used to manage and date John Cale. As this time she was doing press for Frank Zappa and managing Nico.

US Tour 1982The second US tour was a whole lot different from the first. Instead of small clubs (except for the shows with the Police), we were playing bigger clubs and concert halls, many of them packed or even sold out. Opening on the whole tour was the “Anti-Nowhere League” a biker gang turned punk band from Tumbridge Wells. FBI again were the agency, but this time we were flying from show to show on Republic airlines. This tour was intense. In fact, it was the hardest work I think any of us have ever done. Starting in New York on March 3rd, by the end of the tour on April 8th we had made 30 flights - often getting back to the hotel after the show at 2.00am with a wake up call at 4.00 am to catch a flight. The tour manager for the Subs was Lenny Fico and for Anti-Nowhere League Dennis Sheenan. Katie sold merchandise, Kevin Harvey did sound and David Davies did backline with Chutch.

Unprepared for Punk UK Subs style, Jane pulled us aside after our Long Island warm up date where we destroyed the stage, and told us we wouldn’t be able to do a US tour like this and would have to tone down the show - We didn’t! The official opening of the tour was at the Ritz for two nights over the weekend. Following the hugely successful Ritz shows, we played the 9:30 club in Washington, DC . In the audience were members of “Minor Threat” and the “Bad Brains” both of which later became friends. The tour zig zagged across North America with outstanding shows in Los Angeles (Country Club), Chicago (Stages) and Detroit (Clutch Cargo’s). Towards the end of the tour most of the tour party were like zombies. Mal in particular was depressed and complaining. Mal was a solid drummer, but by Chicago, only half way through the tour, he seemed to have no energy left. We had an altercation in the dressing room after the show and he didn’t speak me (or the others in the band) for the rest of the tour, unless he had to. I suppose even though this was the toughest tour we’d ever done, the rest of us were a little more used to being on the road. The tour ended in New York at the Peppermint Lounge where both bands played an encore together and Animal ended up throwing a dustbin full of ice water over the audience.

Back in the UK Abstract records had licensed a best of UK Subs from GEM, which I compiled, and was released as UK Subs Recorded 1978-81 and came with a free stencil. Recorded 1979-1981Meanwhile Alvin and I, in particular, were trying to take time to organize our careers and build on our American success, but Charlie was more interested in playing live. To these ends Charlie started another band “The Urban Dogs” to play when the Subs weren’t playing. Eventually they recorded an Album and single, “Limo Life” (ironically a song I’d written with Charlie). Alvin Played bass and Knox of the Vibrators played guitar. Live, the Urban Dogs drew from a pool of local musicians sometimes including Alvin and Knox. I took some time off to produce the first “Sex Gang Children” record Beasts, (still their biggest selling record) at Denmark Street studio.

Shake Up The CityWe returned to Jacobs Studio, maybe in hopes of recapturing the magic of Endangered Species, but this time we used producer Tony Spath who had worked on the lost A.W.O.L. Ep we recorded before the last US tour. The result was the lukewarm “Shake Up The City” which featured John Towe standing in on drums. Our new management released it as a 7” on abstract and a 12” in Germany on Intercord. This was to be our last release, with the exception of compilations and reissues, of my partnership with Charlie, but we still had some intense live shows ahead of us.

Nicky Garratt, Charlie Harper, Steve Roberts, And Alvin GibbsIn September we set off on another European tour starting on the 17th in Berlin and ending on Oct 9th in The Hague. Laura from Wartoke tour managed the European dates. On the 20th and 21st we recorded for one of Europe’s most prestigious TV shows, Music Larden “Beat Club” in Breman, Germany which devoted an entire show to the Subs. It was good, but as on the last few tours, I missed Steve Roberts’ energy behind me and it was a struggle. For the only time in the bands history, I took to having a mohawk. The band returned to the UK for four days, but I spent a long weekend in Geneva with a French speaking Swiss woman I’d become friendly with over the past few tours, then hitchhiked towards Hanover Germany. After a few hours walking along the road without being picked up, I went into a roadside diner and ordered “chips” which to me meant french fries, but to the Swiss means potato chips. I continued to try and communicate to the waitress when I noticed two young women laughing at me. They spoke some English and sorted the problem out for me and offered me a ride to the border. It was getting dark and the girls told me I couldn’t go any further that night and they would put me up. They looked after me very well, then put me on a train to Hanover where I met a girl I had become friends with and her girlfriend. I stopped with them for a couple of days before getting a train to meet the band in Amsterdam. At the end of the tour while we had van trouble in Holland, Alvin and I decided we needed a break from the Subs unless something big happened in the USA. In particular a new record deal.

 

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