I caught Charlie Harper early this year when his band hit Colchester. He had green hair and was wearing a Dennis The Menace type jumper. He was really cool. Whereas a number of band people talk out of their arses, Charlie Harper is still a superstar after 20 years of playing. Many of today's rock stars could learn from his combination of intellect, correctly prioritised values and warm response. From the point of view of my generation, there are a number of links that make him/them relevant to us. Also of course music wise there's still plenty to be taken from them, punk with morals to go with energy. Henry Rollins described the UK Subs after playing with them: "The UK Subs were great. They rocked the place. I didn't see how a crowd like that would be into something with that much energy".

J: How are you today then?
C: How am I today? Erm, tired and emotional. And in need of a good sleep.
J: Why have you come to Colchester?
C: This was to be our warm up show to bring us out of hibernation. We've been asleep for the winter and we played a gig in London last night and that kinda woke us up. And I went out drinking all night afterwards. So, um, I feel a bit sick now.
J: How did it go last night?
C: Really, really good yeah. Yeah, hundreds of people locked out. Lots of our mates as well and I couldn't get 'em in because there wasn't a guestlist. So it was a bit awkward.
J: Who was playing with you then?
C: Just one band, called Zero Tolerance. And they are really, really good. A punk band with a real spirit and stuff. I think they're gonna do well and we're gonna get 'em support slots with us to help them out and the thing is I really love their music. And because we're friends we like having them around. They haven't even made a record yet. They're about to make a vinyl seven inch next week.
J: I hope you don't mind me asking you this but how old are you?
C: There's a rule about that. You have to buy me a drink first you see.
J: First. What about after?
C: No, you buy me a drink and then I'll tell you, that's the way it goes. Put it this way I'm a grandpa. So you know, have a little bit of respect (laughs).
J: I once saw you in a magazine with a buspass.
C: Uh, well then you know.

J: When you started out what bands influenced you to start up?
C: God, you got to go back to the pre-punk days for that really. It was kind of watching Pete Townshend break his guitar to bits on stage and then Keith Moon demolish his drumkit and there was still this huge sound coming out, like an orchestra playing and it was John Eintwhistle on bass and he was just like putting out this fucking sound and I thought fucking hell that sounds like a complete orchestra. He was a bit good but I thought fucking hell I'm gonna, I wanna play bass like that, so I became a bass player. And yeah that was kinda the first thing.
J: What current bands are you into?
C: A band called Pain. They're kind of one of these reggae punk crossovers like Citizen Fish, I love them too. There's a lot of these kind of anarcho punk bands who are very very good. The whole scene is very very strong. And they have got their own scene. They don't normally play in a pub like this, just a regular music pub, they've got their own squat gigs throughout the world. So they're not that easy to see unless you're part of the underground thing, you know? There's a lot of good bands out there and normally its cheaper to see them. And beer's cheaper at these places.

J: Who is in the current UK Subs lineup?
C: We got Alan Campbell on guitar, he's been with us five years now although when I go to America every year, I play with a different band over in America. Last year when I went over to America I played with Nicky Garrett and Alvin Gibbs which was quite a blast, it was good. We've got a new rhythm section over here which is Andy F, very trendy in't it Andy F, on bass, very good bass player. He kinda matches Alan because Alan is a very good guitarist and now we've got someone up to his sound level and noise level. And Gary from Stains, who you've probably heard of, on drums. He plays very much in a Pete Davies style so it still sounds how the Subs should sound. And Alan learned to play guitar by listening to Nicky Garrett in the first place, so its kind of kept it in the family. Its just a like hand it down tradition. My god we sound like a folk band!
J: You said when you play in America you have a different lineup. Do you think that there's a really good scene in America as opposed to this country?
C: There is but not as opposed to this country. Lots of people get fed up with the English scene and all that and how England's dreaming. You know, boy bands, girl bands and this kind of pop stuff, "will the Spice Girls top the Teletubbies" and you know, England's just in a fucking dream. I mean it really is, nothings changed since 77, its still kind of crap out there in the commercial market and we're a good alternative. I think punk is healthy and well in England.
J: Is it true that you used to have a member of Rancid in your lineup?
C: No, Rancid have got a UK Sub playing guitar with them. I mean they can't go wrong can they. Soon as Lars joined Rancid they had the UK Subs guitar sound to go with Clash vocals and melodies and they couldn't go wrong. Its a much better thing than the Clash had.
J: I was listening to I Live In A Car earlier. What was that song about?
C: Its just about living in a tour van and not seeing much of anything else. The basic idea was that when the taxman or anyone's after you you're never there, you're in the van, you're away somewhere else. That's the kind of basic message, whenever anyone's trying to get money off you you're not in. Which was very very convenient. Most of the time.

J: You get mentioned in the Black Flag book. Do you have any memories of playing with Black Flag when they came over?
C: Oh yeah. I did read it and its funny because he mentioned when we saved him from the skinheads and things like that and I'd forgot about all those things but reading the book did kind of bring them back. You kind of tend to forget a lot of heavy times and bad times and remember all the good times and have a good laugh about them time and time again but the bad ones, lucky enough, they do go unless they're very heavy like having a gun pointed at your head or something. And you don't forget that in a hurry.
J: Did you like Black Flag?
C: I did I went to see them every time they came over to England and I wore a White Flag t-shirt and Henry loved it.

J: I've heard you make about 15,000 a year, you're living, off the Guns N' Roses song.
C: Oh no no no. Wow, no, no. I'll tell you how that went. We probably earn about, in a good year, 15 grand period, from touring, royalties, everything. I mean someone must have got that from somewhere out of the blue and its a good average actually, kind of a good assumption. The Guns N' Roses thing was completely separate. The Guns N' Roses thing is a very sad thing because we stand, you know the NME wrote we were gonna, to get 100,000 from it. The initial money, our money from the song, was around 100,000 but by the time it got through our publisher, who was screwing us at the time, we had to have a court case against them. It came to about, taxed and through all these agencies, it was down to 30,000 and this was shared between three people. And I don't wish to be bitchy or anything but really to get the record straight me and Alvin wrote that song, Nicky kind of put his name down somehow because he does that, he writes out all the little details and somehow he wrote his name, and he's done it on the new album as well, but somehow he put his name down on it. So he was standing to get 10 grand. The thing is that our court case cost us 27 grand. So we had to pay that and we ended up getting a grand each. So it was a very sad affair but we did win the case and our money started coming through to us from way back, and then we did get a whole bunch of money, like five grand, in a lump sum. It put us on the road and we could buy lots of t-shirts and do all the things we wanted to do, like get a new van.
J: Did you like their version of Down On The Farm?
C: Yeah, I thought it was very good, probably better than we could do. And they rearranged it and put a UK Subs stop in it which was something quite good because Alvin wrote the music and didn't put a UK Subs stop in it and so now we do it. Our record company wants us to re-record it. We even made that stop a little bit longer and made it a true UK Subs stop. Yeah, we were really quite happy with their version and you know it was a big big comment a band like that. We didn't really think that the biggest band in the world would do a cover of us. There you go but as with the money involved we missed out. And everyone thinks there's lots of money in music but by the time it filters down to the musicians and the writers, there is very little left. I'm glad I went on record saying that because it is true, any musician will tell you. I would like to underline and state that quite profoundly.
J: There's another cover version I like, its the Fastbacks' version of Time And Matter...
C: Oh wow, yeah, aren't they good. Wow, they're better than us as well.
J: Really?
C: Yeah. We met actually. They came to our show in Seattle and I was talking to the girl (Kim Warnick) in the van for a long time. She was really kind of over the top, big UK Subs fan, and she said could we play Emotional Blackmail and I said "well sure we always play Emotional Blackmail, its always in the set" but for some reason that night we didn't play it, everything was in a rush, the van broke down on the way to the gig, and it was a big big gig. We were all like, our nerves were torn apart. And somehow we missed out Emotional Blackmail and we had to shorten the set a bit, being late and everything. And she went away in tears, that poor girl. I felt very guilty about that. The Americans get very emotionally involved in these things. I thought I might pull her as well. Yeah, write that down (laughs).

J: Did you like the Seattle scene a few years ago?
C: The Seattle scene is always strong. There's always a very strong underground, ground level scene in clubs and bars. The small underground scene is always really red hot in Seattle. And there, I was taken to see someone, like people who'd broken away from Soundgarden, their offshoot band (sounds like Hater). The club scene's always been on the smallest levels, nothing like Nirvana or anything like that. I think if Nirvana were around in 1977 they would be classed as an out and out punk band.
J: Who did you play with there?
C: Our tour support band were called Anti Flag and they were from Pittsburgh. And they were really shit hot. They've got a song called Die For Your Government and it really is a shit hot song. Check it out.
J: Did you like the Washington DC scene?
C: Yeah, we knew a lot of those bands. My favourite band that came out of that scene was Bad Brains. That was a very good scene. A couple of years ago we actually played down the 9.30 Club again, where it all started. I can't remember where we played last time but it was probably even a better club.

J: How longs this current tour going to be?
C: The last thing we did was Europe at the end of last year and we just played our first gig for like six or eight weeks last night. So as I say we've just come out of hibernation and started out again. We haven't rehearsed, we had to do a lot of writing. We're going in to do a vinyl seven inch single on Monday. And we're kind of writing for all kinds of things in the future.
J: Which label will the single be on?
C: It'll be out on Fallout which is a part of Jungle Records in London. I can't say any further than that because we haven't even got a title for it.
J: Will you be playing a lot of new material on this tour?
C: We're gradually getting new material in. First of all, the first thing we gotta do is break in the drummer who is pretty new. He likes a few of our older songs and he wants to do them, so we're bringing back Blues, I.O.D. and Lady Esquire. Very dodgy but he likes them so we're doing them and then we're working on some stuff from the new album.

J: Do you think Punk Festivals are a rip off?
C: Oh right, yes. I hate to say that. I'll go to them anyway. The way I see it is I book my holidays for Holidays In The Sun, so that's my holiday. You know like going up to Morecombe, booking into a hotel for four or five days and staying up there the whole while. So that's my holiday so I don't feel ripped off but I think the prices are really really a bit over high and the guy kind of doesn't really make that much money because not enough people go to it to get him his profit. So you know just enough people go to it to almost pay. And I think the Black thing, he still owed a lot of the bands. Luckily it was a lot of the bigger bands money, bands that demand, wanted ten grand and stuff like 15 grand, and he didn't pay them all or at least straight away. So the only place that makes a really ripping profit is the actual venue and the venue did so well. The Dome did so well that they want the whole thing back at the Dome in Morecombe, so I mean they really did make a lot of money from the bar there. I'm working on, Charlie Harper is working on, an alternative thing to keep the price down for a whole day of good bands and just keep the price down to 5. I'm gonna try for it anyway. I've also got these plans to getting a venue eventually actually run and owned by the punks for the punks, so punks actually work there so they have jobs. I did ask the government for help and everything. So this is what I'm planning for the future. You know if the government don't help us then, well they're either for us or against us. They keep saying they're looking after the most vulnerable people in the country and they're just using that as some kind of a propaganda. We're gonna hold them up and say "look these are the people we can give work to, they can join in, people who don't want to conform to like normal society. They all want to be a bit outside society and we should cater for these people, they're part of the country as well. In fact they're a very integral and important part of the country because its always been the English oddballs who are the ones who are the inventors and the artists who pull society up a little bit". If they don't listen to us, well they're hypocrites. I can probably say now that they're not going to help us and they're going to be hypocrites because that's the way in works.
J: Where would you hope to have the venue?
C: There's a venue called the Powerhaus. It was the George Robey and they pulled reasonable people in there and its got a late license. Its not like it was anymore, its a bit sterile. They know they made a mistake ripping it down and painting it up like a rave industrial kind of place but you know punks getting strong again and punks packing out again and I think I can get something going in there. The people are really interested and what I first want to do is, there was a guy who used to run the punk things there on a regular weekly basis and he just died at the end of last year, and we want do a benefit for him, and buy him a headstone, first off and then see if we can get it on a regular basis.

J: What do you think of the prices of CDs?
C: They are high in England, they are unnecessarily high. I mean I really cringe when I see our CDs in shops for like 12.99 or 13.99 whatever.
J: What do you think of Mark Brennan and Captain Oi!?
C: Mark Brennan's been keeping a lot of the punk and Oi! going. Mark Brennan's kind of one of the instigators of keeping the whole scene going.
J: What do you think of Oasis?
C: Oasis? You could kind of discuss the music. There's a thing in America called Retro Pop and its bands like Oasis who copy the Beatles, Pink Floyd and put all their hits into their own music. Well, its kind of sussed in America because more people have got the Beatles, and you know they really went mad on the Beatles and Pink Floyd over there, so all Americans know every note of what they're playing and where they've thieved every note from, so Retro Pop's a little but frowned upon. They're not as popular out there as they are in Europe but I think they've just a formula and they've copied the best and people say if you copy the best.... I'm not into Oasis but they do what they do well. They're not part of the scene I'm in, they're part of the big business, big money scene. Now they've got their big money now and they want to retire.
J: What do you think of them as people?
C: I quite like the way they slag off the press and give the press a hard time. I really love that.

Thanks for not slagging me off and giving me a hard time. I love that.

Charlie Harper also plays in a band called The Bettie Page Experience that plays music as heard in the pin up's films of the forties (I think). In other words seedy guitar instrumentals.

I think the Powerhaus thing may have got of the ground in one form or another.

 

[taken from No Pictures 8]