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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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]