Since its emergence in the latter part of the seventies punk rock has spawn some of the most influential and impacting bands which no one more essential to fans and the genre than the UK Subs. From 1976 the band and its founder Charlie Harper has been a driving force for subsequent bands and the genre itself over the years and as their new album XXIV shows, the band has not lost any of its strength and hunger to stretch themselves and punk, in fact they just get better and more inspiring, an incredible feat for a band well into its fourth decade, though its seeds goes back further. The RingMaster Review had the pleasure of finding out more about how the band, its ability to stay so essential, and about their twenty fourth album XXIV, by having the distinct honour of firing questions at Charlie… and this is what he revealed….
Hello Charlie and a big welcome to the site, many thanks for sparing time to talk with us.
I have to start with the obvious question of how has the band retained its hunger over the past forty years or so and as your new album shows, equally stayed fresh too?
Well…thank you Ring Master…we just have this will to have fun with the music and make it as exciting as we can.
I am aware of keeping it “fresh” but it’s not something that we work on, I suppose it’s because we spend so much time in clubs where I listen to all the other bands on the bill and I listen to what they do wrong, as well as the good stuff. We have done so many LPs but we are just beginning to use a studio, we also have a 5th member by the name of producer Pat Collier, we have worked together, mostly on than off for so long now.
As we mentioned it let us talk about your excellent new album XXIV. I am sure you will not disagree that is your finest work in quite a while but what for you makes it stand out above your other strong releases over the past years?
It has more power than the previous records; I left a clue in the last track of “work in progress” in Robot Age.
There is a rich eclectic flavouring across the album brought with the expected UK Subs passion. Has this use of other musical influences been brewing up in the band and its songwriting for a while now or something you sat down and purposely filtered into XXIV?
No, there is nothing planned. We will write a bunch of songs, say 6 each and just pick the ones we think are best, this time Alvin was the first to come up with a couple of gems and set the bar very high, it was a big challenge.
There are some fine punk bands and releases around right now in the UK but arguably few seem to have the thought or want to explore and use the resources available through other sounds within rock n roll to vary their sound as you have shown upon XXIV. Do you feel the album could be a catalyst which might get some genre related bands to rethink their musical thoughts?
I don’t think so, among our contemporary’s, were bands like the Damned and Stranglers, it was all about songs. Bands now seem to go for style, same beat same sound same growl but hey…they said that about Elvis.
The album is a twenty six track feast of nothing but impressive and impacting songs. It is hard to think of many albums with such a number of songs where all have such strength and richly rewarding presences, the lack of ‘fillers’ refreshing; at what point did you personally realise how potent the album would be?
Potent is a good word and music is a powerful medium. I learned a few trick with those three chords, the killer is the one, very few people are aware of, because it’s invisible but whether you play live or on record, the first chord on a follow up song, has to be compatible with the last chord of the previous song, if it’s a good match, it will give you a high, if it’s a bad match, it can bring you down. We have to go with this, as our songs are in rapid succession.
Is there any predominant theme or emotion which has fuelled or shaped the album?
Yes there was. It was the present conflict of the new and ancient world.
The Icon with the machine gun (baby Jesus gone) is a clue
You are a band which obviously writes for your own satisfaction and creative invention, so does it frustrate you when other bands within punk rock especially, create their sound and then almost use it as a uniform across each subsequent release thereafter, or do you only concentrate on the band and its imagination within the genre?
Well…take a band like Crass, they took that ridged uniformity to the limit but they were great. It takes all sorts and yes we just go on our merry way. I do encourage young bands to be different and find their own way
Do you think some bands underestimate their audience’s and their own adventure in taste and need, carry a fear to try new things?
Many do but there is a new batch of young musicians who are a little more brave, and that is pretty key, you have to have a musical bravery
The UK Subs seems to have found a new leash of life in many ways over the past two albums, the new release evolving the first ‘new breath’ found on Work In Progress. Is that a fair comment?
When Jet joined the band and we did the first album (Work in Progress) with him, it really felt like a new beginning and along with our not so ‘secret weapon’ Jamie, who contributed so much and Alvin coming to fruition as a major song writing force, we have the feeling that we are only just starting but that is very true of the acoustic side, we are absolute beginners.
Has this new energy to call it something, with no disrespect to past members, come in some way from the stability of the current line-up of the band since I believe 2005?
Be careful, when anyone talks of stability, things seem to happen. One drummer had a big tattoo across his chest, it said ‘Loyalty’, he left the band soon after but he has been with his present band for ten years now.
With the whole band having involvement in the core songwriting of different songs in different combinations, how does the songwriting process generally happen within the band?
Your questions are much too serious and prodding, I’m giving away all our little secrets. Well…it’s a nightmare, I was supposed to write all the lyrics but as I said before, Alvin is doing some major work, which gives me a breather. I tell the guys to keep it simple but they don’t do simple. I told them write one song for the next album, a Jet song and a Jamie song, they will struggle but I will find a way, Jamie is the best singer in the band but he is very shy, Billy Idol was just the same. Jet will sing in Japanese, some of that Japanese hardcore is amazing.
One suspects that there is an open approach within the band to ideas from the other members not involved in the original creation of particular songs as they evolve for recording?
One is right, you should pop down for the next recording your input would be much appreciated. I always look for somewhere to stick some backing vocals (B/Vs)then Jamie goes out to the mike and just does magic, mine are a bit oi.
The album also includes twelve acoustic tracks which I must admit took us by surprise in the best way possible; when did the idea to do this emerge or was it the intent from day one?
The acoustic idea was around a while, we were all writing songs but it was going to be another release but Captain Oi asked if we could put it on this release as an extra. We were not quite ready for that but we did our best. As I said we are just beginners but we write most songs on acoustic guitars, and we did the CD within the day.
Was the acoustic idea something to challenge yourselves or your audience more do you think in hindsight?
Definitely a challenge for us…I’ve played a couple of Subs unplugged, they go down very well but again, Jamie’s songs were a big challenge, Alvin took one and I took on the other, Alvin came out with the very spooky “Confessions…” I had just got back from Oslo where I was at the Puberty exhibition by Edward Munch; that was my inspiration for “Metamorphosis”.
What was the reaction towards the acoustic tracks even before people heard them and now after the release?
So far the reaction has been good, we have always dabbled with acoustics so it’s not so very new, we use the old sea shanty “Drunken Sailor” as an intro, it has a raging fiddle played by Simon Some Dog and the Subs.
Will you be taking this approach and tracks into a live setting at some point?
We were playing “Detox” on the last tour; we hope to add the “Coalition Government Blues” song and hopefully a few more.
Is there any particular moment on XXIV which gives you the strongest tingle of satisfaction?
There are a lot more on this album than most others we’ve done. As I said before, the B/Vs are my babies, as far as I am concerned , Jamie really nails them down, then there is the outro of “Black Power Salute”, the outro of “Implosion”, the noise guitars on “Failed State”, and some intro’s that I don’t remember right now and it’s the wee hours, I can’t play it.
The next day…
And anything you would have changed or tried differently now looking back?
That’s hard to say, we never get enough time in the studio and like it like that. Its nose down to the grind and making sure that we all have their stuff worked out before we walk in that day but the best laid plans… always go tits up. I hate things over produced but the early stuff is pretty horrific, right up to ‘Endangered Species’.
Yourself Charlie, and the band was inspired by The Damned back in 1976 but are there any bands or artists now who have impacted on your new ideas in regard to songwriting or sound?
I’ve always loved the Ramones, that simple back beat, the sound of the distorted Mosrite, Joe’s vocals, perfect.
I’ve always wished to write like Iggy but my style is completely different, it’s easier to write your own than try to work out somebody else’s stuff.
What is on the near horizon live shows wise of the band?
A UK tour in May. We will add more songs from the new album but no less old ones.
Once more very big thanks for sparing time for us. Any last thoughts you would like to share?
Just a big thank you, to all our followers and fans. We really do appreciate the support over so many years.
We have always found time to have a chat over a pint and some have become very close friends.
If there are any budding musicians out there…Go for it! There are ups and downs but it’s worth every mile.
And lastly once the band has released an album for every letter of the alphabet what comes next….
Hey let us get there first but we will still be on the road. I will just be too old to remember new songs.
Read the review of XXIV @ http://ringmasterreviewintroduces.wordpress.com/2013/03/12/u-k-subs-xxiv/
Interviewed by Pete RingMaster
The RingMaster Review 20/03/2013
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