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UK Subs - Charlie's Dead : History Part 2

  by Matthew Clarkson

published: 13 / 1 / 2002

UK Subs - Charlie's Dead : History Part 2


'The Brand New Age' as the 1980s were called in their first release of the decade was a time of mixed fortunes for the Subs. The early years of the eighties saw a continuation of their earlier succ

'The Brand New Age' as the 1980s were called in their first release of the decade was a time of mixed fortunes for the Subs. The early years of the eighties saw a continuation of their earlier successes with further chart hits and packed tours. Personally I see the second album 'Brand New Age' (clear vinyl) as a better testimony of the Subs golden age,than their previous long-play release. It peaked at no.18 in the charts, spawning two chartbreaking singles in it's wakethe brown vinyl 'Warhead' (nr.30) and the aforementioned 'Teenage' (nr.32). In my opinion,however, the strengths of the album do not lie in these songs('Warhead' with it's pondering beatand seemingly out of tune lyrics and chorus, bores me to death to be honest, maybe that's due to overexposure, another crowd favourite at gigs, I'm afraid). Rather I find the tracks not released as singles more passionate and raging with the full fury and fun ofearly 80s Punk. Numbers such as 'You can't take it anymore' ',Public Servant', 'Organised Crime' and the twin stormers 'Barbie's Dead' (thus the title of this piece) and 'Emotional Blackmail' (Nah!Nah!Nah!...) never fail to bring a twinkle to the eye. Even 'Bomb Factory' with its cheesy siren has it's place. If you're only going to get one Subs album in your life, make it this one. ' Barbie's Dead' has a special place in my heart, owing to an experience I had at a gig in the summer of 1998 at Edinburgh's Cas Rock. I hadn't in fact seen the group in action for about four years at that time, having spent several years on the continent, doing TEFL (that's what I do in real life), so I went along with my best friend, really hyped up and looking forward to it. To be honest the crowd was large, well as large as it could be in Cas Rock (about 200-300 capacity, a far cry to their 80s heydays anyway) but fairly quiet, with very few people up dancing, only about 20 or 30 of us. The plus point of this being that security was pretty lax. On previous occasions we'd almost got our heads beaten to a pulp by a psychotic over-vigilant security guard armed with a heavy duty torch.For being within 10 foot of the stage, in such a small place it's difficult not to if you're up and dancing. This time, however, those partaking in moshing and such stuff could get right up to the stage and indeed on it, and it was during 'Barbie's Dead' that I managed to get up there and sing a long with Charlie on the choruses.That's another one of Harper's strengths, he relates well to his audience, on this occasion he was more than willing to get fans to sing along, offering them the microphone to do so. On a previous occasion he was behind the T-shirt stall prior to the gig selling cheap goods and chatting with fans. The next release by the UK Subs proved to be their best selling album of all time, a live album,and not before time either, considering their touring record in both Britain and by this time Europe, and the fact that as far as live recorded material was concerned there existed only the unofficial and reputably extremely dubious Stiff LP 'Live Kicks'. The official live release of Sept.1980 'Crash Course' (purple vinyl) raced up the charts to a magnificent no.8 earning the bands label 'Gem Records 'no doubt a great deal of money. Not only is this a superb live tribute to the band (even 'Virgin's Who's Who's of Indie and New Wave Music' gives it 3 out of 5 stars, impressive if you look at what they give other albums) , but it saw something of an end of an era for the Subs. The gig making up this concert was recorded on May 30th 1980 at the Rainbow Theatre in London, and saw the final appearance of bassist Slack and Drummer Davies, who were replaced by bassist Alvin Gibbs and Steve Roberts on the drum stool (the so- called 'second classic line-up').The album itself consists of numbers taken from the previous albums as well as some of the hit singles and B-sides crowd favourite such as 'Left For Dead' and 'New York State Police', and is surprisingly well recorded. My CD version also includes four out-takes of a previous gig, originally on a single given away with the purple LP. I believe that on versions of the CD backed by the 'Diminished Responsibility' LP these tracks areomitted. Shame! The introduction of a new bassist and drummer also marked something of a change in direction for the group, both visually and musically, which can be seen from the unit's first output, the orange vinyl single 'Party in Paris' (Oct. 1980, highest no. UK Charts 37), onwards. The musical changes were perhaps somewhat slow to arrive on the scene, but careful listening reveals a hardening of their sound to include heavier more metal based elements. It was followed up by their last album to sell in large numbers 'Diminished Responsibility' (which achieved no.18 in the album chart of March 1981). 'Responsibility' (red vinyl) is also noticeable for being the last album to be released on Gem Records, disgraceful as it contained a number of rough diamonds. Choice tracks include 'Face the Machine' 'Confrontation' 'Violent City' and other critiques of the unfavourable changes in modern society, showing a new perhaps more serious and mature face to the Subs, to go alongside musical and visual changes, which was to lead in later releases to numbers concerned with squatters rights and the environment. The golden age of the Subs commercial success was drawing to a close, withtheir last hit single being the blue vinyl 'Keep On Runnin' (Till You Burn)', charting at no.41 in April 1981and with new romantic imagery to be found on the sleeve photo of the group, alongside the bikers' leathers, studs and spikes, previously seen. It has been said that this was meant to be something of a joke, nonetheless this dual image is predominant amongst many of the posters and photos of the periods. Another alteration which came about during this period was the abandonment of releasing albums in a variety of colours. LPs from this time, were invariably available only in standard black vinyl. A great compilation of the first four albums and charting singles is the retrospective 'Scum of the Earth' (named after the 'Tomorrow's Girls' b-side) released by 'Music Club', with most informative sleeve notes by Mark Brennan. Yet, in spite of the hits drying up Charlie and the boys decided to valiantly soldier on, unlike so many of their contemporaries, regularly touring (almost 200 gigs a year) and releasing albums until the present day. In part this decline in popularity can probably be accounted to the growth of the Anarcho and Oi! movements, which was lead by the likes of 'The Anti Nowhere League', ' GBH', the dire 'Discharge'and The Exploited (once again they creep into these pages (well they're Scottish like me) These later Subs LPs are to be truthful of varying quality, and thus shall be considered inonly general terms, rather than a detailed analysis. Added to this is the fact that I don't actually own all of them. What do take me for, a fanatic. In my other life I'm into funk and Latin Jazz. Surprised? Next up for Charlie and the boys was 'Endangered pecies' (NEMS/TRANCE) .Have you noticed the A to Z of album names yet, there's only 7 more to go. Can they do it before the Millenium? This album is in essence fairly similar to the previous release, which comes as no great shock, when you take into account that it was recorded with the same band members (Who said that Punk line-ups last five minutes ?) and in the same year. Tracks include the non-charting and mediocre single 'Countdown' as well as 'Fear of Girls' 'I Robot', the impressive 'Ice Age' (which I wish Charlie would do live) and 'Down on the Farm' (made famous by 'Guns 'n' Roses Punk covers album 'Spaghetti Incident' (1993).This is a good song, great guitar riffs, rendered somewhat ridiculous by Axl Rose's attempts at a cockney accent like Charlie's. Do yourself a favour if you're a Gunners fan ! G et the original. The 1990 re-release of the albumcontains two extra tracks. By the time of the next album in 1983, things had greatly changed in the Subs camp, with yet another record label, and a radically different group, with Harper featuring as the only remaining member of the previous line-up. Yet it had not been all bad news for Charlie. Prior to the split the band had played to their biggest crowds ever, and what's more behind the iron curtain. General Jaruzelski, the communist leader of Poland, in response to harsh criticism of the imposition of martial law and breaking up of the Solidarity trade union movement headed by Lech Walesa, had attempted to portray himself and the communist system in a better light by inviting a number of premier western bands to play to packed crowds in Poland's sports halls. For one reason or another the UK Subs were on this list, and highlights included a gig in front of over 20,000 Poles in Warsaw. Clearly the concerts had quite an effect on the audiences, as a number of underground Polish Punk bands formed around this time, including the more than reasonable 'Dezerter' (split 1993), though be warned they sing only in Polish and are fairly aggro. I'm not sure if you can get their stuff in this country either as I got mine in Poland. Good luck tracking them down. Further details on the Subs Polish experiences, as well as their sharing of a studio, with a fledgling 'U2' is given in Alvin Gibbs (bassist, from 1980-83) extremely readable and personalised account of Punk, the aforementioned 'Destroy'. From communist Poland to capitalist America. Quite a lot of the tracks from the mid-eighties albums 'Flood of Lies(1983)', 'Gross Out USA(1985)', 'Huntington Beach (1986)' and 'In Action (also 1986) focused lyrically on the United States, with tracks titles including 'Tampa Bay' and 'Miss Teenage USA'. I imagine much of this shift in lyrical focus came from the Subs' frequent tours of the US, and attempts to tap into some of the vast American market, processes which had been in existence since their first Trans-Atlantic experience back in February 1982. Personnel was also fairly fluid at this time, with Harper being, more often than not, the sole survivor of each membership change. He did manage to draft in a number of his ex-sidemen, bassist Steve Slack and drummer Pete Davies, albeit on different productions. Bizarre names also seemed popular with the group around this time with Captain Scarlet featuring on the first two releases, while Deptford John a bassist also known as Plonker Magoo, made his album debut on 'Huntington Beach', and featured on it's follow up, too. John also played with ..yes you guessed it...the Exploited around this time. Two of these albums were live recordings 'Gross Out USA' was taped in Chicago, in the middle of a 1984 American tour and gives a fair selection of both classics and contemporary tunes. The songs found on 'In Action' are largely representative of the GEM era.

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UK Subs - Charlie's Dead : History Part 2

UK Subs - Charlie's Dead : History Part 2

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Charlie's Dead : History Part 3 (2002)
UK Subs - Charlie's Dead : History Part 3
Yet another line-up change followed, including the re-emergence of yet another ex-Sub, Steve Roberts, who features alongside a plethora of guitarists (Three!!) and the bassist Flea on 'Japan Today' (F

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