Charlie Harper is one of punk rock’s true survivors. The 75 year-old UK Subs frontman has been there, done it, got the t-shirt, taken the plaudits and fronted the knock backs. And he does it all with a smile.
UK Subs have been plying their noisy trade since 1976, but they’re largely regarded as a ‘second wave of punk’ band; it was 1979 before they broke into the Top 30 with the single Stranglehold. Tomorrow’s Girls and the menacing, doom-laden Warhead (which later featured on the soundtrack of Shane Meadows’ This is England) quickly followed, both also going Top 30
The Subs’ debut album, Another Kind of Blues, was released in 1979. None other than Henry Rollins recently recognised the album’s iconic status – listing it in his ‘top 20 punk albums of all time’. Another Kind of Blues kicked off a series of UK Subs albums each starting with consecutive letters of the alphabet. Brand New Age followed in 1980 and the series was only completed in 2016 with Ziezzo. UK Subs have also released a veritable suitcase full of live albums (at least sixteen), compilations, videos, singles and EPs.
The band’s influence shouldn’t be underestimated. Early pioneers of what became known as ‘street punk’, the Subs’ sound can be traced back to the likes of Rancid and Dropkick Murphys. Guns N' Roses covered early Subs’ number, Down on the Farm, on The Spaghetti Incident? album in 1993. Legend has it that for a lengthy period the royalties Harper and band mate co-writers Alvin Gibbs and Nicky Garratt received from the Guns N’ Roses cover out-earned everything else the band had released - although this is unconfirmed.
UK Subs’ roll call over the past four decades reads almost as a who’s who of second wave punk. Precise numbers are hard to determine but estimates upwards of seventy former members seems to be the territory. The current line-up is pretty settled – drummer Jamie Oliver (no, not him) has been with them since 2005, guitarist Steve Straughan since 2016 and Alvin Gibbs has been on bass duty again since 2003. Gibbs has joined, left and re-joined five times.
Along with bands like Motörhead and The Ramones there’s a familiarity, you-know-what-you’re-going-to-get vibe about a UK Subs gig. The band set themselves a punishing touring schedule, but Harper et al put in a sterling ‘shift’ (to use current football pundit parlance) and will, no doubt, leave a lot of ageing punks and die-hards happy later this month.
UK Subs play Rescue Rooms on Thursday 28 November.
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