The UK Subs song Down On The Farm, is a personal favourite, and was covered by Guns N’Roses on their 1993 covers album The Spaghetti Incident? Their song ‘Warhead’ is played in the movie ‘This Is England’.
Charlie Harper is visiting Norway to celebrate his friend Paul Mileman’s birthday, not only is he an old friend of Charlie’s but the UK Subs Official sites webmaster. He is also the drummer in his own band Riots. Charlie and Paul sometimes get together to gig when they meet and this time was no exception. Riots backed Charlie at the Oslo venue Revolver to a full house of appreciative fans. I caught up with Charlie at the sound check and had a little chat with the Godfather of punk himself.
TEDDIE: Welcome to Norway. Is this your first visit?
CHARLIE: (Laughs). No I’ve been here about 100 times. We come once or twice a year. We were here last summer and went up north. We love it. Norway is always the same. When I come back I feel like I’ve never left. Nothing ever changes here
TEDDIE: You haven’t got the rest of the band with you this time and you’ve just been on an extensive tour with them. What’s the reason for your solo visit?
CHARLIE: I’ve come privately for Paul’s (Mileman) 45th birthday. He s a mate and we go way back. I played with his band about 5 years ago last time and I enjoy it. It’s great to be able to play with mates. We usually get a small venue and do something together. This time he’s given me lots of ideas that I’m taking back to the Subs with me. Just idea’s on how I want a guitar piece to sound, and definitely some good ideas on backing vocals. I might make this an annual thing because I enjoy it so much.
TEDDIE: You have been in the punk scene for a long time, being one of the first wave of British punk bands, and you’ve had a lot of success. Did you think, back in 1976-77 that you’d be still successful and still be at it and touring in 2012?
CHARLIE: No definitely not. I got into punk by accident. I was an R&B singer to begin with. Me and a few mates, used to go to this lesbian club called Shagaramas in Covent Garden, London on a Friday night because they used to have a band on. Then one day we got there and it wasn’t the lesbian club any more, but The Roxy.
TEDDIE: I believe Andrew Czezowski and Barry Jones were involved in the first faze of that club. They took it over for certain days a week. I think it was some east end mobsters that owned it and ran it as a gay club. They took over for 4-5 days a week and put a lot of bands on and when the mobsters saw the revenues go up, they took it back. So the Roxy was only there for like 6 months or a year tops…
CHARLIE: That’s right. We got into the habit of going there because of the band line-ups. I used to like the Damned a lot. Anyway that’s how I got into it really and I’ve been in punk ever since. I didn’t really know the Sex Pistols. I remember once when we were gigging at the 100 Club on Oxford Street and they were playing up the road and we met them, the four of us and the four of them and we’d say ‘hi !’ as we met in the street, but I didn’t really know them. I used to go to the Speakeasy a lot and Sid used to go there a lot too so I used to nod. But he was a bit crazy and would get into fights and stuff so I generally just nodded and kept away.
Anyway, no I didn’t think I’d still be at it now, but my wife won’t let me stop. She is like my manager and does the merch for us and keeps everything together. There is a lot to do such as find the artists for our covers etc. She’s working on that and sending things off to the record company etc. So she has a full time job with us and she loves travelling and going on tour with me and seeing new places, so we are never going to stop. I’ve not even considering cutting back because we both enjoy it so much…..
TEDDIE: What was it like back then when punk was new and fresh? Does the scene differ today? Has it evolved do you think or stagnated?
CHARLIE: Well it differs a lot because now you are safe. Back then there was a lot of fighting. And thank God the spitting has stopped. Now it’s just a lot of people who come out to listen to the type of music they love and have a good night out.
TEDDIE: What do you make of this tidal wave of punk nostalgia that’s been happening for that last couple of years?
CHARLIE: Punk hasn’t gone away really. I think its good. I have a feeling we are moving on to an 80’s nostalgia now though. When I was young we used to have this 1920’s nostalgia. We used to go out in pinstriped suites and wear black and white or brown and white shoes and some guys even wore galoshes. You know those rubber under soles to go over nice shoes in the rain. So there will always be a nostalgia going on
TEDDIE: There seems to be a trend these days that old bands that have disbanded many years ago are getting together again and touring. What do you think about that? Should they leave it alone and move on or are they right to get on the bandwagon of reforming?
CHARLIE: I don’t really have an opinion on that because I kind of look at what I’m doing and concentrate on the UK Subs and let the other bands concentrate on what they want to do. But I mean, if bands are reforming and they playing gigs then there are people out there who want to hear them and they should do it.
TEDDIE: I saw Gene Loves Jezebel were on tour and they weren’t all that big back in the day, but they are playing Arenas now.
CHARLIE: Yeah, so there is obviously a market for them. They should go for it, if that’s what they want to do.
TEDDIE: You played Rebellion. I was there and Jamie (Oliver, UK Subs drummer) came to see me on the spoken word stage with John Robb. Unfortunately I didn’t get to see UK Subs as I had to go back to Oslo on Sunday. You played Sunday night to a packed Empress Ballroom. You are a veteran of the festival. What’s so good about it in your opinion that it makes you want to go back year after year?
CHARLIE: Back in the days when it was The Holidays in the Sun, bands used to come to the festivals because they made good money on them. It was in Morecombe back then. There were the bands gigging from the local area and there were London bands. We used to call the northern bands Morecombe bands, even though they didn’t come from Morecombe. Then it moved to Blackpool. It’s changed a bit in the years but I like doing Rebellion and we have a lot of fun.
TEDDIE: What’s your favourite place to play. Any places that you go back to again and again…?
CHARLIE: There are some good places out there. Too many to mention, but we go back practically every year.
TEDDIE: You were on tour with Lemmy (Kilmister, Motorhead) earlier this year. You survived I see. What was that like and did you have some fun ?
CHARLIE: Yeah it was great. All the band members had separate dressing rooms. Lemmy had his and would have his mates hanging around and Mikkey Dee had his dressing room with his mates and the guitarist Phil ‘Whizzö’ Campbell had his. I liked Phil. He was trying to keep off the booze, so I would hang out with him a bit. Lemmy would rather die than stop drinking. But yeah it was a lot of fun.
TEDDIE: The UK Subs have been a band for 35 years. What are your plans for the future? Anything exciting in the pipeline?
CHARLIE: We have a new album coming out soon called ‘XX1X’. So tell people to keep a look out for that.
TEDDIE: Absolutely is it out already? Perhaps I can ask Mel, my boss at Mudkiss, if we have someone to review it?
CHARLIE: No, not out yet but coming soon. Yes that would be great.
TEDDIE: What do you do for fun these days apart from gigging and touring obviously?
CHARLIE: I’m a keen fisherman. Rod and tackle, and Fly fishing stuff. I wanted to go fishing today off Aker Brygge or somewhere close to there, but Paul had to get up really early and go to work. He’s a professional photographer as well as a musician so had to go to work. Hope to get some fishing in before I go home though.