I trust that Vic Godard and Subway Sect don't need much introduction to cool folk like Mudkiss readers. They were in there at the beginning of the UK punk scene, touring with The Clash on the legendary '77 White Riot tour. They put out a couple of great singles - "Nobody's Scared" and "Ambition" and recorded an album which was never released, a managerial decision that effectively sabotaged their career. The songs eventually came out last year as "1978 Now!", recorded as much as possible with the original group. Not that Vic's ever had the pension plan in mind, though!
Photo: Vic at The Tunnel Club in Aberdeen by Dod Morrison
Anyway, I was lucky enough to meet him when we were both on Johnny Brown's "Mining for gold" show on resonancefm. Vic turned out to be a very engaging guy, and was keen to come and talk to us. We're both SW London boys, so it was only natural that Vic came over one wet January afternoon. This is what happened over a cup of tea or two.....and thanks to Shelley G for some of the questions.
Den - Well, when it all began, did you ever think you'd be talking about it 30 years later?
Vic - No - but I did know that I wanted to do something memorable!
Den - I always thought Subway Sect was a great name, perfect for the austere black and white image of the group. Where did it come from?
Vic - Well, it certainly wasn't off the cuff. We spent about a month discussing and considering different names. I think we made the right decision in the end. Same thing with the look - we were a bunch of poor guys, buying clothes from Oxfam - when they were still cheap there- cos that's all we could afford. We wanted to look like poor Eastern Europeans. No danger of any visual confusion between us and the Sex Pistols!
But it was strange that in the early days when the scene was still very fragmented, that two different groups - the Clash and the Buzzcocks - should independently come up the same new look, the Jackson Pollock thing with the Clash, and the Buzzcocks and Mondrian ... maybe its because they were both coming at it from an art school background, where we were just ordinary blokes.
Photo: Subway Sect 1977 courtesy Vic Godard
Den - The Sect always seemed to have an outsider/otherness vibe about them.
Vic - We used to spend a lot of time in libraries because we couldn't afford to do anything else. So we started looking for all different kinds of music and books. Like from seeing Dr Feelgood we'd got to people like Chuck Berry, Jimmy Reed and Bo Diddley. Then at the library we started finding things like Debussy, Erik Satie, or an amazing album of 13th century French troubadour music that I've never been able to find again.
Den - What were you into musically before punk and the start of Subway Sect?
Vic - Mainly soul, Faces, Roxy,
I never went to a gig until the 1st time I saw the Sex Pistols - or maybe it was Dr Feelgood just before? The early Pistols gigs were amazing - they were still learning, it was often pretty discordant but really powerful. So I got into seeing them all the time at places like the
Den - Subway Sect and The Clash were both managed by Bernie Rhodes. Malcolm Maclaren's always kept a pretty high profile, but Bernie Rhodes seems a more enigmatic figure, he gets quite a lot of respect from people like Mick Jones and Tony James. Are you still in touch? Anything you'd like to say about him?
Vic - (slight pause) No, not really! I've had no contact with him in years and he did us no favours.He did put us on the White Riot tour but after that his commitments to The Clash meant he didn't really have time for us. Bernie was one of a group of older people who helped make the scene happen, like Johnny Rotten's partner, Norah, giving people lifts... Mickey Foote, who produced the album that didn't come out, or Ted Carroll with his record stall in Berwick St.
We'd listen to something like "Nuggets" and then go up there looking for
other singles by people like the Seeds and the 13th Floor Elevators. Places like that were real feeding grounds for punk. And someone like Wilco - he had a massive influence on punk, not just how he played but the way he moved on-stage. I'd never seen anything like that; he had the same kind of manic intensity as Johnny Rotten.
Den - I've been listening to last year's "1978 now" album. I remember at the time, everyone seemed to be getting albums out, but nothing from The Sect. How different might things have been if Bernie Rhodes had let the album come out then?
Vic - Well, we'd have done a whole lot better I'm sure. In the end I think Bernie felt that he didn't have enough control over us, unlike a group like, say, the Clash, and lost interest. Things just moved so fast then anyway once things got started. It seemed like you'd hear about a group one day and they'd have an album out the next. I always thought Malcolm Maclaren missed a trick there, holding the Pistols album back so long while everyone else was getting theirs out. But then I never understood why he disrupted the group by getting rid of Glen Matlock for Sid, when he could have put another group together around Sid. Loads of people would have wanted to be involved with Sid then.
Den - And now for today's wild card. I was listening to the Department S single "Is Vic There?" - Any link there with you?
Vic - I think so! I hadn't really thought about it, but I knew a couple of the guys in Dept S. My parents used to get really fed up with people always calling and going "Is Vic there?” But Dept S said they always got calls asking for someone called Vic. It’s all about crossed lines maybe?
Den - When we met before, we got into a good link of Johnny Thunders' "Its not enough", your "Johnny Thunders" song and back to "Born to lose". Where did you meet him first, the White Riot tour?
Vic - No, they weren't on that. That was mainly the Clash, us, The Prefects, The Slits sometimes, Paul Weller - the line-ups varied according to where we were and the size of the venue. The first time I saw or met Johnny Thunders was when we saw them at the Roxy. They'd come over to
Funnily enough, after that Sid taught me how to play "Chinese Rocks" on the guitar. I'd always just wanted to be a singer and lyric writer, but once I was in a group I found that I had to learn guitar to express my ideas, it was impossible to put across the song I heard in my head without being able to play an instrument. I had a go at the bass too.
Den - Which leads into the next question. There are a few people around who blame Johnny Thunders and The Heartbreakers for bringing smack onto the English punk scene. Personally I don't agree, but you were in closer, any views?
Vic - (Looks bit surprised) Do you know, I haven't heard that before? Who's saying that then?
(See Keith Levene's comments and John Robb's footnote for an example.)
"Punk Rock: An Oral History" by John Robb. Page 184 - Keith Levene:
"If anyone should have the finger pointed at them for being junkies, if anyone came and completely brought a plague to
"At this stage the
As for the Heartbreakers being responsible? Not at all. Yes, they liked taking H and they wanted to stay here as long as they could because the gear was so much better than what they'd been used to in
Photo: Bitter Springs at the The Macbeth in Hoxton by Phil Guild
Den - That's just what it was like... anyway, coming more up to date, here's a few random questions for you. Will you be working with the Bitter Springs again?
Vic - Yes, I hope so, maybe we'll do some gigs together if they're not too busy. Simon's great. I often work with him; he's one of those people who's just a non-stop songwriter. Whenever I talk to him its "Look, I've got these new songs..."
Den - You did a gig at the Parliament Club a couple of years ago with your old guitarist Rob Symmons and his group Fallen Leaves. Have you kept in touch over the years? Any chance of him playing with Subway Sect again?
Vic - I've been trying to get him to do a book with me for a couple of years but its difficult as he's got family commitments.. He wants us to play at his Parliament club, but basically there's a certain level of pay we won't go below and he's notoriously tight, so not for the moment. I really wanted him to play on "78 Now" but he said there was no point. He thought we should be trying to put out the original tapes of the album - but they don't exist any more.
(Shelley - at this point Vic denies playing in just a kagoule and says what's a kagoule anyway?)
Den – Drummers; how did Garry Ainge get involved, and what happened with Mark Laff?
Vic - I was out on my post round in Twickenham, having a break in the caff there, and
Also our bass player, Mark Braby, plays just about anything. He can play mandolin, ukulele and he's a really good drummer too, but with a different style to
Photo: Vic with Subway Sect at the Parliament Club by Phil Guild
Den - Is it true that you were kicked off the 2008 Rebellion line up for "not being punk enough"? What happened?
Vic - We weren't really given a reason. We went down really well at Blackpool but were dropped for the Forum show in
Den - Favourite song you've written?
Vic - Cor, that's a hard one ... I think it’s got to be "T.R.O.U.B.L.E.". I always come back to that one. It’s easy to sing and it was easy to write. It was almost automatic, like it came direct from another planet. Sometimes it seems too good to be true with a song when it’s that easy. I couldn't believe it hadn't been done before. I spent a while playing it to friends and asking "Are you sure this song isn't out there already?" before I was convinced.
Den - What are you listening to at the moment?
Vic - Steely Dan and Donald Fagen! They're great, I never heard them at the time, but I found my way back to them because they've been sampled so much in hip hop. I've found a lot of good music that way, like the Whatnauts "My thing”. Our drummer Gary has an amazing Northern Soul singles collection; he buys them on eBay and puts about 20 of them on a disc for me. There are a couple of Northern Soul type songs on the new album.
Den - What else are you doing?
Vic - There'll also be some basic 60s garage/Nuggets type songs on the album, and it'll be a bit experimental in parts too. It'll be called "Subway Sectioned".
I've just got a graphic equaliser for my guitar and suddenly it sounds great. We were doing some gigs with Bricolage in
Otherwise, I've been working at
There are a couple of collaborations I've got into thru MySpace. There's Public Record from
Den - And finally, first record ever bought?
Vic - "What does it take?" by Junior
Den - And that was about it for the afternoon. It only remained to present Vic with his honorary Mudkiss badge as a memento of the day. I hope some of the enjoyment of our session comes across - I'm sure not every Mudkiss reader will agree with everything Vic says, but he's really thought out his views on where he's from and where he's going, and can back those views up with wisdom, humour and experience. There's a real integrity about Vic and the Subway Sect that goes beyond sales. I'm really looking forward to hearing the new album "Subway Sectioned" when it comes out. The Vic Godard/Subway Sect story is about a man who has only ever wanted to make music on his own terms, regardless of money or fashion, and if that isn't what punk was always meant to be about, I've been wasting my time.
Subway Sect live:
February 26th - Deaf Institute,
February 27th - Tapestry @ St Aloysius Social Club,
March 20th - Swiss Concrete @ the Wheatsheaf,
Forthcoming LP "Subway Sectioned" on vinyl on Aufgeladen und Bereit Records,
Photo's: Courtesy of Vic Godard.
Photo's: Courtesy of Vic Godard.
And thanks to Phil Guild for the photo's of Vic with Bitter Springs at The Macbeth in Hoxton and Subway Sect at the Parliament Club
Check out: 'Punk Rock: An Oral History' by John Robb
Interview by Den Browne 12.1.09