SUBWAY SECT have been together in some form or another since the semi-legendary 100 Club punk festival in September 1976. The line-up on that date was Paul Smith on drums, Robert Simmons on bass, Paul Myers on guitar and Vic Goddard on vocals. Involved in the proceedings were also The Clash – and since then the majority of the few gigs they've done have been with The Clash, through the aegis of Bernard Rhodes.
Early days at the Royal College of Art, the ICA, Lucky Lady, after which Smith departed. A gap where nothing happened, and then Mark Laff became the new drummer. The Clash connection continued when the Sect were part of The Clash's first major tour, the White Riot trek of last spring, with The Slits and occasionally Buzzcocks.
Following that, more drummer problems. Laff Left, and then another gap before a small string of dates towards the end of last year with present drummer Robert Ward.
A little while ago there were a few days in Europe, again with The Clash, and that brings things up to date.
Now comes a sudden burst of concentrated activity. A single, recorded six month's ago and viewed by the group with little fondness and merely as a mark in time, is due out in the next few days on Bernie Rhodes' Braik label, coinciding with a tightly organised tour of the country with The Lous.
Subway Sect make their move for recognition?
They're even doing interviews. Reluctant in the past to take part in forced conversation with journalists, they're now resigned to admitting that such games are necessary to a certain extent, if only to win an audience marginally prepared for their music.
Of course, such an attitude results in slow, if not difficult, conversation, reminding me of talks with The Prefects and the Banshees, and Phil McNeill's Wire tussle. For these bands it really does seem to be an alien and unnecessary activity.
We meet at the rehearsal studio midway between the Roundhouse and Dingwalls, which is a base-location for Subway Sect and The Clash.
On arrival two members of the Sect are fixing a door onto the studio entrance for a five quid fee from the owner. Upstairs in the cosily scruffy office prior to conversation members of The Clash pop in, acting predictably juvenile as part of their tedious routine of interviews, photosessions, and radio station visits.
Subway seem unconcerned, sitting around morosely flicking through the week's music press, picking out licks on battered guitars. Their appearence and down-to-earth patience is in direct contrast to the battle uniform agitation of The Clash.
All four members sit down for the interview, but Myers, Simmons and Ward soon drift away as Goddard is closest to me, his voice all but inaudible to anyone sitting more than a couple of feet away.
We talk about Subway Sect's position. Anonymity, perhaps misinterpretation, the futility of performing in front of indentikit audiences.
"The provinces are better," he insists "They seem less bothered, London expects certain things." Depression and pessimism are present, concerning not just audiences, but their very existence.
"It's like something a teacher once said to me. You're pushing a heavy boulder up a steep hill. You know that as soon as you reach the top of the hill it's just going to roll back and crush you, but still you push the boulder up the hill."
Things on the way up the hill could be better. They could have hardly been fashionable or popular, but Subway Sect are expressive and progressive, they take risks, often failing, becoming boring.
Their music has developed from its early minimalistic blank attack into something far more sophisticated. Subway want this to reach people, but they still want to avoid the demoralising and destructive routine that was exemplified by The Clash as they passed through the office.
The Clash and their ilk have always, like it or not, been channelled into the rock tradition, whereas Subway are repelled by such a route and its resultant loss of artistic freedom. Goddard insists, though, that Subway Sect are a rock group: the challenge is to evolve and yet to avoid the set rock pattern that leads to inevitable suffocation.
Indeed, Goddard himself treats it as almost an experiment. It will be interesting to see whether Subway avoid slipping into the rock trap of self-parody and myth-perpetuation. Such overpowering demands are forced onto rock musicians to produce acceptable product by audiences, business and critics alike – there is no allowance for failure once inside the circus. Subway Sect have to ease themselves through the monster machinery like a tank through a minefield.
"I think that Subway are concerned to some extent with provocation. We aim to leave some sort of bait. Not like Star Wars or American cop shows that just go right through someone and leave nothing. It's people in the past that have proffered bait that have interested me, and I'm trying to, operate in that tradition."
So what type of people have left bait, opened doors, for Goddard?
"Dylan. Definitely Dylan. Maybe Bowie. But not many rock musicians. Some films, some books," he grins, possibly at the hopelessness of listing them all. "East European obscure TV programmes for children that were like a breath of fresh air, so simple. I like simplification. Maybe that's reactionary."
Goddard claims that with Subway Sect he's trying to incorporate as many ranges of ideas as possible, continually aware of the limitations imposed by a rock format – such as the largely structuring element of rhythmic percussion. He wants to exagerate rock's components, and also to introduce elements not normally associated with rock, pure improvisation for instance. That seems worthy. About the lyrics Goddard seems reluctant to reveal source, concern, purpose. He does say that he deals with separate images within a song, so that they will appear disjointed and would definitely achieve better purpose on record.
"I want to reach people – and there must be many– who feel like myself."
Onstage Subway Sect perform as if bored. They can be totally boring. They are always intriguing. It is strong, hard, flexible music, music that the individual must approach – for Subway Sect will not compromise for accessibility.
We enthuse over Wire, we enthuse over Devo. Goddard regards his modern contemporaries as Talking Heads, Buzzcocks, Television, Richard Hell, and we enthuse over them. Will we enthuse over Subway Sect, and if we do so in large numbers, can they manage? It is a challenge all round.