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The Prefects, Subway Sect: A Tale Of Two Bands


Paul Morley, NME, 15 July 1978

Vic Godard

TWO GROUPS, both of whom have to some extent followed their instincts. Prefects have always been aware of the area they were aiming for; Subway Sect have developed through numerous incarnations testing almost by a process of trial and error.

Neither have 'compromised', neither can ever be said to be confident with their product, neither play easy music. Both have a small audience both at the present and potentially.

This is a tragedy, but only artificial additives plus facets like 'marketing' and 'exploitation' generally introduce consumers to a product, so Subway Sect and Prefects must suffer and struggle.

Rock audiences and listeners are notoriously reluctant to contribute much effort to a performance, to meet half way, to assimilate. A lack of curiosity, a downright lack of shame.

The Prefects have been together for 15 months, with one major personnel change in March which settled tensions of direction within the band. Since their early days they have matured totally; no longer are they a shambles, at cross purposes perhaps, humorously slaphappy.

The process of discovery obvious in November of last year, when their music was developing effectively and healthily, is still alive.

They use ordinary rock instruments; two guitars, bass, drums, vocals, occasional mouth organ. The calculated elements of Prefects composition are movements, direction and speed of sounds, plus spontaneity with its ultimate power, expressiveness and creation of atmosphere(s).

The music is simplistic, repetitive, peculiarly 'tight', alienating, with subtle variations within a movement altering its mood. It can be vague, intense, unnerving. It relies loosely on orthodox rock techniques like harmony, rhythm, melody, but somehow strains these techniques, swallows them and spews them up slightly changed, so that the music is only distantly recognisable as a 'rock'.

The length and width of songs is indeterminate; there is fast music, slow music and fast-and-slow-at-the-same-time music. A very fluctuating, liquified state of noise is created, rock rhythms used but somehow submerged so that the confines of a rigid framework are evaded. The drumming is rock drumming, on a kit, relatively fast, limited, but percussion is used as a sort of interruptive noise, for fracturing, propelling, texturing.

All this is indicative of the way The Prefects use orthodox rock instruments unnaturally, almost giving them new found roles. They have established their own natural techniques for playing, proving the emotional and musical possibilities present within minimal orthodox technique.

Significant of new found depth and maturity from The Prefects is the way they now slide their ironical and cynical view of popular rock music into their set. The previously straight humorous 46-second deliveries of 'Bohemian Rhapsody' have now gone. During a doomy, lumbering improvisation, vocal phrases float to the top of the music, just out "...angels with dirty faces..." then slide back into the music..."shot by both sides"...an evocative, disdainful use of references.

They need more discipline and control before any thought of records — at times the music became an endurance test — but such thoughts are a long way off. At their most concentrated and intense, they transcended all barriers and played some of the purest music I've heard. On the edge of madness and room for a smile.

 

SUBWAY SECT are quite an enigma. From the early days, when Clash, Buzzcocks, Sex Pistols, Subway Sect played the 100 Club punk festival, lead singer Vic Goddard is the only frontman not to have made a name for himself (unlike Rotten/Strummer/Devoto/Shelley).

Because of this obscurity he's probably had more room than those others to indulge and experiment, and certainly it's hard to deny that he himself is a strong, individual writer and performer, as unique as the four who have 'arrived'.

Compared to the likes of The Prefects, Subway Sect have to some extent had things 'easy'. They've had comfortable access to gigs, and have also made a record — 'Nobody's Scared', a sub-standard recording from a vague period in their existence.

The band have passed through many distinct periods; early basic minimal aggressive punk, through blank, flatly improvised rock, then, as their control of instruments became sturdier, into tough, strong, coherent rock songs.

Now, fully technically able, they have arrived at a music that is unpredictable only in the surprising orthodoxy of its components. The cool, very American style is probably obvious when Goddard's lyrical and musical pretensions are taken into account. He fancies himself as some sort of modern balladeer — a role to which he could do justice.

The Subways' set now relies on drive and exhilaration; they play compact, accessible, emphatic songs, short and self conscious, with just a dash of discordancy and some absurd tinges of country rock.

Goddard's Dylan influences surface to incongrous prominence. He is now a strong and versatile performer. A guitar toughly slung over his shoulder, he occasionally played some excellent solos, sweet pickings full of pull and mystique. His vocal delivery is casual and laconic, and he uses it in much the same way as Dylan sometimes does to construct a melody; not fluently, but in a sharp exaggerated manner, relying on length of sounds, rising and falling.

Occasionally he would round off a phrase with a disconcerting sheep warble reminiscent of very early Bolan. Very odd.

Subway Sect are very odd. Ultimately, they are all about growth. How they enhance their current particular stance, one of a very obvious rock basis with a strong recognition of — though not reliance on — much communicative rock from Dylan to Verlaine, will be intriguing. What Goddard has shown so far hints that once he has shaken off the borrowed mannerisms, he could be very important.