FRIARS appearances: 20/06/81 21/11/81
Hello Vic, thanks for talking to the Friars Aylesbury website. I don't know if you remember your first Friars appearance when there were lots of people backstage asking "is Vic there?" after it turned out you and Bernie Rhodes got here late after your car broke down. Just as you were about to go on stage and the rest of the band there, it transpired you weren't! A quick change into the tuxedo and away you went. But you remember the second gig more I think, with Altered Images.
I remember the Bauhaus one, that's where there was the conga....they weren't keen on it. I remember The Birthday Party and Bauhaus never spoke to them either. They never spoke to the support bands at all!
This conga business...Bauhaus were really po-faced and thought the audience was taking the piss out of them! People were just having a good time. We had a couple of Latin American numbers and that's what started the conga off. When Bauhaus came on, they just carried on! Bauhaus took it the wrong way!
That I would love to have seen!
But having been back from the start of the new wave era supporting the Sex Pistols and The Clash, it's surprising we didn't get you sooner.
It's strange that we didn't play Friars Aylesbury during that punk era. Didn't The Clash and the Buzzcocks play Friars around that time?
Yes they did, in 1978.
Ah, that explains it, as we were out on our own by then. We did the Great Unknowns tour and sent out with a French band by Bernie Rhodes to see if we could make it on our own.
Which explains how we missed you at that point. When you were on those tours with The Clash and the like, I know Joe Strummer was a big fan of the Subway Sect and could see you really developing couldn't he?
He was certainly very helpful towards us in very practical ways. He helped us out with guitars and amplifiers. We were total novices and didn't know what was what or what strings to buy and that sort of thing.
As I understood it from the time, the guitarist learned three chords and that was it, you were away. But in time, it's fair to say, that you felt held back by others lack of musical ability?
Yes, if we had more than three chords it was a problem.
At this time, I was learning to play the guitar myself and that enabled me to write the music and I was able to develop this over time once I got the hang of it. It also became obvious that I couldn't write a song unless I had a group, one of Bernie Rhodes' big ideas was to have a songwriter for his record label rather than any one group.
It was at the 100 Club gig when we were asked to play with The Cash whom we already knew as we had been using his studios for the week before that gig.
So did he take you under his wing?
Not really, the strength of it was that we were using his studios for free. So we used those rather than use a place we couldn't afford to pay for. Bernie in return gave us a mop and bucket to clean up but we left it in the corner. That was a standard trick for groups that wanted to use place, the mop and bucket!
You worked with Bernie and worked in France and I understand you were living or working in the same building as Nico, but you never worked with her?
Yes, we were hanging out. I didn't work with her though. An interesting collaboration? It would have been, but she was too busy eating and drinking a lot. She was interesting to talk to.
Related to Nico, although you came out of the first wave of punk, you played Friars in 1981 in a tuxedo paying music that had in place Velvet Underground influences amongst others, it was a complete sea change in style....
What brought that about style change, was it any one event or you saying let's bring this forward?
The first move with the tuxedo came about when we were doing northern soul or Tamla type songs around 1979. I did one gig doing that. It was probably around late 1980 when I met Johnny Britten that I started thinking about doing swing type songs. He'd come up with his band from Bristol and had been doing rockabilly type songs.
It certainly took things forward! So you had the northern soul and rockabilly influences.....
The biggest success would be when I started all the jazz stuff and 'Stop That Girl' and a different sound altogether.
From your perspective, was it evolution or re-invention?
I'd always been into that soul music and jazz stuff but had never been able to write songs in that vein in the punk era because of my limited musical abilities. I always had the tunes but could put that into chords for the rest of the group so we were able to work it out with a group so we could play it back in a couple of days time.
The later post punk Subway Sect became JoBoxers and you took a bit of a back seat from the music business and became a postman?
I did another album after that with quite a big jazz group.
That was the album Trouble?
Two big jazz groups...Pete Thomas and Jumping Jive and Working Week. So I took the jazzy thing even further with horns and by that time, the music scene was synthesizer based and I went right off it.
Definitely not your thing! What brought you back to the music, was it working with Edwyn Collins?
What happened was that I was messing around with some four tracks at work at the post office. I'd started writing songs into a tape recorder using a guitar my wife bought me and a friend suggested putting them down properly onto four track. He suggested I got a four track, so I did. It was thought the songs were too good to keep as a hobby and he came up with a ridiculous list of names to send them to! The third name on the list was Geoff Travis of Rough Trade. He was really into them but it went pear shaped with him so I went to another label, Heavenly who got taken over the same year by Sony so it all went into the long grass with them. Then Edwyn who had produced it suggested Postcard Records out of desperation, it was last option really. I wasn't that bothered as I was stuck in the post office, so what label wasn't important.
Coming round full circle, you are out gigging again as Subway Sect and you must have a huge pot of songs to draw on. You are presumably doing some material now from those early punk days?
Yes, but the setlist is always changing as I don't always play with the same group. Which group I play with determines which songs we do as they know certain ones. With Subway Sect there are 16 songs maximum When I was playing with the Bitter Springs for example, we had a repertoire of 29 songs. The group before this up till about last November had a repertoire of 23. We've got Paul Cook in who demands that everything is supertight rather than earning it live. We're working more songs into the set.
You've quite a few gigs lined up for 2012...
Yes a few. Last year I had nine different line ups! This year will hopefully steadier regards the line up. We did about 30 gigs and about the same this year.
Gigs aside, are you still a postman?
What I think is great is that 36 years after that punk revolution, your name is still out there today. So many fell away and are not remembered. A great achievement.
If you don't have the songs that get remembered, you don't get remembered. Doesn't matter what the gimmick is, if you haven't got the material. We have songs from different eras.
There were some bands from that time who were truly awful!
Yes and the changes is style were to get away from that.
You may remember Gryphon, a neo classical prog band who morphed into The Banned and had a minor hit with Little Girl? They've gone back to being Gryphon, but I think they were trying to ride the wave.
I've heard of both but didn't realise they were the same!
There are a few true survivors from that period, obviously yourself, The Clash, Siouxsie. I'm so glad you're still in the public eye today.
Very best wishes to you from all at Friars Aylesbury
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