It is a bit of a mystery when the UK Subs actually were formed. Charlie Harper’s fourth or fifth band, the rythym and blues outfit – The Marauders transformed into the UK Subs around December 1976 when Harper started hanging around clubs such as Roxy Club, in London, and apparantly, was so blown away with groups like the The Damned, that he decided to drop The Marauders R&B; sound and form a punk band instead. This band was called The Subversives, but then shortened to The Subs. However, there was already a band in Scotland called The Subs. The single Anarchy In The UK had just been released by the Sex Pistols, so Harper borrowed the ‘UK’ bit and added it to the ‘Subs’ bit. The UK Subs were born. Throughout 1977, the UK Subs were to undergo numerous line up changes. The first ‘real’ line up was Steve Slack – Bass, Richard Anderson – Guitar (joined May 1976), Robbie Harper – Drums, and Charlie on vocals. Richard Anderson was replaced by Charlie’s flat mate, Greg Brown, a new drummer called Steve Jones and a saxophone player Dave Collins. In need of stability, Charlie recruited Nicky Garratt, on guitar (Nicky found out about the vacancy via a bloke called Stan who was squatting with him, and who said that a band called the U.S Jets needed a guitarist). Nicky Garratt debuted with the band on October 15th 1977, at the Western Counties Pub, near Paddington station in London. Within two weeks a new set was written including songs Telephone Numbers, B.1.C, Stranglehold, Tomorrow’s Girls and C.I.D. The line up was now Steve Slack – bass, Nicky Garratt – guitar, Steve Jones – drums and Charlie Harper – vocals. The band took up residency at the Castle Pub in Tooting and continued at the Western Counties Pub until November 19th 1977.
During November, Rory Lyons stepped in on drums replacing Steve Jones (who, with Steve Slack returned to the UK Subs in 1983). The UK Subs were based out of Charlie’s hairdressing salon in Tooting, South London. The Salon, became both a meeting place and a place to hang out over the next few years.
18th November – Buccaneer, Brighton – this gig was filmed by Southern TV and was transmitted in January 1978
25th November – The Roxy Club
26th November – The Marquee
8th December – The Roxy Club
News had come that a second album – Farewell To The Roxy, recorded at the Roxy Club was going to be made. Steve Slack, was thinking about quitting the band for various reasons, but after the success of the first one – The Roxy London WC2, Steve offered to stay until after the recording, which was to take place between December 31st 1977 – 2nd January 1978. Meanwhile Steve Slack’s elder brother Paul was learning the songs ready to audition after Steve left.
1st January 1978 – Castle, Tooting – first gig with Paul Slack
The Roxy recordings, were poorly attended and chaotic. The Roxy was soon to shut down, but the recordings went down as planned, with a bunch of lesser known punk bands who had played there over the last year or so. The complete UK Subs recordings from the show eventually came out as Live Kicks (On Stiff Records) and has since been re-issued several other times.
With another line up change, a new drummer Robbie Bardock was found to replace Rory, the UK Subs entered a new phase in their development. They started to pick up bookings at places like the 100 Club and The Vortex. This led to regular appearances at The Mitre in Tooting, Battersea Arts Centre and Putney White Lion, where they built up a solid following which grew each week.
3rd February 1978 – Went into Barry Studios in London to record a debut single (Stranglehold / Tomorrow’s Girls). They spent two days trying to get the drum tracks down without success and finally gave up trying.
Constant gigging was the game – Tooting Forresters Arms, Moonlight Club, Music Machine, Canning Town Bridge amongst others. Pete Davies joined on drums for the gig on 1st April 1978 at Rochester Castle in Stoke Newington, officially joining two weeks later at The Moonlight Club, bringing together the first classic line up. Their first (of three) BBC Radio One, John Peel sessions was recorded on May 23rd, with the new line up. They met John Peel, who suggested that they record a single, and raved about I Live In A Car from The Roxy recordings, he even offered to pay for the single release. They declined the offer and on July 11th 1978 the UK Subs went into Spaceward Studios then located in Reading, and laid down three tracks:- C.I.D, I Live In A Car, and B.1.C. A BBC Radio London session was recorded on 23rd May 1978. (Another John Peel session was recorded on 6th September 1978, the final one was recorded on 16th June 1979.) C.I.D was released on seven different coloured vinyls, and immediately went on rotation on John Peel’s show. Although mainstream chart success eluded the single, it reached number 1 in the alternative charts.
The Band signed to Ramkup on March 25th and to a manager called Mike Phillips. The band then signed to GEM Records, a subsidery of RCA Records on 16th May 1979. On May 29th they went into the studio to start recording their first album Another Kind Of Blues. They didn’t waste any time in releasing their first 7″ GEM vinyl.
Stranglehold was to be the UK Subs biggest hit. It was released on red vinyl. It reached number 26, in the British pop charts in June 1979, selling 75,000 copies, and an appearance on the British TV show Top Of The Pops pushed the records sales higher. Stranglehold got joint record of the week in Sounds magazine with The Ruts song Babylon’s Burning. The Stranglehold Tour started on June 11th 1979, to coincide with single release. Scheduled for the 22nd was an appearance at the Glastonbury Festival. They decided at the last moment to pull out of playing, and as they left the concert area the police pulled them over while a crew from Sounds magazine were taking photos. This gave the Subs their first (And only) front cover of Sounds – 30th June 1979. New Musical Express followed Sounds with a two page feature on the Subs on July 7th and Melody Maker on August 18th with a full page.
On 15th July, the Subs were filmed playing live at the Lyceum, this was to be included in a special documentary about the band. The documentary was entitled Punk Can Take It and was filmed by director Julien Temple. The film was released on 21st September as a support to the BBC film about borstal life, entitled Scum. The Subs third single was Tomorrows Girls. The cover showed Paul’s sister Joanne Slack (Joanne Slack AKA Sindy Yob, also made and sent out the fan club newsletters 1979-1980) reflected in a shop window and was released on blue vinyl. Again the single charted, at number 28 and sold 75,000 copies and they went into the BBC to record another Top Of The Pops. Meanwhile Another Kind Of Blues had charted at number 21 in the national album charts, the first 20,000 being on blue vinyl. In October 1979, Pinnacle Records re-released C.I.D It reached number 106 in the charts. They embarked on their first major tour starting in Derby on the 20th of September and ending in London on the 10th November. They had been messing around with The Zombies classic She’s Not There at sound checks, and decided to release it as a single. The single, released on green vinyl, charted at number 33, selling 67,000 copies and again they did Top Of The Pops. This time Paul Slack sang lead vocals, as he did on the record, while Charlie jumped around with a flying V guitar. Things were escalating very fast and there was increasing pressure for them to play gigs in Europe. The management were negotiating a support slot on the forthcoming Ramones European tour in February 1980. However, a short US tour, including two opening slots with The Police, was squeezed in before Christmas and fresh off their UK tour they were whisked away to New York. They also played a few dates in Canada before heading back to the UK for a few one-off Christmas gigs.
Their second studio album Brand New Age was produced by Charlie and Nicky at the end of January 1980. From the album came the tracks Warhead and Teenage which were released as 7″ singles backed with non LP tracks. First came Warhead on brown vinyl backed with an instrumental track called The Harper and a Lou Reed cover Waiting for the Man. The artwork for Warhead was reproduced from a drawing Nicky Garratt made of a soldier who has a shell instead of a head. That image became one of the most used images connected with the band, and is still used on concert posters today!. The follow up was Teenage on pink vinyl with Left For Dead and New York State Police on the B side. The Ramones European tour started in Amsterdam on February 11th 1980. The tour was the biggest thing the Subs had done yet, playing many stadiums in Italy as well a gigs in Amsterdam and Paris, they managed to get a few gigs in Holland and Belgium squeezed in, before catching the ferry back to the UK. The Bootleg Dance and Travel in the Robot Age, recorded at Milan Palalido on 16th February 1980
They played Top Of The Pops promoting Warhead, released in March, which had charted at number 29 in the British ‘pop charts’, selling 60,000 copies.The Brand New Age album released on clear vinyl charted at number 18, even higher than Another Kind Of Blues. The Teenage single, not hampered by the horrendous picture sleeve, charted and again they played Top Of The Pops. Another tour was scheduled in the UK. Predominately in Scotland but starting with a Middlesborough show on the way up on April 5th 1980. The tour was only a week long, but went as far as Aberdeen. Paul Slack caught pneumonia and was replaced by his brother Steve for a few gigs.
Brand New Age tour closely followed. It was not only their biggest tour yet but it was also the most intense. Internal bickering and fighting came to a head. The big London show was at the Rainbow Theatre on May 30th 1980 which was recorded for an upcoming live album. This line up finally split up after doing a TV show in Holland on 4th June 1980. By mid June 1980 the new line up was in place. On drums was Steve Roberts, who came from the York band Cyanide, and on bass was Alvin Gibbs, from Croydon, ex – The Users.
The new line up played some secret gigs and worked on new material. During September 1980 they recorded the single Party In Paris on orange vinyl, backed with Fall Of The Empire and the Diminished Responsibility album. They then embarked on their first headlining European tour. The tour started on October 1st 1980 with the first show in Antwerp on the 2nd and ended in Herford, Germany on the 14th of Oct. This tour rolled right into their biggest UK tour yet starting at the Music Machine on the 19th October and ending with no less than four headline shows at The Marquee. Meanwhile, the new UK Subs live album Crash Course had entered the charts the first week, going gold, at number 8, making it their highest charting album. Entering the top ten of the album charts opened press avenues never before available to the band. Not only where features in Sounds, Melody Maker and New Musical Express articles were again forthcoming, but the teen mags like Jackie and Smash Hits now ran pieces on the band as well. They also made an appearance on the children’s TV show The Sooty and Sweep Show when Lady Esquire / Kicks (not sure which one!) was used in a sketch in which Sweep had loud music playing which was annoying Sooty and Soo.
Released on purple vinyl, the original pressing of Crash Course came with a free 12″ For Export Only, a live EP recorded at The Lyceum theatre on 15th of July 1979. The album received a five star review in Sounds. The debut 7″ from the new line-up, Party In Paris, reached number 40 in October, selling 40,000 copies, and in preparation for chart success GEM had scheduled their first video shoot. The video wasn’t used, but they did record a further Top Of The Pops performance. During the taping, UK Subs fans invaded the stage. The performance was never shown on TV. The UK Subs fan club released a special one-sided 7″ version of Party In Paris with Charlie singing in French. Diminished Responsibility charted at number 18 in February and the Subs set off on another, albeit short, UK tour which started on the 21st at Manchester Poly and ended at The Lyceum on March 1st. Then onto another European tour starting on March 10th in Hamburg, Germany running until the end of the month including shows at the Paradiso in Amsterdam, Berlin, Hannover and Brussels. Following the European tour they were flown to Finland for four dates between April 29th and May 2nd with Hanoi Rocks opening. The next single was to be Keep On Running (’til you burn), on blue vinyl. The b-side was Perfect Girl. The single hit the charts at number 41 and they played their last Top Of The Pops, they also made a video for the track. While the single was in the charts, another special version with two extra tracks, (a demo for the next album entitled Ice Age and the ‘fan club’ version of Party in Paris sung in French). The idea was to boost the single higher into the charts and reach a larger audience. It didn’t work and the single dropped out of the charts. A few weeks after the release of this single GEM Records went bankrupt. They put all their money into promoting a Eurovision song entry and it failed. The band soldiered on regardless, managing themselves before signing to NEMS. A new album and single were recorded. The single Countdown (one of the few singles not to be released on coloured vinyl), didn’t make an impression on the charts.
The album, Endangered Species was taken on the road to promote it. The UK leg of the Endangered Species tour, started on October 9th 1981 in Middlesborough and ended in Gillingham on the 25th, then rolled straight into the European leg ending in a Scandinavian tour with the last show in Juva, Finland on Dec 12th. The shows were, for the most part, less well advertised. There was no label support, NEMS took on more than they could handle and went bust just after the release of Endangered Species.
1981 did end on a high note, though, as they played second from the top of the bill at the Christmas On Earth all day punk festival in Leeds Queens Hall with bands such as – The Outcasts, The Damned and The Exploited, to around 7,000 fans.
1982 started as 1981 finished, with little or no support from agency, management and no label. In an effort to break out of the slump, they contacted a new management team (Wartoke Concern) based in New York and planned for their second US tour. <!– © Paul Mileman 2003 – This text is protected under copyright. Please obtain permission before use: /–!>In the meantime, they played a series of one off gigs, like The Marquee andThe 100 Club. Chaos Cassettesreleased DANGER UK SUBS LIVE. This was a live recording from Gossips club in London on 28th September 1981. It was a cassette only release, limited to 4000 and very poor quality. It was released as a bootleg, with royalties paid to bands. It isn’t known why this recording of the UK Subs was chosen as lots of other, better quality, Subs’ concerts were recorded. Steve Roberts had been apparantly been drinking more and more and was frequently a problem. He left the band. The official statement was that ‘musical differences’ were to blame. Mal Asling, ex-Chelsea drummer, was named as his successor. A second US tour was arranged and the band flew of to the States with The Anti-Nowhere League as support. This tour was to be a lot different from the first. Instead of small clubs, they were playing bigger clubs and large concert halls, many of them sold out. Starting in New York on March 3rd, the official opening of the tour was at the Ritz for two nights. The tour zig zagged across North America with shows in Los Angeles, Chicago and Detroit, and by the end of the tour on April 8th they had made 30 odd flights. Back in the UK Abstract records had licensed a best of UK Subs from GEM, and was released as UK Subs Recorded 1978 – 81 and came with a free stencil.
The next 7″ was Shake Up The City, on red vinyl. Also featuring tracks – Self Destruct and Police State. Media attention was once again strong and the Subs appeared in many publications including Smash Hits where the lyrics to Self Destuct appeared.
In September 1982, the UK Subs set off on another European tour starting on the 18th in Berlin and ending on October 9th in The Hague. In October, Sounds magazine carried an advert for a UK Subs competition in which you could win all the Subs albums to date.
In November the UK Subs set off for another US tour. John Towe (Kim Wylie) played drums. They opened at the City Gardens in New Jersey on December 7th. Again they flew from show to show. This short tour seemed to have done nothing to secure a record deal for them and Alvin, John and Nicky returned to the UK with intent to leave the band. However, when they got home they were greeted with the news that a tour of Poland, cancelled around six months earlier was now on and they set of for Warsaw, currently under marshall law. The UK Subs became the first punk rock band to enter Communist Poland for a tour. For this was to be the last tour of the Garratt/Gibbs/Harper line-up. Until they got together again in the 1990’s. The shows extended over a two week period travelling by bus. The venues were mostly sports stadiums averaging in capacity around 8,000. The shows went well and were peaceful. All the shows were at capacity and on their final show in Warsaw they performed two shows to over 24,000 people, making it their biggest ever headlining show. They returned to London, Heathrow from Warsaw on 6th March 1983. On return to England, the UK Subs decided to call it a day. A variety of factors were involved in the split:
– Mainly that they needed a new record deal. Also, Nicky Garratt had become bored and frustrated playing the same old songs. It seemed Charlie was still happy playing small clubs around the country, the others now wanted only bigger gigs, in larger venues. If you read some of the articles/interviews you’ll perhaps understand. Harper has various answers and reasons to why the Subs split and who was to blame. Also, outside of the band’s control, there was an influx of newer punk groups that had appeared over the last few years. This maybe had taken much of the limelight away from the Subs. The music papers that had written so much about the Subs, had nearly all either closed down or turned their back on the UK Subs and punk music. People were beginning to say that, finally, “Punk was dead”. Hence, the UK Subs (Charlie Harper) were out in the wilderness. The new record deal didn’t happen, and Charlie wouldn’t compromise the Subs in any way. Charlie remained on his own, but not for long. He didn’t waste any time collecting new musicians. And by March 1983, the UK Subs, (or the Original UK Subs, as they were known for a few gigs), with a new line up, were out on the road again.