UK Subs and TV Smith
February 1, 2013
Punk: alive, well and touring its arse off…with UK Subs
Time has an enormous capacity to flip absolutely anything right around. It can even turn death back into new life.
A sunken warship’s rusty hull evolves into an ecological Eden for rare and beautiful fish. The mud underneath a car park in Leicester loosens its grip on the battle-broken remains of controversial King Richard III. And a building once used to mass-manufacture bombs and bullets for Hitler’s armies is converted through voluntary human endeavour into a colourful arts centre, cafe and children’s play area.
The perfect setting, in other words, for a night programmed in unabashed celebration of punk rock: the musical and idealogical sea-change that inspired and motivated a generation of cul-de-sac kids to reject the depressing, destructive old ways of the 1970s and seek out a brand new age of their own.
Punk has thrived into this 21st Century because it is inherently a VERY GOOD THING. It’s colourful, exciting and full of youthful energy. It’s inclusive, often educational, and its participants look after and respect each other. It’s not a clique, either – dive in for one night or for the rest of your life. You decide.
TV Smith, wiry-thin human dynamo from The Adverts, is in this punk game for the long haul. The Hamburg audience greet his frenetic strumming, stage-stomping and screaming entrance as they would a dear old friend. Indeed, he has trodden these same European boards many times before in his ongoing mission to spread the word of the world according to Smith. With evangelical zeal, he introduces fresh political concepts like ‘The Immortal Rich’, amusing musings like ‘It’s Expensive Being Poor’ and anti-apathy shots in the arm like the fine anthem ‘Generation Y’.
He is happy to do all this at an insane pace and pitch that does not fluctuate: sweat pours from his head onto his mid-arm homemade sweatbands as he batters hell out of his acoustic guitar, regardless of whether he is at that moment pressing an important political point, or having a wry laugh at his young self in ‘One Chord Wonders’. The audience, who cram against the balcony rails to watch and listen as intently as befits such a charged performance, respond warmly – and very, very loudly.
And then it gets even louder. To a punked-reworking of ‘The Drunken Sailor’, legendary loudmouth Charlie Harper takes the stage with the good-natured gusto that has been his trademark for 35 years. His pipes are in fine, fine, foghorn fettle, turning a string of classic 45s into an hour-long bouncing party. Rider beer is passed repeatedly from stage to the thirsty front rows, adding to a strong carnival atmosphere for ‘Tomorrow’s Girls’, ‘Emotional Blackmail’ and – somewhat befitting of this once-dark factory setting – ‘Warhead’.
Like many bands, the personnel line-up has seen some changes. But still throttling his low-slung bass (it hangs as low as newish guitarist Jet likes to sling his plank over the audience’s heads) is stylish Alvin Gibbs – a one-time Iggy Pop band member who knows how to really knock this shit out.
And then there’s drummer Jamie Oliver. He might not have been born when his singer was making his first Top of the Pops appearance, but he has swagger and thunder in abundance.
Smiles grow wider and wider as call and response tunes enter the set. ‘New York State Police’ is a highlight, as is brand new (from the Subs’ 24th album, no less) funny tune ‘Rehab’. Encore follows encore and everyone gets what they want: ‘Party In Paris’, ‘I Live In A Car’, ‘CID’… all of them.
The night holds its magic steadily, but brightest of all are the couple of songs where Charlie pulls a harmonica out of a back pocket to add his own discordant madness to the musical melee. Charlie seems genuinely happy and excited to be bringing his harp to the mix, and it really works – adding much. For those few moments, time does one of its funny turns again – and a tangible sonic connection is made to Charlie’s sixties life, as an obsessive Stones and Kinks gig attendee.
That’s proper pedigree. Yes, Charlie is officially a pensioner. But he defies science, somehow, to cut a formidable young figure, his energy still at ‘thrusting young buck’ level. It really is remarkable.
“Buy me a drink and I’ll tell you how old I am,” he laughs. Well, I can tell you he’s 68. So now you owe him a drink.
All words by Andy Barding. More articles by Andy on Louder Than War can be found here.