November 15th 2013
I like a bit of chaos. The UK Subs come to Grimsby and idp goes to see a punk icon in action.
In an era when TV talent shows can turn a no hoper into a star a week and grind them up and dispose of them just as fast proper music legends are few and far between but Charlie Harper of the UK Subs is such a one. He’s the godfather of punk or the punkfather of god or something like that, the one continuous presence in the changing UK Subs line up for more than thirty five years and a star of the London R’n’B scene for ten years before that. Last time that a Louder Than War writer reviewed the Subs they concluded “Charlie Harper is about to become iconic”. Well sometime between then and now the iconisation took place.
Over a long career The Subs have managed to maintain a reputation for keeping things fresh, partly by having a revolving door membership policy, but the line up has been settled for a while and their reputation has been enhanced if so when I see they’re playing at The Yardbirds in Grimsby on a bill arranged by Anarchy Entertainment I grab my cameras and head down.
In a brief chat before the show I ask the man himself if it’s okay to use some flash (some bands get really shitty about stuff like that). “Whatever you like, just do it. It all adds to the chaos. I like a bit of chaos”, is the reply. It sounds like we’re in for a fun night. He asks me to make sure that I get a shot of him with the club’s Yardbirds graphic in the background. This might seem odd from a punk hero but Harper is much more than that. He’s a man steeped in British rock and roll tradition, a contemporary of The Rolling Stones who played his folk set around London venues like The Troubador and The Porcupine in the early 60s and a comparison which was drawn between him and The Yardbirds back in the day is one which he holds dear.
Openers are local horror punk covers band Dead Like Zombies who tear through a set list of old school punk standards including a rousing version of The Clash’s English Civil War which suits vocalist Sue Sioux down to the ground and she really rips it up. At the end of their set a chant starts for CID. (usually on their setlist but dropped for tonight what with it being a Subs gig and all) and after a brief hiatus the man himself appears from backstage and performs with the band which clearly means a lot to them. Next up are Mayhem Freaks a four piece high velocity punk’n’roll oufit from Burnley who go down a storm and then the Subs take the stage.
The first half of the set is mostly made up largely of recent material and is more rock orientated with lead guitarist Jet, playing some scorching licks on a cherry red Gibson, well to the fore. There’s also a great reggae inflected version of Warhead and a blast from the heyday of British R’n’B on Eighteen Wheeler on which Harper shows that he’s no mean harmonica player. The set gets punkier as it progresses with Riot, Stranglehold, This Chaos all highlights.
It’s conventional at this point in reviews of well established bands to say that they show no sign of slowing down or getting old but in truth I have seen plenty of bands of twenty year olds playing sold out shows in arenas without a tenth of the energy and excitement of Charlie Harper in action. Whether grabbing the mike stand on the stand two handed to rock it toward himself, or tipping the whole thing upside down so that he can point the microphone into the front row, (which makes him look from the back of the room like a man harpooning guinea pigs), it’s non stop energy all the way.
When the crowd stand back from the stage and listen intently to the first few songs Harper congratulates them ironically on their honourable refusal to spoil the night with dancing, later singling out individuals who have broken the rules and tapped a toe or worse. By the end of the night he has the crowd where he wants them, up close and dancing like mad things and the night comes to a heroic finale with New York State Police and I Live In A Car.