UK Subs
Manchester Moho
July 2011
Live review

UK Subs: live review

There is a strange and wild beauty about the UK Subs. In the same way that watching Motorhead is like staring into the dark abyss of rock n roll from Little Richard to the MC5 the Subs are a glimpse into the white heat of pure rock n roll.

They are the rarest of things in the 21st century, a pure rock n roll band that believes in the power of music and performance. Frontman Charlie Harper is in his mid sixties and his vision of adrenalised, blues fused, black music- flavoured with hi octane rock n roll like the Rolling Stones that he was the first of back in the early sixties is the Subs. This is no mere three chord trick. The Subs are coming from a different place.

Charlie has been noted for his age by a sneering mainstream media for his years, for those of us who know better, he is the punk rock bluesman- a highly influential presence revered by some of the biggest rock bands in the world for his purity of purpose and his dedication to his art and community.

The time has now come to reappraise this situation. There is a film getting made about Charlie by Julian Temple, who just won a fistful awards for his great Dr Feelgood film. Charlie is working on an autobiography and it’s one hell of story to tell. This s the man who was taught harmonica by a pre fame Rod Stewart in the sixties and was the first fan of the Rolling Stones, he was a raucous busker in the early sixties and a R n B frontman in the seventies. He has been at the rock n roll frontline for five decades and has a fistful of piratical stories to tell about everyone from Sid Vicious to a pre fame Adam Ant who learned a lot from him.

Apart from that the UK Subs were one of the key punk bands. They are noted for being the ultimate rudimentary band when intact the complex rhythms and shuffling songs have far more in common with the black music fixated Rolling Sones than the British punk second wave, Charlie made these outside influences work for those punk kids then by taking the complex and making it sound simple. What most people chose to ignore was just how good a guitar player the Subs then guitar hero Nicky Garett was, his machine gun rhythm has influenced countless players whilst investing the songs with a crucial energy.

The Subs had plenty of hits and could have become arsehole rockstars with the limos and the arrogance like most of the much more critically acclaimed post punk band’s did. You don’t hear all the horror stories about Charlie being a drunken primadonna like hipster bands. He resolutely stuck to the small venues and the DIY circuit where they have remained since then.

It was a wise move. Worldwide the Subs are respected. They can get two thousand people to a show in Brazil and sell out American and Japanese tours with word of mouth powering the way. It’s a heartening message for a musician to hear.

And the reason why?

The reason is that they are alive. It’s extraordinary watching Charlie giving one hundred per cent as he closes in towards seventy years. He sings from the gut and flails around the stage in the venue like he does every night. His band is extraordinary tight but then they would be with all that world touring which is certainly not wasted. Speak to them and their itinerary is mind blowing. Japan, then south America, oh and then back to Europe. No wonder they are tight. Old Sub Alvin Gibbs is back on bass and is a bitch of a great bass player, Jamie, on drums is still a wild kid even after all those years- a powerhouse of a great drummer whilst Jet is a top guitarist- playing the frantic fast cross TTY,s and tight lead break that hallmark this sound. This is such a great line up of a classic band and they defy gravity. Playing a set that is pretty daring with many tunes culled from the new album with a smattering of old songs- UK Subs classics like Warhead, Party in Paris and I Live In A Car at the end of the set to bring the house down.

These are songs that staples of the punk scene, real folk songs from real folk- frontline music from where it really matters, a world beyond flavour of the month, a world whe community and music is everything and fashion is laughable. There is something heart warming and powerful about this. This is a place where music really counts, played with a mystical fire on an endless trail of swelteringly packed gigs, ever youthful moshpits and punk rock believers.

Charlie Harper is about to become iconic.

It’s about fucking time.

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Award winning journalist and boss of Louder Than War. In a 30 year music writing career, John was the first to write about bands such as Stone Roses and Nirvana and has several best selling music books to his name. He constantly tours the world with Goldblade and the Membranes playing gigs or doing spoken word and speaking at music conferences.


  1. About time Charlie and his assorted subs got the recognition they deserve.He always has time to talk to pretty much everybody before and after a show and truly is an example to us all of how to grow old disgracefully without resorting to cliche or parody.

  2. Amazing band, honest forget sell out comedy act J Lydon. C Harper has much more respect from many of that era now

  3. Most heartening moment of the night for me? Being able, despite my great age, to chuck myself around in front of the stage and to do it with some kids who were born well after this old git realised he had become a boring old fart! Pity they didn’t play ‘Police State’, though.

  4. Went to see them in Nottingham last Friday (9th). Outstanding as usual, all those old songs still sounding fresh. ‘Tomorrow’s Girls’ (always my favourite Subs tune) especially just blew the years away, that staccatto guitar line chopping the air like a punk rock propeller. Great review John. Who’d’ve thought it? 2011 & we’re still raving about a UK Subs gig!

  5. Consistently good live, hit and miss on vinyl (down to cash constraints I expect) but still one of the best live punk acts out there. Seeing them with Motorhead and ANWL in November – should be a laugh? Are they playing Rebellion?


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