Robert Simmons - guitar
Paul Myers - bass
Paul Packham - drums
Vic Godard - vocals
(Rough Trade RT-007, 1978, 7' )
Nobody`s Scared/Don`t Split It
(Braik BRS-01, 1978, 7' )
Ambition/Different Story/Chain Smoking/Ambition
(Overground OVER-45, 1996, CD 7' )
(Motion PACECD011, September 30, 2002, CD )
We oppose all rock`n`roll
as going down the chute
We oppose the rock`n`roll
That`s held you down for so long you can`t refuse.
...melodies immersed in a beautiful monotonous dirge. They were
different - a sign that punk could be a lot more than the fast sonic
assaults of the Pistols, the Damned and the Clash.
Mark P - `And God Created Punk`
Subway Sect were without doubt one of the finest punk bands of the
era but you`ll never know because they released just two singles
over a 2 year period and one John Peel Radio session.
Vic Goddard and guitarist Rob Simmons started out playing the blues
at college in South London before busking in tube stations as
makeshift rehearsal venues. Hence their name supposedly after a
Hammersmith Subway (they were nearly called the Numb Hearts). Like
many others their outlook changed after seeing the Pistols at the
Marquee. They loved the image if not the music.
"I thought the Pistols were the end of rock`n`roll ..but...they
weren`t. Nor were the Clash...We never used ordinary guitars, a
Gibson or a Strat: we used Fender Mustangs because they have a
trebly, scratchy sound. We became quite purist. Our guitarist
refused to allow any macho, rock`n`roll attitude on stage."
England`s Dreaming P419
"They (Pistols etc) just want to revitalize rock`n`roll whereas we
just wanna get rid of it." Zigzag.
The band originally comprised Vic Goddard on Vocals, Robert Simmons on Guitar, Paul Myers on Bass, Paul Packham on Drums. Having been forced to rehearse
for 12 hours a day for a week by Malcolm McClaren at Manos in
Chelsea they were ready to gig. Their first appearance was the 100
Club Punk Festival with The Clash, Pistols and Damned, to name but a
few, on 20.9.76 appearing in stark black as opposed to the sartorial
punk finery of the main protagonists.
Early participants in the punk purge they had no overt controversy
for the nationals, weeklies or fans to pick on so steadily evolved
with no fuss transforming into a fuller, more coherent sound.
How would you describe their sound? At their best a heady mix of the
Velvet Underground, Jonathan Richman and Magazine. Subway Sect were
THE true punk band. Non conformists to rock and non conformists to
punk. They baffled, confused and passed through the times. Scratchy
sound compared to the that heavy metal tinged assault of Sex Pistols
and followers but as groovy and catchy as any of their sonic heroes.
Clash manager Bernie Rhodes appreciative of Subway Sect`s angles of
subversion took them under wing with a resultantly strained
relationship. Their evolution however was not matched by any record
releases. They lost their first drummer and got Mark Laff. They lost
him to Generation X and lost impetus before gaining Robert Ward.
Scratchy sounds and drab image, made audiences and critics unsure
what to make of them:
Subway Sect: What do you think of our songs -what do the audiences
think of us?
Steve Walsh: I dunno - they usually seem a bit confused - well I`ve
not seen many people pogoing to you but that`s good...Zigzag
"Subway Sect nauseated me. Visually they`re about as entertaining as
a fly paper; musically they are as much fun as sitting inside a
cement mixer with cotton wool in your mouth."
Jane Suck - Music Machine Review. Sounds 1978
Lyrics full of
muddy images of alienation, reflected the denseness of their sound.
Songs like Nobody`s Scared and Eastern European blurred into one.
Subway Sect was a unique experience. Mark P
Their songs were about `subjects, ideas and theories` Zigzag quote.
I don`t write any words you get in rock songs...I like those words -
that seem out of place in a rock song. Vic Goddard
Where did it all go wrong?
Naive idealism in punk ..They though punk would change music..."We
wanted to change the reasons for playing rock music. We didn`t want
it to be rock for rocks sake. we wanted it to be a medium for ideas
rather than a release from boredom"
and the belief they could short circuit the rock`n`roll circus
refusing to dress like punks:
"Onstage their very normalcy of dress and uncompromising rejection
of establishment rock techniques provoke reactions of, at first,
alienation then stimulation." Jon Savage. Sounds 78."
We used to dye all our clothes grey in those days..in a big bath. We
liked the colour." England Dreaming P219
As their two singles bombed and lack of publicity and impetus. The
band folded in late 78 before Ambition was even released. While
Ambition may have sold 20,000 copies and enabled the band to be paid
a weekly wage of £15 for a year it didn`t stop Bernie Rhodes sacking
the whole band and retaining Vic Goddard as a songwriter. It was he
who rejected a first album by them and released their first single 6
months after it was recorded. Its almost as if he managed them the
exact opposite to The Clash. My personal opinion is that Bernie
Rhodes screwed up Subway Sect.
We`ve said it before here on this site countless times. The audience
need the artist and the artist needs the audience or it ain`t
rock`n`roll. For all your fine words and theories you won`t get an
audience if people don`t notice you and that, sorry to say, is
showbiz. Without publicity you are nothing. Subway Sect deliberately
didn`t take that path and what did they have to show for it in the
end? Bugger all!
They wanted nothing to do with rock`n`roll yet by their very nature
were part of it and the machine and they struggled to come to terms
with it. As an ideas band surely more actual record releases would
have been better? In the end what did they convey to the audience?
Subway Sect – Discography
It is a major tragedy that no Subway Sect recordings exist from
their 77-78 period other than Nobody`s Scared. Without doubt an
album from these boys would have been as groundbreaking as The
Scream or Unknown Pleasures (only a couple of years earlier) and
would have guaranteed them status in the history of rock for ever as
groundbreakers and innovators. Sadly all that remains from this
superb band is two very different singles.
Bernie Rhodes explained about his label Braik Records in the NME
25.3.78. "It will deal only in extremes. The scene is getting
predictable." The first single is Nobody`s Scared. Upcoming are
tracks by a Pakistani blues band and an all girl group of "teenage
prostitutes". Yeah right Bernie. First and only release was Subway
Sect of a single 6 months old. As for the rest what you can say?
Touch of the McClarens there.
Nobody`s Scared / Don`t Split It (1978 Braik Records)
A fine single that is not standard punk fare.... a sort of white
noise with melody (predating Jesus & Mary Chain`s sonic antics) and
some heaveeeee lyrics. Recorded 6 months prior to release (October
77) the band had already moved on. On Don`t Split It Vic wails
`Don`t wanna sing rock`n`roll` over a primal VU /Jonathan Richman
riff and harmonica.
Click to hear audio clip of `Nobody`s Scared`
Ambition / A Different Story (Rough Trade 1978)
So what did our dysfunctional punk heroes come up with their second
single? Well to start with by the time of the release only Vic
Goddard remained as the rest had been sacked/left. The single ?A
curiously poppy toon featuring the usual impenetrable lyric of a
musicians angst complete with electronic beeps , 60`s keyboard and
sound effects courtesy of an arcade games machine!
I keep thinking of Van Halen`s Jump for some reason. According to
Mojo ( October 2001) Vic Godard hated the keyboard riff and on
bootlegs the song can be found stripped of it. With or without its a
cracking song. Great cover version by The Jesus And Mary Chain on
the back of the 12" of Never Understand.
The Album That Never Was
"You`ve recorded an album which is coming out soon. Are you happier
with it than the 45...?"
Vic: "I hope its going to be...one of my favourite albums of all
time, but I know that Television`s first album is better" Sounds
interview by John Savage 1.7.78
Somebody please find those mixes and release the f***ing
Birth & Death
You Stand Back
Rock & Roll Even
Staying (Out Of Touch)
The Exit Of No Return
The Idiot Of All
One excellent John Peel session broadcast 24.10.77
I Don`t Split It
Brief Appearance on Don Lett`s Punk Rock Movie singing Birth &