In 1976, a group of blue-collar guys came together in England to form a band called the UK Subs. Little did they know that their popularity would span well over two decades, leaving their legacy branded on the canvas of punk rock history. With over 20 albums to their credit, the band’s lineup has gone through countless changes, boasting such temporary members as Frank Zappa, Lars Frederiksen (Rancid), and John Peel.
Last Saturday at Churchill’s Pub, the UK Subs shared the stage with fellow punk rock legends, the Vibrators, and locals, the Heat Seekers and the Mary Tyler Whores. What follows is a moderately sober recollection of UK Subs history with the band’s sole original member, lead singer Charlie Harper.
Q: For those of the readers out there not familiar with your band, why don’t you introduce yourself?
UKS: Charlie Harper. I sing and play accordion with the UK Subs from London, England and we’re here to do some Cajun Rock!
Q: Since 1976, do you think that band names have devolved? How did you guys come up with your name?
UKS: We’re the UK Subs because we were The Subs (first The Subverts), but there was a Scottish band with the same name, so we added the “UK” to differentiate ourselves. It helps for a band to have a catchy name. We see so many bands and we can never remember their names, so we just make up silly names for them.
Q: Guns N Roses covered your song “Down On the Farm” on their 1993 release, The Spaghetti Incident. Did you enjoy their cover? What did you make of Axl’s fake British accent?
UKS: Yeah, one British newspaper said they sounded like Dick Van Dyke [laughs]. It’s funny because Americans can’t fake a good British accent. Americans like it, and the (GNR) album write-ups over here were good, but it didn’t go over well in England.
Q: Rumor has it you used to hang around the lesbian club called the “Shagarama.” When did you grow out of the “I need to dress like David Bowie” phase?”
UKS: [laughs] I don’t think I ever have. He copies all my moves and hairstyles all the time.
Q: Who are your favorite bands?
UKS: Clash, Misfits and Ramones. I do love The Damned, as well.
Q: What’s your most treasured vinyl? Or, if you had to leave your burning house in a hurry, what would you grab?
UKS: That’s a tough one. I’ve never thought of that. I’d try to grab as much as I could, probably grab stuff like Billie Holiday, and our old vinyl pressings, because it would be hard to find the rest of them.
Q: So who are the ex-members you miss the most, seeing as you’re the only original member?
UKS: (pauses) Nicky Garrett. I mean, there are two sides to every coin. Going on stage and seeing someone lose his mind every night is certainly exciting. He’s inventing things all the time. With that, the band goes forward very fast. With the kind of band where people just stand around while they play, the band goes backwards very fast.
Q: Did your parents ever ask you if this “punk rock thing” was going to pass?
UKS: They were completely normal and they were completely non-supportive. They were against us not having “proper” jobs, until they saw us on TV on “Top of the Pops.” Then it all changed.
Q: The band broke up and then got back together. What happened? You couldn’t handle a 9-5?
UKS: What happened is, we broke up and it was all I could think about. I called up the old Subs, from way back when we were The Subs, and it was a big battle. The rest of the guys wanted to be like a stadium band, you know, like Duran Duran or Flock of Seagulls. And they decided that they hated punk rock, they just turned their back on the whole scene. So I left.
Q: How do you currently feel about punk rock and politics?
UKS: Ok, well before punk rock came along, it was forbidden to sing about politics and religion. Punk rock broke those rules and kind of shifted the envelope. MTV still censors everything and everyone wants to be on MTV, but there are underground bands, like us, who don’t care about the commercial aspects of what we write and play, and go ahead with it.
Q: So you’ve played Miami a bunch of times, what do you think of the scene down here?
UKS: It looks pretty healthy. People are drifting in. Last time we played Miami it was brilliant actually. I can’t remember the name of the place. It was about 500 people. Just jammed! Some kind of Miami ska-salsa-punk band was on – they were pretty good.
Q: Considering that most of the people reading this article weren’t born when your band started, do you have any words from the wise?
UKS: Punk is not just music. It’s a whole movement. It’s an art form. Anything you like, you can express freely. Push the envelope a little bit further. Don’t bow down to censorship. We create our own world. You should be free and true and do what you want!
Jackie Weisbein can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.