Charlie Harper Interview Interviewed by Mr X
Charlie Harper Interview Interviewed by Mr X. The afternoon after the UK Subs show at McPhails finds me with an enormous hangover ready to ask Charlie Harper a question or two. After a bite to eat and a cup of tea we are off. Oh! one more thing, seeing this written down takes away some of what Charlie said, the man is a natural raconteur, going of at tangents with another great tale or two. I tell you, this man should speak on the after dinner circuit… Mr X – Okay, first off what keeps the Subs going after all these years.
Charlie – Good question… God! Sex Drugs and no Rock ‘n’ Roll. I wouldnt say we’ve ever been a rock ‘n’ roll band.
Mr X – Is there anyting you feel you would still like to achieve. Charlie – Yeah, we’ve written our fair share of punk rock classics but I would really like to write a full on rock classic, you know, something like Radar Love – A song that everybody knows, the kind of thing people fight to turn up on the radio when they’re in the car or something. Mr X – Has the audience changed over the past few years with bands such as Offspring and Green Day.
Charlie – I’d like to say the punks have grown older and mellowed out… I’d like to but I can’t. Everybody buys beer and drugs and look really tame before the show starts but they go totally apeshit as soon as the first song starts and they try to kill us.
The women all still want to snog us – especially the younger ones! some are just too young… Mr X – Why have their been so many line-up changes over the years. Charlie – Its’ usually always a result of other peoples commitments really, illness has taken its toll as well. if you think about it we can play three or four shows in a week and have different line up each night with people fitting in when they can. Another thing is most of us are about forty or there abouts and everybody has their own lives.
Alvin is making a movie and he may get married in Las Vegas. there you go, there’ an exclusive for you. (or is it?) Mr X – Any ex member you don’t get a christmas card from. Charlie – Yeah, our last drummer, no sorry our last but one drummer – Not to be confused with the lovely Tommy Couch! Yeah, the one before him left of his own accord and smashed up the van really bad cause he had paid for half of it – He’s dead if I see him. Getting back to the last one about peoples commitments else where Niky Garratt couldnt do this tour as he had to go back to America due to commitments with New Red Archives. He sold three of the bands he had to other lables.
He’s always had a choice of being in the Subs but he had to sort stuff out, you can’t stop someone doing that. Mr X – Are there any periods of Subs history that stand out as being the best or are there any regrets. Charlie – No real regrets I suppose as all periods have been good, I mean when we were at the heights of big chart singles and albums we would tour in huge artic trucks, big production, lots of road crew, and we would lose ?7000 and nobody would blink as we knew the tour would sell more records. We thought we could do no wrong in those days – we would fight with the management to get singles like "Warhead" released over their choice of tracks like "Party in Paris" and we were right all along, then things went bad which was painful as you think you’ve made the right decisions and it still falls down. maybe we never made it right to the top and that’s what helped us as we never were huge. Nothing wrong with being at the top of the second division! thats what probably gave us the longevity.
Mr X – Did you want to be huge. Charlie – Oh-Yeah, of course. The pop industry is shit and we wanted to tell them, and the world, to Fuck Off. We were capable, we could have done it but we became craftsmen rather than pop artists! The Subs are one of those bands that would play in the pubs anyway.
Mr X – Tell us about your Top of the Pops experiences. Charlie – To us it was all about being there on that stage. We mimed on the pops as we had 20 or so live takes of "Stranglehold" and my voice was going so I thought ‘Fuck it let’s mime’. One thing you find yourself thinking is ‘fuck me this audience is lame’, cause they all stand there trying to dance and look at the camera or they attempted to pogo so politely – When we did "Party in Paris" we got some real punks in and it was mad, the Cockney Rejects beat up Adam and the ants who were on the show that week and there was a stage invasion with drums flying through the backdrop. Captain Sensible was there on the keyboards destroying stuff.
So that was that, they were taken out of the adience for the show! One good thing about Top of the pops was the bar, We would see the female stars of our favorite sci-fi show, the name escapes me now but these women were lovely. We would be chatting them up in their spacesuits while Henry the eighth would walk past…
Zippy would be at the bar with Lemmy from Motorhead, it was mental. Oh Yeah! another thing, about the time all the punks were with us in the studio, Mrs Thatcher was being shown around the BBC that day and got to see all the mayhem. Mr X – What did you think of Guns ‘n’ Roses version of "Down on the farm". Charlie – They did a good version, we first heard it round at what’s his name?…
Duffy, the bass players house before it had vocals. I had to sit in his kitchen working out the lyrics for him. What was good was that they put in a UK Subs stop right in the middle of the song that we never had in the original so it shows you they knew the way we work. It was really well produced but we could never work like that, I mean they could spend ?100,000 on a day in the studio and we only spend about ?100.
Mr X – Have any bands ever been absolute TWATS to you. Charlie – Yeah in LA there was this mexican gang banger kind of band and all these rival gangs of young kids seriously fighting – all under age kids. Our drum and guitar rodies had to throw these kids off the stage to stop the gear getting wrecked. The fight moved outside and their singer was left singing to no one!
At least we never got shot at like the Business did when they were in America. There was another time these Nazi guys were hitting kids for no real reason and Nicky jumped in, guitar stand in hand and chased them down the street – Strange place America. Mr X – Do you think that a lot of the older bands that have re-appeared over the last few years are doing it for the money or the love of it.
Charlie – A lot of the Morecambe playing bands are maybe lured by the money to start with and try to get back into touring again and doing it for the right reasons, namely the music. but if they cant get used to road life they more than likely split up all over again. Slaughter and the Dogs only do these kind of gigs – play for one weekend and get a grand each, not bad. Some other bands (naming no names)only rehearse for a week, and it shows, before they try and pull it off.
There is a lot of money that is talked about that never appears. Some bands get offered something like thirty grand and then finaly get paid ten and they have to fight to get it. We’ve beenput on the posters for the ‘Holidays in the sun’ show in San Francisco and we’ve never been asked to play at it. That kind of thing can only make us look bad, we are looking into this at the moment…
Mr X – Are there any bands you are glad to see have reformed. Charlie – Glad to see Slaughter and the Dogs are back doing it and menace as they are old friends. Even without Polly Styrene X Ray Spex were great, that girl had some balls to go on and do that after all the hassles and back biting.
Mr X – Anything about the early days of punk in London you would like to tell us about. Charlie – I just remember going down to the Roxy and having a great time. I don’t think there was a particular moment when I thought ‘Yeah, this punk music has something’ as I was always a music fan and had been playing for a few years anyway.
We had a residency in a pub in Paddington playing R’n’B to bikers and within a week of Nicky Garrat joining to play rhythm we had six new songs that made us a punk rock act. We had two distinct audiences that changed places between the first and second set. The people working there would call out ‘could the people at the front change places with the people at the back now thank you’, The manage fired us on the spot!
We used to play 50’s Rock ‘n’ Roll gigs dressed as greasers playing Rockabilly covers. We looked the part and got paid more than our regular gigs. The first time in Switzerland there was maybe only one punk in the place, everybody else had long hair and jackets covered in heavy metal logos so we decided to be an HM band for the night, it was a great laugh, foot on the monitors, head banging, the whole lot.
The drummer refused to do it and moaned for days – funny thing is he ended up playing in Rawk! bands for years afterwards! Even now as a result of shows like that we have two distinct sets to play, one with a gradual build up to draw people in from the bar and the full on mental show that never lets up from the start to the finish. (with this Charlie and Pumpy enter into a discussion about fishing and things kind of tail off.)