WE COME AS ALIENS VIC GODARD and the SUBWAY
Id been trying to think how to introduce VIC GODARD of Subway
Sect fame to the uninitiated. Having just received his new album WE
COME AS ALIENS, it was proving difficult to sum up the talents of this
sadly overlooked genius of the punk era. But thankfully the great man
himself came to my rescue with this abridged history of his musical
Vic Godard has forged his own unique trajectory since emerging from
the 100 Club punk scene of 76 where Subway Sect debuted alongside contemporaries
The Clash and Sex Pistols. Their garage sound and sense of melody set
them apart from the usual run of the mill punk acts that joined the
conveyor belt that year. Indeed, by the time their debut album Whats
The Matter Boy? was released, Godard and the Sect had tempered
their sound to a more pop based (but nevertheless still edgy) mix.
The 1980s saw Vic Godard experiment with swing and Motown. However,
it is his association with Orange Juice and Fire Engines (of the Scottish
label Postcard) which defined the Subway Sect as purveyors of abrasive,
catchy melodic punk pop. Indeed, the great Edwyn Collins has long championed
the musical genius of Godard, producing three albums for him (Long term
Side Effects and In Trouble again in 1998 and End of the Surrey People
in 1993) and inviting him on board to provide backing vocals on the
classic Collins hit Girl Like You in 1994.
The successful release of 1978 Now in 2007, the second
on Overground Records (the first in 1996 was We Oppose all Rock and
Roll), saw Godard and Subway Sect return to their initial punk sound
deconstructing the earliest songs to their initial primitive roots.
Whilst the Sect have had a revolving door approach to members over the
past three decades, they have now a relatively settled line up. Other
than Vic himself on Vocals and Guitar, there is Mark Braby (Bass/Acoustic
Guitar), Kevin Younger (Guitar/Piano/Organ) and Gary Ainge (Drums/Percussion).
Not to mention the fact that when Gary was unavailable to complete recording
the new CD, they called on a certain Paul Cook, from little known punk
band the Sex Pistols, to complete the drumming!
Punk has now backed its self into a dead-end by having to sound a certain
way (i.e. Oi/Street Punk style). So it was refreshing to hear a CD that
reminded me of the early days when punk was more a state of mind, rather
than a distinctive sound. The record has a myriad of styles and certainly
benefits from the wide influences of the band members (Northern Soul,
70s pop, Johnny Thunders, Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, Ray Charles
and Mose Allison) that mix together to create a unique overall sound..
In his biog Vic makes reference to working with Orange Juice and opening
track Best Album highlights the debt Edwyn Collins owes
vocally and stylistically to Mr Godard. Quite honestly this would have
not seemed out of place on Collins most successful album Gorgeous
George, that bizarrely also had Paul Cook drumming on it.
Next track Take Over has an almost 60s Byrds style
tambourine intro. Lyrically its content seems to be imploring direct
action, not far removed from the Paris student riots of the same decade,
albeit with Vics wrath firmly directed at the modern day banking
fat-cats of Threadneedle Street.
Back in the Community is a catchy number, resplendent with
quirky guitars and sprightly drumming. Also I cant remember too
many songs name checking characters from 70s comedy show On
the Buses (e.g. Blakey and Butler).
Same Plan highlights Godards unique nasal based singing
style. The song has a lounge lizard feel, complete with organ and what
sounds like maracas. Again this proves the diversity of his sound as
it is nothing like any other track on the album. And I rather liked
the backing vocals of Bah! Bah! Humbug. Thats not
to say the rest of the lyrics are infantile and the record as a whole
has subversive words if you listen hard enough.
A sing along intro ushers in If Wedve and the feel
good factors continues throughout the number. But just when you thought
you had the sound of the album nailed down along comes a track entirely
in French! Most songs on the album have been evolving since the mid
1990s, but this song, a cover of Francoise Hardys Et
Meme, Vic has wanted to record since 77. Now I have to own
up that I had never heard of this particular lady, but apparently she
is a French singer, actress and astrologer and an iconic figure in fashion,
music and style. All I can say is hats off Vic for singing totally in
French as it sure beats "Ça plane pour moi by Plastic
Similar to Take Over, Rhodedendron Town has the initial
feel of a 60s song with hammond organ to the fore, which gives
it a distinctly bouncy quality. Infectiously catchy itll have
you singing chorus go get the sound Rhodedendron Town
for the rest of the day. If I had a favourite track it would be That
Train, which sounds like it should be sung in a Baptist church
down in the Deep South of the good ole U S of A. Other than The
Sound of Sinners on the Clashs Sandinista, Im hard
pushed to think of another punk album containing a gospel song. If you
could imagine the Blues Brothers at the 100 Club in 1977, this is what
they would be singing. Amen.
And just as quickly were switched from one musical style to another
with Somewhere in the World. Probably the closest number
to punk on the album, it reminded me of the sound of countless DIY punk
singles I would eagerly buy from such places as Good Vibration, Small
Wonder and Rough Trade records back in the late seventies. Not to say
that it is unprofessional, just that its the fresh and uncomplicated
sound that existed before all punk music had to be a wall of sound.
For some reason Vics voice reminded me of Ed Borrie from
underrated 1990s New Wave of New Wave band S*M*A*S*H, so if you
liked them youre sure to like this.
Neer is perhaps the most downbeat of the tracks and
quite understandably so given that its dedicated to Vic Godards
pal, the writer and long-time Subway Sect fan Paul Reekie, who unfortunately
passed away last year aged 48. RIP.
What seems like a song dedicated to the futile waist of young lives
in foreign wars appears to be the central theme of Out of the
Zone. Referring to a daily foray around Bastion, needing
to pray highlights what Im sure large numbers of squaddies
daily think in the dusty fields of Afghanistan.
When Subway Sect were managed by punk Svengali Bernie Rhodes they used
the Clashs nerve centre of Rehearsal Rehearsal in Camden Town.
They shared the premises with another band The Specials, and maybe a
bit of Coventrys finest rubbed off on them as penultimate song
Life in the Distance has more than a touch of ska about
it. Nice organ intro gives way to a bouncy number with an almost rockabilly
guitar solo in the middle. As a Mr J Strummer once observed youre
my guitar hero!
Last track Music of a Werewolf has a floaty, ethereal quality.
Im not sue exactly what its about, but references French
Artist Theodore Gericaults painting The Raft of Medusa
and Horaces poem Nil Desperandum, so perhaps the intellectual
meaning is lost on a thick Welsh boy like me! Good song nonetheless.
And there you have it, a rarity in todays market, a punk album
with both light and shade, which references all genres of music and
yet contains some killer hooks. Certainly one of my favourite albums
of recent times and well worth an investment of anybodys hard
If you fancied going really retro and purchasing a vinyl copy then they
are only available direct by mail order from Vic. He can also provide
you with a new fangled CD if you need to be modern. Send your orders
to: firstname.lastname@example.org . He also has a wide range of back catalogue
ready to be loved in previous releases such as 1978 Now
and Blackpool e p. Or just check him out on www.facebook.com/vicgodard