An A to Z of Scottish Fanzines: B Is Also For…

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Scottish Fanzines #2 Collage

BAM BALAM: One of the most influential fanzines ever. As Mark Perry, the editor of Sniffin’ Glue explained once to Jon Savage: ‘All that stuff about Glue being the first fanzine is crap. Brian Hogg’s Bam Balam, which was all about sixties music, was in its fourth issue by then.’ Published twice a year from his home in Dunbar, Bam Balam was lovingly researched, hugely informative and with its highly distinctive psychedelic logo – designed by Nic Dartnell – it looked pretty good too.

Bam Balam No.9 (1979) Bam Balam #9 (p 11)

Brian Hogg went on to write many liner notes for compilations – and has compiled a few albums himself for that matter. His book, All That Ever Mattered: The History of Scottish Rock and Pop is something you should read if you’re at all interested in its subject matter. Oh and he also contributed regularly to Cripes too, the free fanzine/newsletter available in Bruce’s Record Shops back in the day. (More on Cripes in the not too distant future).

BAYVIEW BULLETIN: East Fife football fanzine that morphed into Away From the Numbers.

(THE) BEAT GOES ON: Devoted to The Rezillos & Revillos.

BEATSTALKING: Don’t know much about this one bar it came out in the 1980s and covered bands like Baby’s Got a Gun (as you can see from the collage above). Did they ever feature The Beatstalkers I wonder?

BICYCLE PUMP: Grangemouth zine which helped promote many local Stirlingshire bands in the late 1970s. You won’t see many of these popping up on eBay.

Bis - Bis(t) Wee fanzine in the World Ever

(THE) BIS(T) WEE FANZINE IN THE WORLD…. EVER!: For all things Bis you may not be surprised to learn – well, if you didn’t know already. And it was wee, A6 to be precise.

BLOW YOUR NOSE ON THIS: See the Alastair McKay interview HERE.

BOF (BORING OLD FART): A short lived fanzine from, if I remember correctly, Edinburgh. I had the first issue which reviewed the year in music (1977) and featured The Rezillos.

BOMBS AWAY BATMAN: A fanzine created in 1983 by the band The Mixers, who featured Grant Morrison as bassist – that’s the Grant Morrison who, in 2006, was voted # 2 favourite comic book writer of all time. That same year, the Bombs Away Batman writer and artist began working for DC Comics… on Batman.

BORN YESTERDAY: Early 80s Glasgow zine keen on the music of Postcard Records.

BOYS ABOUT TOWN: Focussed on The Jam/Style Council/Paul Weller but the zine was produced in Scotland. Very glossy. Very professional and I’m guessing very popular – at least in terms of fanzines.

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And finally – in the last week or so I’ve experienced occasional problems with the blog showing some uploaded images as broken. No idea the cause of this as everything looks fine in preview but hopefully the problem is sorted soon enough.

B is for Big Noise – An Interview with Martin Kielty

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A-Z NO3

A musician himself, Martin Kielty has written several books about the history of Scottish rock’n’roll including Apollo Memories, the recently revised SAHB Story: The Tale of the Sensational Alex Harvey Band and Big Noise: The Sound of Scotland. Martin has also managed SAHB – the post Alex Harvey SAHB of recent years, that is, he’d have been awful young to have managed in the 1970s version of that group, having been born on the very day in 1972 that they formed – and The Rezillos. Martin is currently Online News Editor and a writer for the magazine Classic Rock and News Editor and Web Editor for Prog magazine; he also frequently contributes to a range of national newspapers and periodicals and it shouldn’t be too long before his new novel is out. Almost annoyingly prolific, eh?
 
Martin Kielty Books
 
When did the first issue of Big Noise come out and how long did the fanzine run for?
 
About 1990 or 1991… seems so long ago now it’s like another life! It ran in various printed forms until around 1999 and then hissed and spat on the web for a wee bit longer. So probably a quarter of my life, which is a strange reflection.  

Were you a musician yourself at the time? 

It got started BECAUSE I was playing in bands, and it was a result of one particular night. Me and a few of my mates (including bassist Woody McMillan, who played a big role in BN for many years) had put our hearts and souls into what we were determined would be the best gig Cumbernauld (for it was there we lived) had ever seen. Stupidly young and ambitious, but that’s what being young is for, eh? We really knocked our pans in on rehearsals and spent money we didn’t have on stupid gimmicks like that gold tinsel they used to hang over closed shop windows. We wanted to perform art, not just play songs… and nobody cared. About a dozen people turned up — the question was, do we get sad or do we get mad? I got mad and Big Noise was created that same night. At that time, our wee town was hoachin’ with bands; there were probably nearly 20 different outfits, from indie to rock to metal to synth-pop. It was an incredible hotbed of talent for a shithole of about 60,000 inhabitants. But the infamous ‘new town’ model had hurt creativity badly. The council authorities offered you two options to fill your spare time once you were a young adult: go to the sports centre or go to the pub. We wanted at third option and it was always resisted. In fact, the one good place, Cumbernauld Theatre, was almost permanently under threat of closure – and I understand it still is today. Short-sighted unimaginative local pen-pushing wage-thieves… actually in 1994 I stood in the local elections as an independent candidate, and part of the idea was to stand up for local people who were capable of imagining a better town to live in. (I beat the Tory!).

Some early readers resented the fanzine going from 4 pages of text to something far more like a magazine, didn’t they?

Hah! I’d forgotten about that. That was weird. For me it was a natural progression and everything has to progress. In fact, we’d stopped doing the four-pages because, like everything else in that shithole town, it got sucked under by apathy and the powers-that-vaguely-be’s refusal to help (with the VERY important exception of Gordon Hughes, now a Falkirk Councillor, who ran the local Community Education centre and gave us a home and a great deal of support.) By the time we moved onto something more resembling a magazine I’d started working at the Daily Record, and of course my impression of what a publication should be had changed. My world-view had also changed since I was suddenly working in a world where up to two million people a day read what I did (even if it was only the bingo numbers in the early days!). Another important point is that, as far as I could tell, no one else was doing a fanzine like that. But it turned out some people had a puritan view of what a fanzine should be, and BN2 didn’t fit that. And since it also didn’t fit the view of a “professional publication” we found ourselves in a disputed territory – which was double-fuckin’ fine with me!

This would have been the early days of desktop publishing?

Sure was. My first experience of DTP was putting the school yearbook together in 1989, and I was very quickly hooked.

In the BN era pictures were still a bit of a no-no (hand-held scanner, fuxake!) and I really resented clipart for its generic unimaginative blandness, so we came up with the kind of weird Aldus Freehand graphics you saw in BN.

By BN2 things had moved on a bit and we were able to use Quark XPress to put together something a bit more dynamic-looking, no matter how much it was hated – and, indeed, how much I was pushing the boundaries of my own ability. But of course that was good, that was part of the experience… My boss at the Record once caught me photocopying some BN2s on the editorial floor. They were kinder, more encouraging days – when asked for an explanation I told him it was effectively work-experience, and a way for me to become a better journalist, and he was cool with that. You wouldn’t even be asked today – you’d just get your jotters because no one in management gives a fuck about talent and that’s why newspapers are dying, not because of the internet – but I digress!

Big Noise Ian Hunter 1997 NoiseWave 1998

For almost the entire run we stole photocopies, except towards the end when there was enough money coming in from sales that we could afford to have slightly-better quality copying done. We even experimented with colour, thanks to the fact I was sat very near the colour copier in the Record! We’d pay for the main run of paper to be done in a copy shop (Graham Trotter at a place I no longer remember in Woodlands Road, Glasgow, gave me excellent prices, close to cost, because he appreciated what we were trying to do) then run the outer leaf through the colour machine. It worked okay, until we had the idea of having the inside done at the copyshop before we put the page through the colour copier to get the outer added –– the inside toner melted and fucked the machine! I thought I was in deep shit that time… especially since torn, soggy bits of BN2 with the credits list were stuck inside the workings… That was the end of our colour experiment!

And how did you distribute it?

Distro began with putting copies in Cumbernauld community centres and a few pubs, and, I think, a couple of shops in the town centre which offered their support. It was free at first – in fact, people told us we should charge for it rather than the other way around. Not that it made money when it was BN… we were always just a few quid short here and there, and someone (sometimes local promoter Jock Barnson, the “Mad Jock,”) would chuck in a couple of tenners to help, buy an ad or even run a fundraiser evening. When we were a bit more serious we did posters and flyers and put them round the venues in Glasgow – I’d moved to Glasgow by then so BN2 and NW (Noisewave) weren’t about that Cumbernauld apathy thing. (In fact, we’d wound down BN because it became a victim of apathy itself. It was going nowhere; we’d been preaching to the converted and the powers-that-vaguely-be had listened to not a word.

In the BN2 era, we made sure the “right people” got copies of the zine. I suppose in today’s parlance they’d be called “tastemakers” or “brand champions” or some bullshit phrase to suggest it’s a new concept. But there were always people in every wee scene who were kind of leading the charge, and they got their copy free, and the word-of-mouth tradition worked its magic (or “it went viral on Facebook” if you like)…

Did you sell many copies at its peak? You mention in SAHB Story that ‘at one point it could have turned into a real job’ but for an ‘advertising director’ ripping you off.

There was talk – and indeed action. In all honesty I can’t remember many figures, but I recall we generated £2000 from one edition, and I worked out that if we could do that every month there’d be enough to pay me a full-time wage and pay everyone else for their contributions. I had a two-bedroom flat in Shawlands at the time and the spare room was set up with two desks and two computers – I had visions of about six people battering away in there, and we came damn close. We coulda been contenders. Unfortunately – as anyone who’s tried to make anything of themselves in this here industry will recount – the scene is full of wankers. The “advertising director” (and I should have been red-alerted because he was intent on giving himself a job title and talking himself up rather than putting the fucking shift in) was one of these people who offered an impressive account of himself. Drove a flash car (his dad’s), living in a posh address (his dad’s), was always dripping with cash (his dad’s) and carried the air of achievement (his dad’s). I’ve given people lots of chances throughout my career, and despite being just a little too old for as much of that shit as I used to be, I’m still in favour of it. The thing that bugs me about this guy is he WAS capable of doing everything he said he could. But he didn’t do it – he just talked about doing it. Suddenly he was gone, phone number changed, moved away, the money he’d taken for that month’s ads vanished. Fortunately I had some savings out of my job at the Record and I was able to publish that edition of the mag and deliver what we’d promised to the advertisers; but that was another moment of, “You know what? Fuck this.”

When I finally came round to NW, I more or less did it myself – pointing me in the direction of writing books, of course.

What were your favourite interviews you did for Big Noise?

The very first scene that jumps to mind is me and my mate David ‘Gibby’ Gibson interviewing Ben Folds in The Arches. We’d been allotted 15 minutes and the tour manager wasn’t keen on giving us that, but Ben (eating breakfast cereal as we spoke) really got into the spirit of our questions and our approach. That interview got us a lot of coverage, including the praise “an excellent piece” on Channel 4 Teletext’s revered fanzine pages. The Gin Goblins were memorable too –– no one in Cumbernauld had experienced this kind of debauchery, with dolls cut to pieces, blood splattered over bandmates and really angry music. But the audience took the band to their hearts: it was most strange to hear them deliver this furious satanic noise then stop to say: “Thank you – thank you! You’re all so… lovely!” The interview was equally lovely. (I didn’t really smoke weed, never have, but I got the feeling that Big John Duncan would have felt a line had been crossed if I hadn’t partaken. So I took a tentative mouthful and as I thought, “Fuck it, let’s see what happens…” he told me: “That’s skunk, I should warn you.” Yes he fucking should have!)

So too did my interview with Billy Rankin, formerly of Nazareth, who was later a colleague in SAHB and Rock Radio, and again now at TeamRock. I think he thought he really was talking to “just” a fanzine, so he said things that were perhaps a little strong, and they did the global thing, and it gave both of us a laugh for some time to come!

Big Noise Intro Page  Ben Folds (Big Noise)

And Big Noise morphed into Noisewave and Noisewave is now also the name of your publishing company?

Big Noise was always meant to be called Noisewave, but the people I was surrounded by at the time didn’t like the feeling of the word. They were of the opinion that “noise” suggested too closely what the powers-that-vaguely-be thought of the music we covered. Which, to me, was the point –– but then none of them went on to be award-winning headline writers! “Noise” meant more than “sound”; it was about an attitude, a character, which I wanted to project. The word just kinda stuck with me. Everything I’ve done under my own steam has come out under the NW banner, but it’s many years since I thought of what the word means to me. It’s been a fanzine, an online fanzine, a music PR service, a management company and now a book publisher. It’s kinda just better than using my own name –– it gives the impression of being bigger! And I still like the logo I designed all those years ago; like any good logo it’s come to represent whatever the fuck it is happens under its auspices. It wasn’t really planned but it’s there now; if I go into making milk-bottle tops next it’ll be Noisewave Bottletops.

Did you see the fanzine as a stepping stone for journalism and writing music books, which you went on to do?

It’s probably been more instrumental than I usually realise. The copies of BN I took with me to my Daily Record interview helped me get the job (the person who interviewed me saw through the lo-fi production and saw the attitude behind, which was the point). BN2 was taken seriously by a lot of record labels (especially Maureen McCann of Sony (now wife of Simon Pegg)) and that put me in a position to do some good-quality journalism at a higher level than I could have done without it. NW led to some kind of global awareness –– not much, but enough such that people could check out what I did and decide whether it was worth giving me interview time or whatever I was looking for. And of course NW led to Ted McKenna of SAHB asking me about writing their book, which has led to other books and my brief management career.

But I didn’t envisage that; it wasn’t a battle plan. If I can allow myself some arrogance here, it was certainly a statement of confidence. “Look what I can do, and imagine what I can do if I have more clout.” On some occasions I think that was nearly said in words, and I definitely thought it in words at times. But the entire concept subsisted on JUST DOING IT and believing (I suppose) that talent would out through hard fucking graft.

In the same way that we poor folk used to never buy something until we had the cash to buy it outright, I try to avoid acting as if I’ve written something until I’ve actually written it.

PUSA Big Noise Interview

The Apollo book is one of those great ideas that, once published, everybody thinks,’ Why didn’t anyone do that before?’. Did it seem obvious to you that such a legendary venue had to have a book written about it?

It did –– but I wouldn’t have known where to begin if the guys who ran the website hadn’t asked me to look at the idea. AM is still the book of which I’m most proud because I don’t think you get to capture a moment in history like that as well as we managed to do it. My other titles all have great things to say about themselves, but AM is a one-off.

Scott McArthur and Andy Muir had seen SAHB Story, where I’d set out my stall in terms of telling the story and trying not to get in the way. It was actually inspired by Spike Milligan, Monty Python and The Goodies, but I’m not sure that’s obvious!

Eh, not to this reader, no.

In retrospect I think it’s because those comedians were trying very hard not to get in the way of the laughs, and I took the concept of not getting in the way of the people from that. SAHB Story is missing things I’d liked to have in there, but it’s not my story, and it’s my job to tell the story the people who were there want to be told. (Many people disagree with me there, but of course they’re free to do it their own way, and I look forward to reading the results.) AM is, I think, the crowning glory of that approach, because EVERYONE wanted to say EVERYTHING.

It does seem an obvious way to do that kind of thing. I’m not sure I invented it, although I can’t say I’d read anything similar before AM was published. I’ve seen a lot since, of course, and it would be nice to think that was partly me.

There’s an interesting point here… I do what I do to this day because of my unique experience in working at the hard end of tabloid newspapers and also the sticky end of rock’n’roll. I’m not sure there are many other people with the individual spikes of experience I have. That means there are certain things I can do brilliantly –– and, it has to be said, many things I can do averagely and many more things I can do badly. AM is a prime example of where it all went right. There have been more (my interview with Robert Fripp in Classic Rock last year, for example), and I hope there will be more still.

You’ve managed two legendary Scottish acts who both featured in your book Big Noise: The Sound of Scotland, SAHB and The Rezillos, how did you find band management?

It found me. I’m the eldest of six and being a big brother is natural to me. When I was starting out in bands I saw a lot of ego battling for victory, and it seemed to me something of a veto was needed, which was why I started getting involved. It wasn’t anything like what I imagined, but it was a concept I was used to dealing with so I kept going, even if I’m not sure whether I was ever actually happy with the idea of me being a manager. The best bits were when you’d looked after your team – band and crew – and everyone was happy and able to get on with their work. Watching thousands of people having a great time while the band led them through it and even the roadies were enjoying it was a great experience: “I brought this together! That was me!”

I worked with SAHB because it seemed to me they deserved a better end than the one we were able to give them in the book. Time will tell whether I was right. I did feel they deserved to feel better about their legacy and I THINK they do; and I think many of the fans feel to an extent their loyalty in the band has been, if not fully rewarded, then at least recognised in a very real sense. It was important to me to try and please everyone – which is, of course, impossible. But even those who are disappointed with what I did would be lying if they claimed I haven’t added something to how SAHB are remembered. And there’s more to come!

Interesting!

The Rezillos was an interesting dynamic… Lots of strong personalities pushing and pulling in many directions. The results were amazing on stage, and I think in retrospect what I was bringing to the table was more appropriate than it felt at the time! To be honest, after SAHB I’d kinda had my heart broken a bit, to say nothing of my bank balance. Going back sort of forced me to decide whether I was going to get back on the horse that had thrown me or not, and once I realised I could if I wanted to, I possibly felt I’d achieved my personal victory. Which sounds selfish, but it’s an over-simplification of the situation.

Management isn’t dead in me… Jo Callis and I are still working on something, although it’s taking longer than we planned for it to come to fruition. But in many ways I think music management was a natural progression from where BN and NW had taken me –– only it was a bridge too far from where I should be, which is in a more creative place. You see, the way I did it, I regarded management as a form of practical art, and I know that annoyed the shit out of a lot of people. In the 60s, aye – now, new!

Martin Kielty Beatstalkers Promo

Your book on The Beatstalkers is coming on later this year, what led you to want to tell that band’s story?

When I interviewed Alan Mair for Big Noise the book in 2006, his summary of the band’s experiences seemed to me to be the best-fitting line for what most Scottish (or at least west of Scotland) bands of the era went through. The explosion of popularity following Beatlemania, the negative reaction from the powers-that-vaguely-be, riots and crowds of girls, more money than the day-job paid, a complete escape from the life that otherwise lay ahead… oh, aye, and playing music that mattered to you.

Since then I’d been working on a fictional version of that scene – I have four chapters drafted and the storyline in an advanced state. For some reason it didn’t occur to me that, instead of making something up, I should be doing what I do best and tell the stories for those who actually lived them.

I spoke to Alan, who’s very much the kind of person who does things when he feels the time is right. The idea was to do a book about him, but in the process of discussion it became very clear the time WASN’T right for that. I suggested a Beatstalkers book instead, and the response was positive. It should have been done last year, to be honest, but my personal schedule went up in the air as my role with Classic Rock and its sister magazines grew far bigger than anyone could have foreseen.

But I’m glad to say I’ve been in this position before: people doubt I’ll get the book done, and you can see it in their faces; but I know I will. And I will, and it’ll be good. It’s a great story!

The subtitle of that book ‘Scotland’s Number One Beat Band’ might surprise some people but they must have been absolutely huge here in the 1960s?

Here’s the undeniable fact: the Beatstalkers had a number-one hit single, but it wasn’t accounted as that because there were only two chart-return stores in Scotland. THAT’s how big they were. And the way they got that big has a similar emotional vibe as the Apollo –– there was something about THOSE people playing THAT music to THESE people that created a perfect storm. George Square flooded with screaming fans… crawling under windows so the girls who camp outside your house won’t see you… building a secret bedroom at work because you were racing home from a gig to get to the office in time… the gang warfare… the clothes… and the fucking SONGS. The Beatstalkers story sums up the rock revolution as far as Scotland is concerned. They were rock stars in every sense of the phrase.

Plans for the future?

Get on with the Beatstalkers book and ‘Project Fingerhalo’ with Jo Callis, because their time has come… continue with my work for Classic Rock, Prog, The Blues, Metal Hammer and TeamRock Radio, because it’s immensely challenging and rewarding… Sell my historical fiction novel Simon The Fox and continue work on the next novel (set in Orkney 5500 years ago)… Get to work on the campervan me and the wife just bought… decide whether my drumming days are over and it’s time to sell the kits… and there’s a couple of other things I can’t talk about in case they don’t happen and I look more of a twat than I already do!

I’m also actually working on an online magazine with the Historical Writers’ Association – which has something of the old fanzine feel about it. It’s nice to be back!

For more on Martin Kielty

The Beat Goes On: The Rezillos Live 2014

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Tickets go on sale tomorrow for The Rezillos’ show at Oran Mor in Glasgow and the band are currently finalising the details of their forthcoming British tour. Looks like some very interesting support acts have already been arranged and there’s some nifty posters promoting a couple of the dates out already (see below).

Here’s the latest details of the shows but check their Facebook page for updates – and keep an eye out for more on The Rezillos here on this site very shortly.

Friday 28th March
MINEHEAD (Butlins): Great British Alternative Festival

Saturday 29th March
HARLOW: The Square

Friday 4th April
LONDON: Under The Bridge

Saturday 5th April
LOWESTOFT: Aquarium

Friday 11th April
CARLISLE: Brickyard

Saturday 12th April
BRISTOL: Fleece

Rezillos The Fleece Bristol 2014 Poster

Thursday 17th April
KENDAL: Bootleggers

Friday 18th April
PRESTON: 53 Degrees

Saturday 19th April
LIVERPOOL: Eric’s

Sunday 20th April
LEEDS: Brudenell Social Club

Rezillos Live in Leeds 2014

Friay 23rd May
GLASGOW: Oran Mor

Saturday 24th May
EDINBURGH: Liquid Room

Friday 30th May
STOCKTON-ON-TEES: The Georgian Theatre

Saturday 31st May
ASHTON (near Manchester): The Witchwood

For the Stockton-on-Tees date, Duncan Reid, formerly of The Boys, has just been added to the bill along with his band The Big Heads and I’d advise you to make your way along early to see him. He played a very enjoyable matinee set last month at the 13th Note in Glasgow and here’s the official video for the new single Kelly’s Gone Insane:

 
For more on Duncan Reid click here.

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30 Odd Years: An Interview with Vic Godard

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Vic Godard 30 Odd Years

Out this week on his own GNU inc imprint is the Vic Godard compilation 30 Odd Years, available as a double CD or download. The album spans his entire career and its gathering some highly positive reviews, Louder Than War, for instance, rated it 10/10. To mark its release, and with Vic’s permission, I’ve posted below a feature and interview with the singer that was originally used last year in the e-Fanzine Positive Noises.

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‘Vic is the great lost soul of the era: his nihilism is more extreme than anyone’s. He seemed to have seen through the circus which he was being enticed into, from day one. He saw all the contradictions and didn’t want to be a pop star.’ Geoff Travis quoted in England’s Dreaming by Jon Savage.

One of the most intriguing individuals in English music over the years has been Vic Godard, a man grandly described by 6 Music’s Marc Riley as ‘the greatest living Englishman’. As a teenager, Vic came to the fore – or at least almost came to the fore – with his band Subway Sect, a scandalously underrated act whose ‘We Oppose All Rock and Roll’ philosophy has, however, proved remarkably influential. This signalled their hope that they might help music find a way out of what they perceived as rock’s cul-de-sac.

So how did Vic and the band go about tackling that?

Well, for starters, they created a (non) image and ditched any onstage macho posturing when they played. Subway Sect dressed in Oxfam clothing which they dyed grey in a bathtub. Live, they would make no visual effort to grab attention – unless their ploy was to prove so intriguing by dressing drably and eschewing any obvious stagecraft that you actually felt compelled to watch.

Interaction with the crowd was obviously negligible. No stagediving into the front rows or even telling everyone how wonderful they were for our Vic. Unusually for a frontman, he didn’t compulsively crave the adulation of audiences, instead he preferred polarising them, favouring unpredictable reactions, good one night, hostile the next.

Likewise, with his Fender Mustang held awkwardly high, Rob Symmons would remain almost static throughout their sets, sometimes staring at amps or random spots on the stage rather than engaging directly with fans. At one point he even suggested the band glue their shoes to the stage, proposing that they walk on wearing socks and then step into the shoes and lace them up. This idea was rejected but not without being discussed seriously first.

Additionally they hit on the idea of eliminating lazy recycled riffs in their songs; for example, no easy Chuck Berry-isms were allowed and if the chords to any new song reminded them of the sound of any traditional rock song it would be quickly rejected. Obviously solos were a no-no, as was anything that sounded ‘heavy’ – and Vic’s definition of that word could include even The Sex Pistols. The Sect’s brittle, trebly guitar sound ensured that ‘heaviness’ wasn’t ever going to be something they would be accused of.

Highly literate – when I spoke with him he was reading Enid Starkie, an Irish literary critic born in 1897, known chiefly for her biographical works on French poets – Vic put a great deal of thought into his lyric writing. Filmed by Wolfgang Buld in 1977 for his Punk In London documentary, Vic explained his methods: ‘I write, say, an essay or something like that and condense the words for a song so it doesn’t end up being a normal rock song hopefully.’

To assist this aim, Vic veered away from the language of ‘rock’, rejecting any Americanisms like ‘yeah’ and ‘baby’ and insisting on using ‘English’ words to give us his own idiosyncratic view of a Britain sliding into economic and political crisis. Or whatever else took his fancy.

Nobody’s Scared, a single with the startling opening lines: ‘Everyone is a prostitute / Singing the song in prison’ was the first time the band were captured on vinyl but it took Subway Sect until the spring of 1978, a whole six months after it had been recorded, to finally see the release of that debut 45.

In the fast moving world of punk and then post-punk (and Subway Sect could be said to have been both simultaneously) delays like this didn’t help their cause as their sound had progressed significantly in that time.

Their manager Bernard Rhodes concentrated his energies on his main act The Clash, although he did find time once the next 45, Ambition had been recorded, to – without the band’s permission – speed up and add ping pong sound effects to the track, which again failed to find a fast release. Rhodes also sat on tapes the band had recorded for a debut album which was then shelved. Finally he sacked the whole band apart from Godard, who was put on a wage of £50 a week to write songs.

After experimenting with a Tamla/Northern Soul infused set that included a cracking cover of Tony Clarke’s Blackpool Mecca stomper Landslide, Vic moved direction again. And not for the last time either.

An L.P called What’s The Matter Boy? (credited to Vic Godard and Subway Sect) hit record shops in 1980 on MCA offshoot Oddball. It’s hard to categorise this collection of songs; punk and Gallic pop, soul and swing being just four of the influences utilised but the album is united by Vic’s consummate songwriting skills. The London funk act The Black Arabs (best known for their disco medley of Sex Pistols tracks on The Great Rock ’n’ Roll Swindle) helped out on percussion and backing vocals while former Clash drummer Terry Chimes and his bassist brother Paul also became involved.

Of course, Vic didn’t really bother promoting his long awaited debut and almost immediately changed path yet again.

Profiled in The Face in January 1982, he looked surprisingly dapper, photographed in a starched white shirt and dickie bow, in fact, it was easy to imagine the staunch Francophile Godard – who was born Vic Napper but renamed himself as a homage to the French film auteur Jean Luc – as a character from an early 60s movie by one of that director’s contemporaries like Claude Chabrol or Agnes Varda.

Rhodes had set up Club Left in the heart of London and Vic had taken on the role of resident crooner and was keen to inform everyone that he’d rather play to old people than young and that his songs were right for Vic Damone fans and the Radio 2 playlist.

He’d moved from uneasy listening to easy listening in less time than it takes many contemporary bands to record and bring out an album.

Vic is no David Bowie but he has certainly reinvented himself on a number of occasions over the years. Disillusioned in the mid 80s, after another album T.R.O.U.B.L.E encountered release problems, he again sprung a massive surprise by becoming Vic the Postman and rising to deliver mail to the citizens of the capital at the kind of hour when many a rocker is just beginning to think about turning in to catch some shuteye.

The image might change and the amazing juxtapositions of influences might move from Tony Bennett and The Velvet Underground to hip-hop and bhangra but what doesn’t change is Vic’s singular knack for ignoring the easy option to pursue instead whatever he thinks is the most interesting route to follow.

 
Occasionally he even threatens some kind of commercial breakthrough, like the release of The End of the Surrey People on the reactivated Postcard label in 1993 or when, in 2002, he collaborated with Irvine Welsh on the musical Blackpool but any potential leap into the consciousness of the wider public is always somehow thwarted.

Postcard Mk2 met was with far less music press enthusiasm than it had received during its first incarnation – possibly due to albums not even being sent out to the music press for review purposes, while most of the songs written for Blackpool were dropped from the actual performances of the show – which also met with a subdued response from theatre critics.

In 2007, Godard revived the Subway Sect moniker and, along with their White Riot tour drummer Mark Laff and, on some tracks, original bassist Paul Myers, re-recorded the songs that had originally been intended for the lost debut LP; these were released as 1978 Now on Overground.

This year should see the Edwyn Collins produced 1979 Now, new versions of their post-punk meets Northern Soul set, the first fruits of which, the vinyl single Caught In Midstream/You Bring Out The Demon In Me came out on Record Shop Day in Britain in April 2013 on AED Records.

You seem to be going through a pretty productive period at the moment, doing plenty of shows and releasing the Caught In Midstream single, with an album to follow in the not too distant future.

Yes hoping to finish the album ‘1979 Now’ in the next few months, gigging with Subway Sect, The Sexual Objects, Mates Mates and a jazz combo.

Are you still working as a postie?

I’m lucky that I do a jobshare so have every other week off – otherwise the out of town gigs would be severely affected.

How did the recent Velvet Underground covers set go in Glasgow?

It was really enjoyable as it always is there, and it was good to see Stephen and Katrina (of The Pastels). Everyone at Mono seemed in a nice laid back mood. I had great backing from Davy Simon and Douglas MacIntyre (of the Creeping Bent Organisation). I loved singing She’s My Best Friend as I had recorded it in the early nineties but had never had a go live.

You first saw the Pistols by accident, didn’t you? Walking past the Marquee and hearing what sounded like a racket, made you decide to investigate what was going on.

We saw Jordan first and that’s how we knew it was connected to Sex. I had been in there a few times over the years from when it was Let It Rock so I knew they had Nico stuff on the Jukebox, but didn’t know about the group till that night in February (1976).

How did you discover Let It Rock/Sex, was it while you were on your way to watch Chelsea play at Stamford Bridge?

No I didn’t ever go to the New Kings Road when seeing Chelsea play as I always came down Fulham Road and it was out of my way. I have a sister who was a bit of a mod in the sixties and she used to take me down the Kings Road now and again.

She bought me a shirt for my birthday and was served by Malcolm. It had a pin to hold the collar together like the ones Illya Kuryakin wore in The Man From U.N.C.L.E. Years later the same shirts were painted over in broad stripes and had had the Karl Marx photo added, and the price was more than doubled.’

The Marquee story is a neat example of being in the right place at the right time. What brought you to Soho that night?

We were on our bicycles which was handy as we didn’t need to worry about the last bus and we were on the lookout for a group to see as gigs weren’t advertised in those days so you went to Soho and had a look for one. Our favourites at the time were the Count Bishops as they were like a 60’s US punk group transported to London 1975, and we found out later that Mike Spenser was indeed an American who’d moved to South London. We stopped going by bike for some reason and came to regret it walking home from the Screen on the Green gig a while later.

Why was that?

The Screen on the Green thing was out of our bicycle area so we went by bus, meaning a long walk home from Islington, although we didn’t mind as we taped the gig and it came out well. I think it was the first time we saw the Clash and they were drastically different to how they became without Chimes and Levene.

You were also a fan of Dr Feelgood before Punk, weren’t you?

When we used to see Dr Feelgood and the rest of the r’n’b groups from the era, I was listening to and buying soul records but they weren’t rarities (unless you count the Jimmy Castor Bunch). I’d been a fan since the sixties of great tunes and it just so happened that in those days that meant mainly soul.’

When did you start listening to Northern Soul?

It was only just after punk that I was loaned a selection of 45s that belonged to a friend of some of the Sect, called Jacko. He regularly travelled from Acton to the wilds of Stoke, Wigan or wherever and collected the records. I was looking for something new to do that wasn’t punk and this fitted the bill. I started writing songs heavily influenced by the music, to which I could put my words. These form the body of the album we’re working on at the moment.’

So after seeing the Pistols that first time (this being the show that earned the band their first press coverage with NME’s ‘Don’t look over your shoulder, but the Sex Pistols are coming’ piece) you began going to see the band regularly and at one gig McLaren mistook you and the future members of Subway Sect for a band and invited you to play at the Punk Special at the 100 Club. Do you think you would you have become a musician anyway if he hadn’t?

Not a chance. It would never have entered my mind. Even when the group got together we didn’t think we’d be doing music. We had no instruments but we had an old Super 8 camera so our first plan was for a film to be done down on the tow path at Mortlake. We wanted the Brewery in the back ground as we thought it looked a bit Eastern European but we never got round to a script. Next we got a tape recorder out and did the Moliere play entitled ‘A Doctor In Spite of Himself’, with our drummer Paul Packham doing the lead roles and the rest of us doing the minor roles (he was our only extrovert in those days).’

The White Riot Tour show in Edinburgh was voted the fifth best ever gig in Scotland by the Scotsman newspaper and you’ve since worked closely with some of the guys who went along that night like Edwyn Collins and Davy Henderson. Any specific memories of the show?

Yes I do but I don’t remember anything about our set. I nearly killed myself before we played by grabbing the Safety Curtain as it went up. Luckily for me it ripped and I fell to the ground holding a bit of it. The manager wasn’t very happy about it though so I was in disgrace. Walking into the venue we were awestruck by the size of it as thus far we’d been playing in bingo-hall sized places, and this looked like the sort of place you’d go to see Max Miller.

Ever bump in to Bernie Rhodes in recent years?

I haven’t bumped into him lately [since the early nineties] but I had a phone call with him a few years back.’

The End of the Surrey People was released on the reactivated Postcard label in 1993. How did you find working with Alan Horne, the album wasn’t really promoted that well, was it?

I didn’t expect anything of it really as I thought my recording and singing days were long gone. Alan was no more suited to selling an album than I was but we got on fine at the time. Doing the album was a break for me as it led to me getting into the recording process for the first time. Before then I’d been content to take a background role and do as I was told. Once I’d got a 4 Track and Drum Machine I thought I could be the next Teddy Riley and started thinking about what made a great record great. Hip-Hop also changed my lyrics in a profound way. I started thinking in syllables connected to beats and have carried on doing things that way. My songwriting is confined by the beats. It’s not that I can’t do a ballad but I tend to work on things I’m enjoying and beats and bass lines do it for me.

Have you ever thought of writing your autobiography?

Easy one this – yes but as I’m a lazy sod I’ll wait till I get one of those computers you can talk to.

Would you like to recommend any music, books or films?

Music: Fats Waller, Hoagy Carmichael, Jimmy Lunceford, Charles Aznavour, Jermaine Dupri, Peter Skellern.

Books: Biography – The Life of Monsieur de Moliere by Mikhail Bulgakhov

Horror: Mateo Falcone by P.Merimee

Comedy: The Misanthrope by Moliere which has recently been re-done by Roger McGough

Photography: What Presence! Harry Papadopoulos

Films: Anything with Norman Wisdom, Jean-Paul Belmondo, Jerry Lewis, or John Le Mesurier. My favourite film is Diva as it has the Post Office and Music at its heart.

 
Anyone wanting to find out more on Vic should have a look here:

Vic Godard & Subway Sect Official
Subway Sect on Facebook
Vic on Twitter
30 Odd Years: Louder Than War Review
Buy 30 Odd Years Here