Monday, March 14, 2011

Vic Godard & Subway Sect, Edinburgh (Citrus Club) and Dundee (Dexter’s), 12th and 13th March

Story #1: We last saw Subway Sect in December 2009, though I didn’t write about it, as the set was much the same as the previous one, in 2007, and two years on from 1978 Now there were still no new songs. (Apart from ‘That Train’. Like most songwriters ever get near to a ‘That Train’). At the end, being pushed for time, Vic asked what we wanted for an encore, giving a list of three or four Sect Mark One incendiaries. One was ‘Chain Smoking’, a song S. and I love, and, positioned at Vic’s feet, we screamed ourselves hoarse in its favour. Chris joined in with the screaming; I think A. might have been a bit embarrassed. And we got our ‘Chain Smoking’ – the punk version, obviously, given the context, though I admit I’d been hoping for a dramatic switch of register at the last minute, to the tender, world weary lounge version. I still think those switches are the key to Vic.

This time the circumstances were, wonderfully, quite different. Apparently from nowhere, but perhaps drawing on the momentum of 1978 Now and its attendant shows (Vic suggests as much in Andy’s interview for Manic Pop Thrills), We Come as Aliens is the perfect contemporary Subway Sect record. Drawing on their earliest sound, but not slavishly, the album is brim full of joy with its own clatter, and brings its wayward voice (© Brogues) to bear on just the kinds of thing you’d think a fiftysomething punk turned postman would be concerned with. It is not trying to relive adolescence, it is very much a logical progression, a bemused but uncompromising survey of now. Before they came on in Dundee, Chris remarked that, enjoyable as Edinburgh School for the Deaf and Spectorbullets had been, they were also supremely ridiculous, which made them an odd choice to support the most sensible band ever. Make that ‘grounded’, and I agree.

Story #2: Support at the Edinburgh gig came from the Sexual Objects, another ridiculous band, of course, and a great one. Davy Henderson paid tribute to Vic’s parents for giving birth to him, ‘what a beautiful thing’, his mid-Atlantic, intergalactic patter perfectly pitched as always. Their set was raw and crunchy, especially the heavy opening instrumental, I wanted to dissolve into the PA. There was an aftershow party just down the road, at which Spectorbullets played, oddly mannered, but with interesting rhythmical shifts and some killer guitar lines (others admired the bass playing, but I don’t think I’m capable of admiring slap bass). They were followed by a thin blonde Swedish woman who pounded an acoustic guitar, bright-eyed and relentless, looking as though she would have been better placed in a workout video. That was exhausting. And it was hot, humid, late. I sat down, but that didn’t help. Finally giving up, I rushed to the toilets and threw up. Freshening up at the sink afterwards, I rested on my hands, looked in the mirror. Probably I have looked better. As if by magic, looking immaculate, and a good fifteen years younger than he had any right to, Davy Henderson was at my side, with some sage advice: ‘Hey, don’t snort the Carex’.

There was nothing wrong with the Edinburgh gig, nothing at all. It had the Sexual Objects in it, after all, and Subway Sect were enjoying themselves enough by the end to edge gently past the 10 PM curfew (in place to make way for a club night), delivering a playful stop / start version of ‘Music of a Werewolf’, and a rollicking ‘Chain Smoking’. But the Dundee show was better. Kicking off with ‘We Oppose All Rock and Roll’ roughly twenty four hours after leaving the stage in Edinburgh, they soon settled into a far more relaxed set. More chatty, too: Vic gleefully explained that ‘my missus’, who had gone home the previous day, doesn’t like him talking too much on stage, because ‘people want to hear your songs, not a comedy routine’. With her out of the way, he was free to tell us all sorts of nonsense, beginning with a malign hint (connected with this, I expect) that he walks past Vince Cable’s house twice a day on the way to his round, and that unlike his office, it has no police guard. We also heard of his plans for a 1982 Now album, to coincide with his retirement (still quite a way off, surely?) so that he can book a world cruise and croon the days away, with all the Songs for Sale material (but what is wrong with Songs for Sale as it is? Wonderful record. Newly re-available too, if only digitally).

We got a new song, with both the riff and the words from The Kinks’ ‘You Really Got Me’, one or both of which might need to go when they come to record it; we got ‘That Train’, ‘Nobody’s Scared’ and ‘Ne’er’, none of which graced Edinburgh, and ‘Ambition’, which did. After SP’s recent comment about ‘Ne’er’, I went and checked out the lyrics, and was pleased to find the content as wayward as the delivery:
Oh ne’er, I never wanted it
And suddenly look hey presto
But ne’er, I never wanted to be
Floggin’ me own fake pesto
It was a delight to hear him singing that, and to wonder how many of those listening unprimed noticed the line about pesto, another of those switches I was talking about. As, more overtly, was ‘Blackpool’, which has barely left my head since the EP arrived, and which shows Vic conquering another genre (music hall) with barely a second thought. The main set ended with ‘Chain Smoking’ again, S. and I dancing joyfully by this time, and continuing through ‘Et Même’ and others. Then she shouted out for ‘Chain Smoking’ as an encore, which I thought was a bit odd. Other sections of the crowd were equally enthusiastic, and though the turn out wasn’t quite what we’d hoped, actually there were plenty there to respond warmly to Vic’s songs (especially ‘Ambition’ and ‘Nobody’s Scared’, which had a few old punks throwing great shapes), and to his chat, and to get him back for two encores even though they’d gone through all their material. A very special night, many thanks to Andy and Mike for putting it on, and to Vic for coming to Dundee and making us all feel at home.

Story #3: Walking towards the taxi rank afterwards, S. realised, fifteen months on, that the beserk rumbling thing which goes ‘CHAAAAAAAIN, life is a CHAAAAAAAIN’ is the same song as the elegant ‘Chain Smoking’ she thought she had been requesting, in 2009 and half an hour previously. ‘I’m so stupid!’ Well, not really, they do have completely different tunes, and the words are pretty indistinct on the loud one. But you see what happened there? Vic switched things around on you.


Chris’ photos.
Some reflections on the Glasgow show.


SP said...

Hi Chris,

Excellent frontline work there. The Chainsmoking misunderstanding is something that in most cases would involve at least one extra language so I think it's great that Vic has it in him to cause confusion with a simple inflection.

Here's something you might already know. An interview with the great Mike Alway which takes in his own Vic Godard period and of course much, much else.

Chris said...

Thank you. It was pretty enjoyable frontline work, really. Glad you enjoyed the Glasgow show too.

That's a fascinating interview, I didn't know it. 'T.R.O.U.B.L.E' is one of Vic's best, I'd forgotten when mentioning 'Blackpool' that he'd already conquered that genre with 'I'm Going to Write a Musical'.

Chris said...

Hang on a tic though. Alway overspent on 'T.R.O.U.B.L.E.' because 'I couldn't get him out of Barnes... we were neighbours... so we used Olympic Studios, where The Rolling Stones had recorded "Satanic Majesties"... it was not cheap.' Does that really hang together as an argument?

Murrayr said...

Good spiel.

Monica and the Explosion were the hot swedish blonde and the cool bassist (Paul Slack from the UK Subs) a last minute addition to the bill but a very welcome one. They actually played before Spectorbullets (who played the best that I've seen them that night)

All 3 gigs were very different - Glasgow had a great setlist, Edinburgh was neccesarily tight and had some of the best versions of the old songs that I've ever seen/heard and it sounds like Dundee was its own beast as well - wish I could've made it.

Did you manage to catch the subway sect set in henrys or were you away after being unwell ? they did the new song and 3 others if memory serves correctly. Have a look on youtube

Chris said...

Thanks for the extra info, it's always good to have another perspective. We missed Vic at Henry's, unfortunately, but I was kept amused for most of the following day remembering Davy's remark. He probably says that to everyone (or at least everyone he finds hunched over a soap dispenser), but still.

Anonymous said...

Hi Chris

Just to put on record this was very much Andy's baby. He deserves all the plaudits - my input was minimal

Chris said...

The poster did say ' conjunction with Manic Pop Thrills' on it! But sure, he deserves most of them.

Blog Archive