There are many bands out there who, for me, embody what Über Röck is all about, but there are few performers and musicians who really do deserve the status 'Legend'. It gets bandied about in music to describe some all too easily, there are some who simply shouldn't be mentioned in the same sentence but there are a few who hardly ever get the credit they deserve yet go about their business without any fuss or fanfare, simply oozing class and quality; Charlie Harper and the U.K. Subs have plied their trade for more years than most and to the highest standard possible. Having just released an album that is current, relevant and, above all, packed with quality, it might get ignored by the trendies and the mainstream media who chase the flavour of the month but, for me, it's people like Charlie they should be chasing and putting on the cover of their magazines and making sure the kids of today and tomorrow are aware of the incredible body of work they've put out.
When I asked if he'd do an interview for Über Röck I actually got really excited when I got the green light and I hope I can do the man and his work the justice he deserves. Punk rock royalty, ladies and gentlemen - I give you the wonderful words of Charlie Harper.......
Hi Charlie, how you doing?
Good, good - just let the wife turn the Hoover off, ha ha, and I'll make myself comfortable.
We'll start with the new album 'Work In Progress' if that's okay? Having had a few weeks since its release how do you view how its being received by the press and what are your thoughts on the finished album?
Well, we're really really pleased with the record and when you make a record you never know what's going to happen and personally it's perhaps a little bit rough and we could have done with maybe a little bit more time in the studio or even another day to sort of tidy things up a little but then again it's punk rock and a few rough edges can be good. But hey, it's out there now so there you go. I was just telling someone in Germany that if we were to sit down and write a review of the album ourselves and try to make a good review the reviews we've had so far have been 20 times what we could have written ourselves and I've been knocked back by the what people have said - it's been great and you guys have been so kind. So it's great thanks, ha ha.
Was it a help or a hindrance having the length of time between the release of 'Universal' and 'Work In Progress' some eight years?
Yeah, well it has helped a bit because I can write three songs in a day or ten in a week but you have to weed out the songs you feel are special. But one thing I do is have a title for a song or maybe there is a great instance on the album where we have people and friends around us we call "the board of directors" and they said you've got to write a good eco song on this one, so I had this idea to write a song called 'Eco Warriors' but the band said it's a bit corny and it's probably been done by a few others, so I thought about it and changed it around a bit and it came out as 'Children Of The Flood', the concept being the waters are going to rise and people will lose their livelihoods in the future. So instead of it being a blatant eco song it became a gentle sort of eco song. What I'm saying is I have an idea of the song but don't write all of it as a complete piece but when we get into the studio then the music hits and you hear all that swirl of the guitar and that tends to set my imagination alive to write the song there and then so I do like to write in the studio but the ideas I take in with me.
Do you find then that you have a song completed in your mind only to get to the studio and it takes on another life?
Well yeah, that's a great example there ('Children Of The Flood') - it had a completely different chorus and it changed when I was with the band recording, the idea was still there, you know an eco song, but it got kind of redone and overhauled and that's why I like to have the idea before I go into the studio then grow it there; sometimes it changes totally like on 'Children Of The Flood'. I don't think it would work if it was too rigid or I wasn't open to other ideas.
What about the vibe when you're in the studio when a song takes shape? Do you think you're onto something? Could you tell for instance that 'Warhead' or 'Party In Paris' would be such great singles and adversely what about a song you think is a dead cert only to not work at all when the band plays it in the studio?
Yeah, another one like that on this album was the song I wrote with Lars (Frederiksen of Rancid - 'This Chaos'); he played it to me on an acoustic guitar and he sung it and it sounded amazing and I did think right away that it was going to be amazing song once we put the band on it. You know we do it live and it takes on another life but on the album maybe I feel we didn't really do that one justice. It's one of those songs like a lot of our songs - 'Stranglehold', 'Warhead', 'CID' - a lot of the classics sound ten times better on stage and maybe one of the secrets of our longevity is the songs have grown and sound much better live than when they were captured in the studio, they come to life, you know. So maybe I don't think we did that song justice in the studio but live it's another thing and we really capture it when were up on stage.
Are you someone who finds it easier to co-write or do you work better on your own?
No, ha ha ha. In a word. We didn't do this album with Nicky (Garratt - guitar) as he live in San Francisco and either he was working or we were and we never got round to if we were going to get it done. The opportunity came up and it was all systems go at that time so he wasn't around but Nicky expects me to write the lyrics when he does the music and, though it's not a chore it's much more difficult to write like that. But on the other hand Alvin (Gibbs - bass) wrote 'Hell Is Other People' and he had the title and chorus and put it in the song and the rest I wrote around it. I tell you what, if someone writes a great song musically it's no problem and if the music lifts you it makes a great lyric can come out; it sort of happens like that. Whereas if a song is a bit mediocre I guess I tend to write a mediocre lyric, the more the song raises you I think it draws out a better lyric and the complete song is lifted.
Would you say with songs like 'Radio Unfriendly', which is a great subject matter with lots of scope and a subject that fans can relate to, it makes it easier? You say you come up with the title so is it difficult to know when to stop when you've tapped in, so to speak?
That one came quite easily but the producer kept coming up with choruses on top and all sorts of things going on in the background for the song and I'm a bit of a shouter and not really a singer so it was quite difficult having to sings all these things. If I could sing good I'd probably be doing Cole Porter songs, hahaha! It wasn't quite what the song needed so we tried it but went without it and that worked.
You should do one - covering a Cole Porter song would cause a stir.
Actually Dave Vanian is really into the 30's and I'm talking him into doing a Cole Porter song or Irving Berlin or something like that which would be great but very different, yeah.
I was going to come onto other projects but since you mention talking to Dave Vanian......
Well my other projects tend to be quite different, maybe more acoustic whether it be blues songs or Subs songs. My acoustic is sort of over here in the corner with my harmonica rack and I do like to keep my hand in and I make sure my nails are tidy so I can pick that sort of thing but sometimes when I'm into it I get called out to play a gig so it has to wait which sometimes is a pity if I'm ready with the other stuff but hey, there you go, somethings have to wait.
When you went into the studio with the ideas for the songs and the rest of the band with their contributions do you go in with a plan of say writing 20 songs and then record them and pick the strongest 12 or 14? How do you approach going into the studio and how many songs go on an album?
No, we never really do that. We tend to go in with 6 or 7 tracks and take it from there. I think Alvin came in with just a couple of tracks and I had 5 or 6. Jamie (Oliver - drums) had a couple and I had to ask Jet (Storm - guitar) what he had and it was like "Come on, you must have something" and in the end he had 3 or 4 on there which was great.
Do you find it keeps it fresh having recorded with so many people on a U. K. Subs record and having the whole band involved in the writing process?
The old line-up of me, Nicky and Alvin can sometimes write an album in a day - that's just how we work. But with new people you never quite know how it's going to work. But we found we were not always on the same wavelength but I'd say with Alvin we've worked together for so long we sort of connect and he has an idea and we bounce off each other and it's a great working partnership whereas with someone else you can be fighting all the way, not quite connecting with the music or ideas you're bringing and that tends to come through in the music sometimes - that can be great and it works but it's much better when you're all tuned in.
As a fan you really get the impression on this album that everything seems right and the band as writers and players have really got into the groove and everything has clicked. The vibe seems right on the money throughout, would that be fair?
99% of the time it was really enjoyable - yeah, it really worked out.
You get the impression with 'Work In Progress' that although there are different styles the flow of the album is excellent...
It's funny because although I had to try and bring it out of Jet, loads of people really connected with his songs. People say that Jamie is a genius he can really play and his songs - even where he plays guitar - it's stuff a lot of other players can't even play which is a great thing to have in the band, it can really lift you.
Having played the album for a few weeks now tracks like 'Tokyo Rose' really stand out and it sounds like it comes from a really good place and, if there is such a thing anymore, a perfect single choice maybe?
There you go, yes, I think songs like that can go on to being a live classic, something people can sing along to. It's a great song.
It's got a great catchy chorus, almost like a pop song or definitely a more 70s glam rock kind of feel to it.
I'll let you into a secret there. There should be another verse. I wrote another verse for that and the song doesn't really end and I like that, you know, it lets people paint their own picture about the song and I think there's another song on the album where he didn't give me another verse and it never seemed finished but it turned out alright and people seem drawn to them which is great.
I'd say that my personally favourite so far is 'All Blurs Into One', the way it builds is excellent.
Yeah, when Jamie played it to us we sort of said we can't use it, it's like three songs long, but the more we heard it the more we were left thinking, this is great and it really grew into what it ended up as. I'm not greatly happy with what I wrote for the lyrics, I dunno, sometimes when we do something in the studio I'm not totally happy with what I wrote but when we do it live I have more freedom and I do think yeah I can put that there and this will work here and that is one that is still evolving.
Is there much material written and recorded for the record? The work Captain Oi! did on the early album reissues makes them a must-have for fans. They are really well packaged with the sleeve notes and plenty of extra songs.....
Not normally but yeah we did on this one. A few of my songs were like thrown out, ha ha, maybe they were considered a bit weird. One was a bit progressive ha ha although the album has a progressive feel at times, like on 'Blurs' we use the wah wah. So yeah a couple of mine went out maybe they were a bit weird perhaps if someone like Wire did them they'd sound great but we're the Subs and not Wire, although I do like Wire ha ha! The work put into the reissues is fantastic, I'm really pleased with them.
When you're at home writing do you use a modern set up like Pro tools or Cubase?
Well you say Pro tools and, whilst I know the word, I don't really know what it is. If it's something up on the screen I tend to leave all that to the engineer but to answer your question I don't use it at home to record, no.
Was it easy getting the band together to record the album?
This instance, um, to answer your question - yes. But we should have done this album a long long time ago with Nicky but, there you go, it was proving difficult and this is what we got to work around and were very very pleased with it once we decided to go with what we had.
Do you think it would have been a very different record had Nicky played on it?
Yes, it would have come out very different. For this album, although I don't really like to use the word concept, for this album I had the idea a long time ago - it was always going to be called 'Work In Progress' and then it did take ages to get there and I found myself telling everyone that's exactly what it is. Then there was the whole thing about the sleeve - it was going to be very punk rock/rock 'n' roll because of Jet; I wanted to give it the flavour of him as he's very rock 'n' roll and for it to have his history or heritage and I wanted it to have that about it even down to having songs like 'Tokyo Rose' and the Japan connection.
Have you changed how your write or approach the music over the years? Do you find it easier to get what you want or how to get to the finished product?
No, I don't think it's ever easy. Sometimes a song will come in a flash. At the moment what I'm working on is what the last track alludes to; simplicity, trying to work on getting songs that say a lot but you don't have to write a lot and I tried that on 'Robot Age', the lyric it says a lot in a few words.
With the advances in modern technology do you think people try too hard to use everything and, although it's there with computers, it doesn't always benefit - sometimes less is more?
We've never been a band to be frightened by modern technology, we've always been quite excited by it. Nicky is always excited and will experiment with a certain gadget - we never frown on it, we do embrace it but it's not something we feel we have to use just because it's there. We probably only use it to sharpen up a sound here or there. I for one like a bit of ragged edge, it's where the energy usually is in the music. I just did a harmonica session yesterday and instead of setting up an amp which I blew up anyway, instead of cranking it right up to get the rasping distorted harmonica sound for blues now there is a button or effect and you can add it on later which is great and you also get to save the amplifier as well.
It's been commented about the new album that there isn't any harmonica on there. Was that intentional or did you have harmonica parts that didn't work?
Yeah, there were lots of requests, like 'Eighteen Wheels' could have had some harmonica - it was written with it in mind - but I also wanted it to be a real rock 'n' roll song and Jet's playing style was in mind (He's very rock 'n' roll) and what he did worked great and it's simple so it was left like that. I've got a habit of when I play my songs to the band I play them slowed down and they don't overlook anything in the music and can see what's being played clearer and the songs are learnt at that speed but they don't tend to stay that way but 'Eighteen Wheels' was meant to be played a lot faster but ended up slower...so there you go.
Moving on to touring. What is it that keeps you on the road for so long? You hear so many bands moaning about hitting the road or touring being more of a chore and only playing a few dates in a country but you're the opposite.....
Well I got a call this morning from the tour manager in Europe and he said it was his birthday and he wanted the Subs to play and I said yeah straight away and I'm excited about doing it already. This is a great thing about music - the phone goes and you're off. Being on the road is like in a way a normal job; you have to be ready and certain things you have to be strict about - you have to besomewhere at a certain time and things like that. Every day is a new day and something lovely could happen, that's the way you have to look at it. We did a gig in America last year. Our support band had this gig and the promoter said can you put the Subs on the bill but we can't pay them. It was this little shit bar and we were there and we'll play anyway - it was this real shit hole, I can't even remember the place but we'd never been there before and there were these kids there and they were really into it and there weren't many of them, maybe only 50 and they had this weird dance, I'd never seen anything like it before, it was weird but I thought I'll have to try that. It was wild, maybe I'll put some of it into my performance in the future. It was really out there and not something I'd seen before but it turned out to be such a great night.
Anywhere you'd like to play you've not been to yet?
Ah good question. There are plenty I get offered that I don't want to do, ha. But places I've not been to? You've got me there - that's a hard one......I love Canada and South America, we're going there this year.
Do you find the audiences differ from continent to continent or are the fans pretty much the same across the world? South America seems famed for having crazed fans no matter what style the band, they're totally fanatical.
Yes, you almost feel like an impostor over there - they rock your car and grab your clothes. It can frighten the band a bit but I just laugh but sometimes it can be quite frightening, they do the craziest things. Last time we did a prison outside Buenos Aires. It was almost medieval with all these armed guards. Machine guns just in case the inmates rioted which was a real adventure and a little frightening at the same time. I actually went down and started shaking hands with the prisoners and I didn't find them at all scary but it was more the guards and the guns because you never quite know - you hear of these places being unpredictable but that was a great show.
How on earth does a band from the UK manage to get a gig inside a South American prison?!
Ha ha, I don't know, I think it was the promoter or agent. Once you're in a country like that you are kind of at their mercy and you don't have much of a say. It's always a bit too late once you're there to pull out, ha ha!
Do you approach it differently when touring say the UK or mainland Europe or Asia and the States?
I do think there is a different energy for country to country. I love playing the UK, everything about it. I love the seasons - we tend to do the winter tour and we're doing a spring tour and the one in Europe. You feel very comfortable in the UK, it's always a great time and when you do Europe you're a little out of that comfort zone but in the band we're quite lucky at the moment as we have French speakers and Spanish speakers and we can get by quite easily. The food situation is always great, I love going on culinary adventures and we love trying out local foods and we always bring home things like oils - I'm lucky my wife's a great cook so as far as being on the road it's great to pick things up. As for playing Europe, it has always been great to the band but the more east you go it can sometimes get a little scarier and wild. Even dangerous sometimes.
Do you find that places have changed over the years, like going back to Poland? It's changed a lot since you were the first band to go and play the shipyards and so on...
What makes you say that?
Well when you first went there in the 80's the politics were very different to what they are now and I'm sure the people there have changed enormously.
Yes, it's almost unrecognisable from those days. Every year we go back and it's changed, sure; it's more and more like a normal western city - less poverty stricken. Take East Germany, you can't see the join anymore. We used to play cities like Dresden, Leipzig and, god, it used to remind me of England at the end of the second world war, although I was a baby then I remember it well. The thing about Poland I do notice is me and the tour manager sit in the front of the tour bus and the roads are atrocious. Poland is just about to have a coup; a change of government and they're kicking them out because I've been saying for years the people at the top have been taking all this money for years and leaving the people behind and with all the income they've had places like Poland should look really nice by now but there seems to have been little in the way of distribution with the government living in the big houses while everything else is in ruin. I suppose by kicking this guy out Poland will end up looking like other western countries and the people will prosper. Sorry to get political and heavy but haha there you go. I do remember when we went there in '83 most people were going round in horses and cart which was a bit of an eye opener at the time and you rarely see one these days.
Do the band share your enthusiasm for travel and playing such a huge amount of shows?
Yeah, I think it's how the band have lasted. There had always been people in the band who just love playing live and no matter where it is, a show is a great experience. Oh! Going back to your earlier question I've thought of somewhere I'd like to play but haven't and that's Iceland. I always remember Jazz Coleman telling me it was great to play. Another place we're going this year is Guernsey - I've always wanted to play Jersey so we're getting closer I suppose.
Does the set list change from country to country? Are there certain places you play much harder faster material because that's what they want to hear?
Maybe tour to tour we change it but not really country to country, although it's more tweaked from place to place. We do understand from country to country they prefer different stuff, for instance for Japan it will be much more furious and aggressive to say Europe which tends to be more so than England or the UK which tends to be more of a sing-along type of thing. You do notice the Germans and the English prefer a beer and a sing a long. Spain tends to be a bit more hardcore but you get in tune with that.
Will the tours coming up feature more off the new album?
Ha ha, this is another thing about Nicky not being on the album - it would be unfair for him to play the new stuff but the England tour is like 10 weeks so we'll put more in so watch out.
I see you're doing Rebellion again this summer?
We are yes and possibly by then we'll have half the album in the set.
You've done some gigs in the States with bands like The Police and the Misfits...
I think we've only done the one show with the Misfits - I think somewhere on the East Coast, maybe Jersey. I remember the kids went absolutely mental and thinking oh god here we go but we did alright, ha ha. I think they were just starting out then as well.
Do you still get many offers to tour over there with big name bands like Rancid or Anti Flag and so on?
They warmed up for us before they were big. They had that one song that Nicky had on his label (can't remember what it was called but it was a smash and did really well for them).
These days people look at punk and probably call bands like Green Day flag bearers for the music, playing Wembley Stadium...
Well you can't really say Green Day and punk in the same breath can you, ha ha ha!
Mainstream media will and a lot of big magazines will have you believe they are punk rock.
I'll tell you a story about Green Day; when they were a little band I was living in the States and someone had a tape in their car and I said this is alright, these are good, who is it and they said it's a band called Green Day. You've got to remember in America at the time punk was all hardcore and every big band was playing hardcore and then this band came along playing sort of a more English sound and they were like a breath of fresh air and when I was back in London I went to see the Bladders and who was warming up but Green Day and there was only 20 people there. I'll give them their dues they were giving it 100% and they gave it everything like they were playing to Wembley Stadium and not the Garage to 20 people. I don't dislike them at all but I wouldn't exactly call them punk rock they're just a big rock band really.
Looking back over all the gigs you've played would you say there were any pivotal moments or a particular show that has stayed with you since as being really special?
Um wow, so many....but there is one we did that I'll always remember. We played the Loreley Festival. It's this place where a maiden was supposed to have appeared and sailors crashed on the rocks and all these funny folk tales but we did this concert there and on one of the hillsides - there is sort of a stage carved out and we played with Die Toten Hosen and it was such a pleasure to play to 20,000 in such a setting on the Rhine, it was quite amazing and one I'll never forget. Another is the Olympic Auditorium in LA to 6000 and it was mental and quite scary. One not so good was when the police started beating the kids in the parking lot at a show just for attending a punk rock show. It's not surprising that the States just stand aside with everything that's going on in Egypt when you see things like that happen - sorry to get all political on you.
You see in Henry Rollins' book pictures of them having trouble with the police and how in the past punk rock was tarred with being violent and the authorities never knew how to handle punk rock or how it was misunderstood and sometimes there could be trouble just for liking a type of music which, in my experience, could not be further from the truth.
Maybe, I don't know. That was a great book, it had some great pictures. Thinking back to the beginnings of punk rock you couldn't get a gig in England, you used to have to go in in disguise and try and get a gig. Dress in a jacket and tie and say I had a pop band and give us a gig on your worst night and give us what you think we're worth and we'd fill the place. At the end of the day we were the U.K. Subversives and you'd have to do anything to get around it. We used to get our own gigs and my experience with the movement in the States around that time of Black Flag was you'd play in people's garages and stuff.
It builds great camaraderie within the bands and fans, don't you think? With the way music is going in 2011 do you think there will ever be a scene like the Roxy days or playing shows in towns and villages where people will follow bands and use the internet to grow a scene or community? So many venues have gone and the record industry is always changing so quickly. Punk has always been more than just the music and has always been most misunderstood, don't you think?
The authorities are still trying to clean up and push things underground and sanitise music but there are anarchist movements that have gigs and stuff around the country but you only have to look around and things are happening - they always did and always will, I guess. We see many great people all over the world coming out to our shows - it's sometimes very humbling how kind our fans are, they always have been.
You've mentioned the Loreley gig and stuff being special - what about the flip side to that; any you'd prefer to forget?
Well there was one in the East End which the British Movement hijacked and beat a bunch of people up and we had to stop the gig after about twenty minutes - that was a pretty horrible memory. Most of the time we'd deal with the odd incident ourselves but that was particularly bad. Punks tend to look after each other and are a welcoming family; people at gigs especially look out for each other but that night it was out of hand. We tried to calm things down and hope that people would stop the fighting but, you know, sometimes these people aren't going to listen to reason. It's not often we have to stop. There was one in Poland that I'll remember where the promoter said they were running late and he was like "you're on at nine", then it was "it's still over running and it's ten" and we were like "ok, no problem" then we're told it's eleven - we eventually went on about midnight and the festival only had a pass till midnight so we got up and played for like ten minutes before the police came in and turned everything off which was really disappointing both for us and the people who were there to see us play and that was done by the promoter which was disappointing both for us and the fans, but those types of experiences aren't the norm and they are very few and far between thankfully.
Going back to when you did Top Of The Pops - is it right you hold the record for the most appearances?
I'm not sure - I think we did TOTP about seven times....
Is it also true you got banned from ever performing on there as well?
Yeah yeah, I think we actually got banned twice, ha ha. The first time was because we had a stage invasion. You'll remember the audience was made up of disco kids and people who were there just to be on TV and not because of the bands who were on - because you never really knew who was on from one week to the next - but we got a lot of punks in through the back door and we always tried to do that and abuse the guest list and that night I remember Adam And The Ants were on with the Cockney Rejects and Motorhead as well, so the audience wasn't your normal TOTP crowd and there was a scrap between Adam and the Rejects that night if I remember rightly so it wasn't your normal night, ha ha. Also Maggie Thatcher was being taken around the studios as well and you had all these people running round fighting and rioting - I think we were on stage at that time. The second ban was when we were on doing 'Party In Paris' and we had Captain Sensible come and join us on keyboards. I'm kind of miming away at the front and there was a clatter behind me and it was the Captain destroying the keyboards and our drummer at the time Steve Roberts got hold of his snare and threw it over his head and it went crashing through the screens behind him which didn't go down too well.
Did you find it strange doing a show like TOTP?
Yeah, it was but we were into science fiction at the time and there was this particular show that I can't remember the name of at the moment but I remember at the time Nicky was well into it and I was chatting to this woman from the series and Nicky was like in love with her which was all very weird and funny, and there was the time when Steve Roberts and Alvin were chatting up the Nolan Sisters and drunkenly proposing to them which was hilarious but it was all good fun and totally different and out of our comfort zone really. What we loved also about the Beeb was the bar was also very reasonable if I can remember correctly.
Moving on to your songs being covered by others - how did Guns N' Roses come to do 'Down On The Farm' of all tracks?
Well the story is this they were offered to do Farm Aid and they were kind of scratching their heads because they had to do a farm song. But before that Duff invited me 'round his house and I remember I was writing down the lyrics for him for 'Down On The Farm'. When he got to LA after leaving Seattle he had two records with him, one was 'Endangered Species' and the other was a Wishbone Ash one (can't remember which one, actually I think Wishbone Ash were a good band, ha ha! Don't tell anyone I said that mind ha ha!). Well Guns N' Roses used to play our album all the time so they remembered how it went. Oh it was before that, yes I remember. One of my old friends who used to promote us in the States (Denver I think he was from) was like 17 and his mum would take the money at the door and he was at a party with Guns N' Roses with their manager and his best friend managed Knox and myself and the Urban Dogs so it was strange because Duff always said how he loved Hanoi Rocks and that was the connection. Duff said they were going to do a covers album and they were going to do 'Down On The Farm' but we don't know how to get in touch with Charlie and that guy was there and the manager's friend was listening to this and said he had my number and called me, ha ha. They didn't need my permission but it was nice anyway.
What do you think of the version?
I was round Duff's little house or apartment at the time and although it was done in a million dollar studio with a million dollar production I think their version is superior, although a lot of kids do prefer our version which is really nice. I like to put a lot of stops in the songs and they put it in the stops and nailed it, they really did - they totally got the song and did a great, great version.
Whilst on the subject of covers, and as you mentioned Hanoi Rocks, what did you think of Demolition 23's cover of 'Endangered Species'? You got up with Michael Monroe at the London show last year and sang it with his band....
Yeah, me and Alvin sort of discovered Hanoi Rocks in a way. They played with us in Finland and they really weren't going down too well and we said you want to come to London, you'll go down a storm. Well they did and around about 30 people saw them when they first came over and they were the best band you'd ever seen, then the next time they came over it was 300 people, those 30 must have told everyone they knew about the band and they were going down a storm and Richard Bishop - who was mine and Knox's manager - we got him to see them and he ended up signing them and they got the deal with CBS and as they say the rest is history. We've been great friends ever since. Mike's a great bloke and I went down to Brighton to see his band with Motorhead just before Christmas and they were really good.
He seems to have put another great band together.
Yeah, that's right with Ginge and Sami. What a lovely, lovely person he is. Sami, he was touring with David and Sylvain (New York Dolls) and we were touring Australia at the same time and got to see them and meet up in Brisbane on a day off and he's such a good guy is Sami - yeah it was lovely to catch up.
You also played on the Suicide Twins album with Andy and Nasty from Hanoi....
Yeah that's right, I did some harmonica on that - wasn't that a great album? Alvin is still in touch with Andy (McCoy), they've always been good buddies with us. Alvin lives in France and he must get a bit lonely so he tends to stay in touch with a lot of the old bands and stuff ha ha ha.
Having been around for as long as you have and done so many amazing things and been on all these journeys, have you ever been approached to put it all down on paper and get an autobiography out there?
Yeah. It's funny, about ten years ago I was first asked and I said at the time, yeah give me about five years and I'll have it done and they're still waiting, ha ha. People keep threatening to put out a biography which gets me thinking I must get mine done first - I think I'm up til I was 8 so I must get on with it but this year I've been so busy what with the album and all, I'm ashamed to say I've not done anything for it. I've got it on the PC, you know 'Charlie's Autobiography' but I'll get round to it, someday I'm sure.
Do you have much memorabilia? You know, stuff like the original pressings on vinyl that type of thing?
I don't have loads of cuttings and stuff - I'm not that much of a trainspotter but I do have a fair bit. I try and get all the vinyl, I think I have most of it on CD as well but not all of it. Nicky likes to have every t-shirt but that's a task and a half.
The website is superb and for a Subs fan its awesome - those guys have put so much detail up on there, you must be proud of what you've achieved when you look at something like that.
They have, yes. It's a great site. Every time I go on there there seems to be something new and it's great - we're so lucky to have them, they're such great people they're helping me to do the house at the moment ha ha. They're friends really that's how I see them anyway, they're just wonderful people. We call them the 'Board Of Directors' and we take note of what they say, we really do value their opinion and they have had some great input - honestly, they're great.
Before I go, you sometimes see musicians getting asked out of all the songs they've written do they have a favourite? Well Charlie, do you have a favourite?
I sort of do yes, it's one we never do really. I keep meaning to put it in and with Jet in the band it would suit him and his rock 'n' roll style; it's sort of a Marc Bolan type song, it's 'Another Typical City Involved In Another Typical Daydream' - I love that one because when you write a song you don't know what's going to happen to it when you put it out there, it's sort of your baby and all that is true. And that one had the greatest adventure - it's the least selling, the least popular out of anything we've ever done. It came out and Jungle Records got it to LA and Rodney Bingenhiemer kept playing it to death and suddenly promoters turned up at a gig in Nottingham and had us, The Adicts and the Exploited invited to come over to do this 6000 capacity place I mentioned, the Olympic Auditorium, and the band had just split in '83 and I was thinking what will happen next and we'd done a charity gig and I didn't have a band and because it was a gig for children's cancer I put a band together with Steve Slack and Captain Scarlet who knew Nicky's parts and Steve Jones on drums and Jungle put it out and it went from there and it all took off - again it's funny how things happen and it was all because of that song.
Okay, I'll call it a day there Charlie and let you get on - it's been a pleasure chatting to you. Thanks for your time and sharing such great stories about such a great band. I wish you all the best for the tours and hope the album sells well and no doubt will catch you on the road somewhere.
Well thank you for taking the interest. We're having a blast at the moment and the band is really stable currently and we all seem to be enjoying it, so long may it continue because were having a lot of fun and playing so well at the moment. Thank you!
So there you have it - the one, the only Charlie Harper. I'd like to thank the guys at timeandmatter for making this happen and Charlie for taking the time to talk to Über Röck. Muchos kudos. Pop over to the website and get into some great music - you won't regret it.