The Time & Matter interview series...
(U.K. Subs drummer 2005 to present)
(U.K. Subs drummer 2005 to present)
"The U.K. Subs taught me to act like a professional... and my whole attitude towards life has changed. I feel like I'm a better person for knowing them."
Interview by Mark Chadderton
Whilst Jamie was on the recent extensive January to March European tour *, we decided to interview him over a few e-mails about his life and his time before and with the Subs. Hopefully, this little chat with the Subs sticksman should act as a great introductory piece before Jamie starts his Time & Matter podcasts.
*Check out Jamie's 'Life On The Road' pictures at the end of this interview...
- We kicked off by asking Jamie some background questions about his upbringing.
I was born on June 22nd 1984 and basically grew up in and around the midlands, although we did move around a fair bit at one point. I never really had a lot growing up, my family were always poor and still are to this day really - I was never spoiled - put it that way. I have a pretty tight knit family because we've been through a lot - my step-dad was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, and a bunch of other things have happened - but we've always been happy with what we've got and just tried to get on with our lives, which I think is the best position to take.
Well, let’s just say that I attended a bunch of shitty schools around the country. Eventually we settled in Nuneaton, which is just outside of Coventry, where I went to school at a place called Middlemarch. I ended up getting expelled from there, and so moved to Swinnerton.
From there I ended up at a school called Etone which is where I actually started learning the drums, which would have been in 1999.
- So how did that come about and how did you progress with learning the drums?
Well, eventually I was known around Nuneaton as being the kid who took drumsticks everywhere, literally everywhere! I used to practice my rudiments at bus stops, walking along, anywhere really. But yeah it was in school that my two closest friends decided they were going to put a band together, but they needed a drummer.
So I said I'd ask my dad to show me some stuff and then I'd be their drummer. So that's what we did. I begged my parents for a drum kit, and eventually they bought me this really shitty old kit from the 1960s, which they bought from Cash Converters for about £120. In hindsight it was really really shit, but at the time I loved it.
- So the band got going and you made good progress?
Well yeah, we used my bedroom as a rehearsal room, until I learned to hit the snare drum properly, but then we had trouble with the neighbours. So my dad showed me some stuff, but not a lot as he's not very good!
- But you were obviously hooked and becoming obsessed with playing?
For sure! I even remember when my Grandma was dying and my family was pissed off with me for drumming on her deathbed, though she didn't seem to mind!
Then came the time for me to go to college and I was going to do media studies, and I went to enrol with my forms and the fees and stuff, but I heard someone having drum lessons and decided to do music instead, my dad wasn't impressed! But he did chill after the first 10 minutes or so. My dad, as I previously intimated is a drummer too.
- So drumming runs in the family, any other drummers you’re related to?
Well funny you should ask as my brother is called Jack and his band is called Stage Rage, it’s really cute! It's amazing, he's only 12! But he's actually picking it up real quick. He managed to figure out on his own how to mic up the drums, connect them to his laptop, record his drum part to a song he wrote, and then record the guitars over the top. Well impressive.
- Definitely, maybe a future Sub! How far did your early band experiences go then?
We booked a few shows around Nuneaton, we really sucked, big time! But after a while we started to get it together and we actually supported the U.K. Subs in Coventry at the Jailhouse, in 2004.
- So you were gaining live experience, and always working on your technique - were there any other bands that you were with?
Once I started to play better, more and more bands started asking me to play for them, so I just joined everyone, funk bands, metal bands, punk bands, indie, reggae, d n b, north Warwickshire Jazz orchestra, everything. I was a member of 10 bands at one point, and I was at Backbeat rehearsal rooms in Coventry every day.
- Really getting a name for yourself then?
Yeah, and so the guy who owned Backbeat rehearsal rooms in Coventry asked if I wanted to work there, and he'd pay me and give me a discount on my share of rehearsals.
- And how did that work out for you?
Well I started working there, but the owner eventually decided to move away to New Zealand with his wife and kids, and sold the rehearsal rooms to a mate of his, Diesel. Diesel kept me on there and his band, dragSTER, needed a drummer, so I joined them, which was my first semi-professional band.
- Were you still drumming for all those other bands or did you have to knock that on the head?
Pretty much, yeah, as I quit most of the other bands I was working with and concentrated on dragSTER mainly.
- How did it go with your first "semi-professional band” then?
Apparently Nicky liked the way I played and got Charlie to get me in the band. My first Subs tour was in the UK, with Nicky and Alvin in the band, and we played at the Rebellion festival, which was a highlight. My actual first show with the Subs was in May 2005, but for the first year I played with them in the UK and just a few shows in Europe.
That first Rebellion Festival I played with the Subs is where I first met Lars Frederiksen. He mentioned that he was going to be working on a record with a whole bunch of people from all different punk bands, and he'd like me to do a track on it. Obviously I agreed to do it, but thought nothing of it at the time, as I didn't think it was going to happen.
- And has it?
Well sure enough, I got a call from him saying where to be and when. I took my drums to the studio the day before I was due in there, and showed up early to get them set up on the day. And just as I was finishing getting them set up Lars came in and was talking to Steve Whale about a track, which I had no idea about. So the day was there for me to learn the song and get the drums down, however, I was in the drum room and they were in the engineering room. I don't think they realised the mic was on and I had a set of headphones set up in the drum room, so I put them on and I could hear everything they were saying, and he was running through the song and I was learning it. Then once I thought I had it, I went into the engineering room and said hello and stuff. And he sat down and showed me the guitar chords, which he didn't know I already knew. So when it came to actually recording the drum parts, I got it down pretty much first time.
So then he asked if I wanted to do another track, and in the end I recorded about 6 songs or something as opposed to the one I was supposed to do.
It’s really an interesting project, each song features a different vocalist, and there’s Charlie, Becki Bondage, Steve Ignorant, Tim Armstrong, Roy Pierce, Roger Miret and a bunch of other people. The project is called The Masons.
- Have you appeared on any other records aside from the Subs and the Masons?
Loads, but not many that I’d consider to be of any note really. I recorded with dragSTER, and I also recently played with Anti-Product on their latest album 'Please take your cash', which just came out. Then I did the new Chemical Kaos album, which is actually still being recorded, so keep an eye out for that. I also played with a metal band called Toy Town Cash for a while, we did some recording too.
- So before we concentrate on the Subs, how about letting us know your musical loves?
- And the biggest influence on you?
Mike Bordin was the guy who really made me want to play well, I remember seeing the Faith No More video for Epic (see below) for the first time and I was just like oh my god, that’s what I want to do.
- OK. Let us take you back to Spring 2005, you were fresh out of your teenage years, what were you like when you started out with the Subs and how long do you feel it was before you felt settled within the band?
I had no problem at all settling in. The guys are great people and playing with them has been an education. When I first started I was a 20-year-old punk kid with not many prospects for a career. I was relatively inexperienced as a drummer and I guess I felt like I had something to prove.
- So it was, in effect, a pretty big life changing moment in retrospect?
Yeah, looking back I can say that playing with the U.K. Subs has snapped me out of that kind of mentality and taught me to act like a professional.
- Which is something that maybe everyone would not necessarily associate with being in a punk band?
Not only that but they've also inspired me to do other things; right now I'm writing my own material. I'm intending on putting a band together with myself on guitar.
- So plenty of irons in the fire aside from the previously mentioned Masons project, and being in the Subs has obviously given you some real added confidence?
Definitely. Over the years I've been writing my own material and I now want to start putting my own project together, but finding a suitable drummer is a challenge. I'm starting to play with Texas Terri, doing some stuff with Brijitte West, and at the minute I'm also helping out Short Bus Window Lickers. So I've got a lot on right now. But going back to the Subs I would also point out that I've been introduced to the skeptics movement, and my whole attitude towards life has changed. I feel like I'm a better person for knowing them.
- Let us know about the mechanics of being in the Subs? Is playing with a changing line up challenging, does it keep you on your toes, and what are the differences between, say, playing with Jet/Nicky and Alvin/Paul?
I wouldn't say it's particularly challenging because at the end of the day my drum parts are my drum parts, and I play them regardless of the line-up. I really enjoy playing with Nicky, his timing is excellent and he has a very impressive stage presence, for which he is well known. Alvin adds a very smooth kind of class to the band, which I like. We always joke about him being a smoothie; a chateau in the south of France, butler, cravat, smoking jacket and all that! Jet is much more of a rock n' roll guitarist than Nicky, leaning towards psychobilly style, which in some ways I don't think is really the Subs, but it works. Paul is quite a smooth bass player too, very cool, calm and collected. He's a very tight player, we lock in well, and we don't even have to look at each other. So I'm happy with both line-ups really, no worries.
- There are a lot of Subs fans who crave more recorded product from the band, so would you like to spend more time in the studio or are you like Charlie and prefer touring?
I love being in the studio, but I love the excitement of playing live too. To me it doesn't really matter too much except for the fact that after being in the studio you have something to look back on and you also have the opportunity to reflect and learn from what you've done. We've actually just started writing new material for the next U.K. Subs album, which will feature the classic line-up. But generally I'm just having fun playing drums.
- That is certainly something that shines out via your energy from the back of the stage, the enjoyment you are getting from it all, which is something that is great to see and certainly adds to the dynamic of the band. So what's your favourite Subs track and why?
'Lie Down and Die’ because it has a crazy ending, a great guitar sound and the chorus is really catchy. It's a fun song to play and to do backing vocals on. So I think that's my favourite song all round.
- Do you find any of the Subs songs difficult?
Not really. Sometimes if I'm tired or hungover my arms get sore and I get a bit out of breath. There's a part in Endangered Species which is a bit difficult, especially to sing over the top of. But that's my own fault for changing the drum part!
- Playing with the Subs now for nearly 5 years, you’ve gained plenty of experience of travelling to all parts of the globe and gaining knowledge of different ways of life, what's your favourite country to tour and why?
Japan probably, mainly because the culture there is such a departure from our own in England. The people are very friendly, clean and tidy and have a lot of respect for the people around them, which is a quality that I like a lot. In England there's a tendency for people to be much more ignorant and not give a crap about their own country, and usually they're the ones who are the first to complain that the place is a shithole, it's annoying.
- And outside of music, do you have many other interests?
I'm a total dork really! I love watching wildlife shows and documentaries, I'm also an advocate for science and education, I'm a skeptic and atheist too, so telling people exactly why they are full of shit has become a bit of a hobby for me of late! I love basketball, although I haven't really played for years, or at least not competitively anyway. I'm a lifetime Liverpool FC fan, and I'm getting into table tennis as well. I love climbing too. So yeah, quite a bit.
- A rich and varied list I’d say, certainly not dorkish! Penultimate question then, tell us your stand out moment of being with the Subs so far?
Probably doing the U.S tour with the Misfits and the Adicts. I had a great time on that tour and got to know some really cool people, including John from the Misfits. We were travelling all over America for two months, playing in a different town or city everyday, in all kinds of venues. It was really unpredictable, one night we played in Baltimore in front of about 2000 people, the next we were playing in a basement in a little squat in Philly to about 50 people, if that. It was very exciting.
- Which sums up the Subs in many ways, no matter where you play or to how many, you give it your all and guarantee a great show. So, final question then - I’m sure all the Subs-nuts that are reading this would love to hear two or three funny stories about anyone in the band, including yourself?
OK. One gig I will always remember is when we played an illegal festival in Zurich on May Day a couple of years ago. All the marches were going on and everything. And as we were setting up to play, in the distance we could see an army of riot police marching towards us, armed with guns and shields and batons and stuff. So we started thinking ‘oh fuck’, there's no way we’re going to get to play without it all kicking off!
Anyway, the riot police formed a huge semi circle around the area. So the promoter went up to the guy who looked like he was in charge and asked “Are you going to stop the U.K. Subs from playing?” The guy turned around and said, “No, we've come to watch them!” So we had a riot squad as our personal security that day. But of course, after we’d finished, they went mental with tear gas and rubber bullets flying everywhere.
There was another time before I was in the band, the guys were telling me about it and it sounds really funny. It was when Paul was in the band the first time around, so I wasn't even a tadpole in my dad's ballsack at that point. Anyway, whilst on stage one night Nicky ran up the wall and did a backflip with his guitar on, and Paul was so impressed he thought he'd give it a try. Only the part of the wall that he tried to run up was hollow, so his foot went straight through it and he was stuck there with his leg through the wall. I'd have paid to see that! I'm sure someone must have it on film somewhere...
Then the second time we toured with the Misfits, we were somewhere in Europe and Nicky said to Alvin “Well it's nice to see that they've brought that guy John with them again. We looked at each other and said to him, "John? Who's John?” So Nicky replied “That guy John, the roadie... the guy who soundchecks Jerry's bass for him everyday”. So again we looked puzzled and Alvin bellowed, “What the fuck are you talking about? Who's John?” We know all of the Misfits roadies and there wasn't a guy called John among them.
So anyway, Nicky said “I'll show you, he's the guy who is soundchecking Jerry's bass for him”. So we all walked into the main hall where the Misfits were doing their soundcheck, and there's this guy playing Jerry's bass, and Nicky said, “There! Playing Jerry's bass”. Alvin immediately burst out with, “That's Jerry you twat!””
So it turns out that Nicky had been calling him John when he didn't have his make up and outfit on, and Jerry when he did, thinking it was two different people. And bare in mind we'd done two months with them on the previous tour and it was the same then. He still hasn't lived that one down.
- Shame there isn't more time for you to spill more beans! Anything to finally add then Jamie?
Well, thanks a lot for your ongoing support, we really appreciate it. Anything to add? Hmmm... Just keep an eye out for the next album, we've started working on it already.
So there we have it. The website’s first interview with a band member and what a top geezer Jamie is. Nothing was too much trouble and he was actively supportive of all we are trying to do at T&M.
In Alex Ogg’s history of the U.K. Subs, in his excellent No More Heroes - a complete history of UK Punkfrom 1976 to 1980 book, published in 2006, Ogg made the sarcastic observation that the U.K. Subs drumstool was “the most temporary of temporary jobs in punk history."
Whilst thinking of what to write by way of an introduction to Jamie’s chat with the website, it occurred to me that Jamie has actually been with the band longer than any other drummer has ever lasted.
Quite an achievement already in light of the above comment we'd say!
In fact – considering that Nicky Garratt has so far lasted the longest with Charlie in the ever changing Subs line up - when Garratt was a first team player from October 1977 to March 1983 – just short of five and a half years - then you only have to see that Mr Harper certainly thinks a lot of Mr Oliver in that, as Jamie joined in May 2005, he will become the longest serving permanent Sub of all time (bar Charlie of course!) in November 2010 !
- Below: Jamie Oliver's pictures from various Subs excursions around the globe!
Click to enlarge...
- Interview conducted February to March 2010