Note: This article was originally published on the New Red Archives website:
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UK SUBS (3/07) Melborne, Australia
I’m in love with the UK Subs – tales from the Subs' first Australian tour.
You have to humour me with these gig reviews folks. They are the first ones I have written, and as such the first gig review for the UK Subs tour of Australia meanders between childhood, 12,000 miles of fan support from down under and 28 years of patiently waiting for a musical event that, by today’s standards, was extremely rare down under and one I feared would never happen in my life time.
My links to punk are long standing. I purchased the first punk single (New Rose) when it was released in 1977 with money I made cleaning neighbours cars as a 9 year old (50p a car back then). I lived in Croydon, the same suburb that Rat and the Captain cleaned toilets in, and where many punk bands would visit to play at the Greyhound. I also worked a ‘van hand’ Saturday job, delivering electrical equipment from a department store in Bromley, where ‘the’ contingent had hailed from. Through punk I discovered John Peels show on the BBC Radio 1, and was fortunate to receive a Phillips radio cassette recorder for Christmas from a loving Uncle who knew I was mad keen on music. For many young people at the time, shows like John’s were the only way you could discover punk as a musical genre, and the advent of the radio cassette meant I could tape copious amounts of music for free and listen to them when ever I liked. Result!
Such items were expensive back then, and most of my school mates only had small hand held tape recorders to play music on, not actual radio cassette recorders like the one I had. Using leads sourced via my wonderful Uncle, we found a way to ‘tape to tape’ music, and soon several friends were listening to the punk sounds I had taped, with all recordings coming complete with the dreaded tape hiss. The radio cassette was perfect for building ones punk music library.
Peel’s legendary show allowed me to tape several tracks from Another Kind of Blues when it was released, plus C.I.D and the first two Peel sessions. Within a month of broadcast I had purchased the album, which I played almost religiously each night, often repeating the tracks that I liked. Lady Esquire was, and still is, a favourite. Ditto Rockers and I live in a car. Then in 1981, with my formal teenage years still ahead of me, I left Croydon for Melbourne Australia, and immersed myself into a music scene far removed from England (Nick Cave, Birthday Party, Moodists, Lime Spiders, Screaming Tribesmen, Sunnyboys et al). We had good punk bands, but not many, as the scene in Melbourne was indie orientated, with a strong focus on guitar rock. It was a far cry in sound from the punk bands I was growing up with, but many bands held close links to punk via their musical influences.
Thankfully, one by one, the bands I had followed in the UK began to tour Oz, and over the next 15 years – be they original or reformed like the Pistols – I managed to see every band I had grown up with except SLF and the Subs. Although I lost interest in SLF after their third LP release, I have never lost interest in the UK Subs. Even when their material was ‘just another concert release’ (Live in Europe, Live in Paris, Gross Out USA et al) or compilation (too numerous to mention). Even when their material offered ‘so much, but delivered so little’ through poor sound production or engineering (Killing Time). Even when they toured with only Charlie as the original Sub at the helm, I was always there for them. Alas, as the years rolled by, and despite numerous media rumours and music reports, the Subs never made it down under. Nor did I have any luck seeing them when I returned to England for holidays. Once, back in 1987, I almost made it to a Subs gig, but I arrived at Heathrow to find the London gig had been cancelled, and the next Subs gig was many months away. Damn and blast!
The years rolled by, and despite the Subs constant touring schedule, Australia never seemed to figure in their plans. The Internet made it worse, for you could now see the Subs tour dates on their official website. They even made it to Japan at one stage, but never continued their travels to Australia. Early in 2006 I made an executive decision. I would tour the Subs down under. Despite having no music or tour management experience behind me, I would take out a loan and tour them. Through email and good fortune I managed to track down Charlie and Nicky, and made an approach about touring the Subs. But to my delight I found that John Bastard had beaten me to it, and it was Charlie who confirmed that UK Subs were finally touring Australia. Fan bloody-tastic I replied via email, and left it at that. Their email responses are published to confirm that I am telling the truth on this score folks:
"N Garratt" 18/06/2006 4:59 am Hi Marc, We have tried to organize a tour down under, and I would desperately like to go, but so far nothing. We would need the airfares up front - that is the trust issue. If a tour organizers can't do that it is worrying. Aside from that, I think we are quite reasonable in our needs. I'm sorry it took so long to get back to you, I've been really busy. If you want to talk more about this please feel free. Nicky Garratt.
Some time passed once this email was received, as I was traveling Europe for three months. Upon return to Oz I emailed Nicky again when I saw some dates (but no venues) advertised on the official brand website, and here’s what he said:
"N Garratt" 15/09/2006 10:07 am I'm not sure what that is about - I think Charlie might have booked it – I would love to do stuff down there. This is Charlie's email - ask him about it. Regards Nicky.
So on the advice of Nicky I emailed Charlie, and here are the two replies I received from him:
“C.Harper” 12/12/2006 8:06 am Hi Mark, sorry its taken a while, well this year we have done it ourselves, we have simply hooked up with another band, they know the circuit and have a world of connections, to distribute c.d.s and print t.shirts, but it would be good to see you and discuss any future plans, we could put you on the guest list, as most of the venues will be sold out, so let us know which show you will go to. all the best charlie harper uk.subs.
I emailed Charlie a note of thanks, and to confirm the Subs would do well on their tour, based on my local knowledge, and to indicate that I would pay my way for all gigs attended, as every dollar would help them with their tour, and here’s what the reply said:
“C.Harper” 28/12/2006 8:13 am hi Marc, many thanx for the kind offers, at least I will get you a beer! Sorry we have been so bizzy over xmas, I could only do emergency emails, well if they give us visas we will be there, the DVD of Brenem was a t.v. studio show on a very wet afternoon, I hated that day, the studio were getting upset with the punks for being '' boisterous '' they had never seen a real punk show or slamming, it was a shite day, all the best charlie uk subs.
Finally, the UK Subs were finally touring Australia with John and Dani, two Melbourne musicians from local act Bastard Squad, forming their rhythm section. The Subs were coming to Melbourne for 8 days in March, playing 5 gigs plus a radio set on PBS-FM, and I set myself the challenge of seeing all five gigs while they were in my home town, and grabbing at least one set list as a souvenir of their visit (I have always grabbed set lists of the bands I have liked, it’s a terrific way to remember what bands you’ve seen and what their set comprised).
The band’s first foray into the Australian music scene came via a live to air broadcast on fabulous independent radio station PBS-FM. PBS-FM continue to be an ardent supporter of punk and independent music, and an advocate of live broadcasts. Many overseas and local bands owe PBS-FM an enormous debt for promoting their records, and sometimes even breaking them in Melbourne. The live to air was broadcast on Kevin Lobotomi’s show on Wednesday 14th broadcast, live from the studio. The feature tracks were Crash Course, Barbies Dead, New York State Police, Party in Paris and Limo Life. Kevin also interviewed Nicky on air (a transcript of which I am trying to get for the official website). If you want top hear the gig and interview yourself, click onto the website and listen to the audio streaming version of Kev’s show - http://www.pbsfm.org.au
The Peninsula Hotel, Moorooduc, Thursday 15th March 2007
The Subs debut Australian gig was a warm up set booked for the Peninsula Hotel in Moorooduc, about 10 minutes drive from Frankston, a large suburb on the peninsula of the bay and some 40 drive by car from Melbourne central business district (CBD). Alas, it’s geographically opposite to where I live on the bay, so the gig meant killing time at work, then a 35 drive down the freeway to Moorooduc. I was solo tonight, mainly because of the gigs location, and the fact many of my mates have families that limit (or should that be inhibit?) their available time to attend gigs.
For the uninitiated, the small suburb of Moorooduc comprises a series of white wooden buildings that are now called the Peninsula Hotel, but were previously used by the local framers for apple storage. As a suburb, Moorooduc is primarily agricultural land, with the hotel being the only commercial building in the suburb, and one whose income is built around tourism to the area, and the high number of live music artists they put on each week. I arrived after what I thought was a bloody long drive – for a Melbourne gig at least - to find the car park all but empty and ghostly quite. Fearing the gig had been cancelled, I raced out to find the night air quite, but for the thumping drum and guitar sound of local support band No Idea. Result, the gig was on!
Inside I paid my $25 and entered a dark room with No Idea in full swing, performing in front of 12 or 13 punters. It seems the location of the venue was not going to bring the Subs a big crowd for the debut gig down under. Funny, the tour poster for this gig notes ‘tickets $22+ booking fee at venues or at door (if not sold out)’. Don’t think we’ll achieve that tonight. I walked past the band to the bar and immediately found Charlie sitting alone with a beer, watching No Idea. I grabbed two beers, offered him one and introduced myself. I showed Charlie the emails he sent to me, and instantly we became engrossed in conversation. All the usual things - how was the flight, when did they land (Tuesday 13th for Charlie and his wife, who was managing the merch stand), how did rehearsals go, what’s planned while in Melbourne etc etc – and he happily chatted away as if he’d known me for years. He said tonight was just a warm up gig, and they wanted to be away from the central Melbourne area to ensure the next two gigs – Arthouse and Espy - were the best they could put on for the locals. I sat chatting to Charlie for 15 minutes, and found him to be extremely approachable, informative and friendly. I asked about the set list, and he indicated it was akin to a ‘greatest hits’ set, with strong links to the first album and key songs from Brand New Age and Endangered Species, plus a new one thrown in for good measure.
He laughed when I asked about ‘She’s not there’, ‘Keep on running’ and ‘Lady Esquire’, indicating they won’t be able to play them on this tour at short notice, without rehearsal. He also said that ’She’s not there’ had rarely been played since being recorded, as he wasn’t the singer on the Subs version. Charlie then leaves to attend too other matters, while Nicky sits beside the laptop (it’s a sign of the times folks, punks with mobile phones and laptops!) tapping away, occasionally talking to a fan who wanders up to the merch stand. Here were two long standing punk music icons visiting my home town, and both of them act as if they were in relaxing their own homes. Wonderful!
I count 35 people tonight. That’s it, 35 bleeding people to witness the debut gig for one of the longest serving punk bands in history, and one of the greatest ones at that. However, in their defense, given the location of this venue, and the fact it’s Thursday night, it’s not surprising to find the audience small in size. With their central location and weekend dates, both the Arthouse and Espy will generate larger crowds for the Subs, guaranteed.
No Idea leaves the stage to be replaced by Head Inc. Not a sound I like, but I commend any group who forms a band and has a go, no matter what musical style they perform (with the natural exception of country and western, which should be outlawed under the Geneva Convention as being cruel to mankind.)
Then the Subs take the stage for a sound check, just strumming instruments and banging drum kits, and I find myself the only one watching them in the room. Am I that far gone mentally that I find mundane yet important musical tasks like guitar tuning to be of interest and fascination? I stand in front of Nicky’s mike stand, leaning against a metal roof support, and wait for the band to take the stage proper. Nicky shouts to the sound man to play the intro music, and one by one the band takes the stage. The crowd move into fill the room, and here the numbers are confirmed, 35 people, including members of No Idea and Head Inc. Paying punters number no more than half in my opinion, a mix of Mohawk punks, long haired hippy types, some metal heads and me, resplendent with unruly curly hair - aka Greg Brady from the Brady Bunch - Ramones t-shirt, black jeans and trainers.
Back in 1979, when the Subs debut LP was launched, Sound’s Gary Bushell reviewed the album and described their sound as “short, sharp, fast with great hooks, nifty, simple guitar riffs and irresistible rhythms.“ Tonight I see his words in action, on stage alive in my face. Here before my eyes are two of the four that created this epic and outstanding album, and to my delight, their set list for the gig would cover many songs from Another Kind of Blues.
When the intro music stops Charlie pipes “We’re the UK Subs with two Aussies and two English” before Nicky jumps into the air and crashes out the opening chords to C.I.D. It’s on, and the Subs are finally live in Melbourne and Australia. In quick fashion, and with both John and Dani keeping good timing, the Subs blitz through C.I.D, I live in a car, I couldn’t be you, Squat 96 (announced only as a new song and one that has two starts when Dani starts drumming the wrong intro, which I suspect was stranglehold), Emotional Blackmail and Organised Crime, which sounds strange to me. Not bad mixing mind, just strange. But the sound changes when they launch into Endangered Species, and this is by far the best sounding song of the night. Again, I don’t know why, as the whole set is trouble free and clean in sound mix. But it just sounds fantastic, and even though I wear earplugs to avoid the ear ringing that bugs me for days on end, the music is still bloody loud. Punk rock loud. You’ve gotta love that folks!
At this stage I have to admire the Subs approach to the set. Some punk bands weather and slow with age, SLF being a notable example when they play tracks for their first two albums. But not the Subs. The songs are played at the same break neck speed and pace as when they were first recorded back in 1979, and with the same passion, energy and enthusiasm as if they being played live for the first time. Nicky’s guitar style combines numerous leg splits, short star jumps and a range of carefully executed arm pumping, bent knee poses. How he’s avoided breaking his ankles over the years is beyond me, for they clearly do take a hammering when he’s playing.
Police State’s next on the list, then Left for dead, Rockers (a personal favourite), Barbie’s dead, Tomorrows girls and Warhead. During the chorus Charlie pushes the mike into a punters face, and he signs along. Then he selects another punter and he too signs along. A girl beside me is taking video footage on her mobile, and upon seeing this Charlie leans forward and sings the chorus into her phone. Nice.
Riot and Stranglehold end the set, and then its over. Nicky exists followed by the band, and they all stand on the side as the small but appreciative crowd call for more. Within a minute they are back and Nicky launches into Limo Life, followed by Party in Paris, Kicks and New York State Police. The set list in front of me (which is now mine I may add) shows Disease as the final number, but it’s not played tonight. Party in Paris is not listed either.
The band end their debut gig with a shambolic musical ending to Party in Paris, and that’s it, their gig is over, and my long standing dream of seeing the Subs has been realised and achieved. And in my home town too boot!
Its now 12:30, and I leave for the hour long drive home to Williamstown, reflecting on the gig, the experience and admiring the commitment from Charlie who, at age 62 (of the reports are right about his age, that is) continues to belt out his songs, and those of the UK Subs, with the same energy, commitment and passion as he first did in the late seventies.
He clearly shows no sign of slowing down, but alas, with age it’s inevitable that all of us will one day slow down. Charlie too. But I hope it’s not for many years to come, and I hope that the band decide to visit our shores next year, or perhaps the one after that, for another Australian tour. Like the great man said, born a rocker, die a rocker….
Footnote: jargon will be used here folks – a pot is a glass of beer; a stubby is a 375ml bottle of beer; a hotel is in fact a pub and not a place that offers accommodation, although that term does apply to such places down under.
The Arthouse, Melbourne, Friday 16th March 2007
I like the Arthouse as a live band and drinking venue. It’s a small pub with an independent and alternative theme inside, wooden floors (no bleeding sticky carpet!) and a decent layout. The stage is not great though, oblong, small in size and positioned in front of a roof support pillar and the bar. As such, those standing behind said pillar don’t enjoy full stage views, and those who stand at the entrance door see sweet FA for their money.
Friday night was warm and welcoming in Melbourne, and I arrived around 10:30pm to find the Arthouse brimming with mohawk punks, skins and long standing UK Subs fans of all shapes and sizes. Pass a female punk spewing her guts out onto the pavement, ah the joys of pubs and punk! I am meeting my mate Michael tonight, and I know he’s enthused about the reports I emailed him from yesterdays gig.
The Arthouse is located on the edge of Melbourne’s business precinct, and across the road from Victoria Market. Isolated from other clubs, café sand bars, its purple neon signs shine like a lighthouse beacon for patrons to home into en route from their cars or the trams that pass by. Melbourne is the music capital of Australia (a fact widely acknowledged by the Australian and International music fraternity, even begrudging Sydneysiders!) and the Arthouse plays a pivotal role in keeping live music accessible to new and established bands alike. The vibe inside shows the crowd in good spirits and jovial mood, with no sign of trouble, and no idiots! T-shirts run across the punk and Oi scene, mainly GBH, Exploited and the Causalities. Few Subs t-shirts, even though they are affordably priced at $20 from the merch stand.
Walk to the back where the merch stand is located to meet Charlie and his wife, introduce Michael to them and we chat merrily for 10 minutes. I exchange the t-shirt that didn’t fit the missus, purchased yesterday, and Charlie laughs when he finds out the t-shirt is for a wife that dislikes punk. Charlie is in good spirits with pale ale stubby in hand, and during conversation he states that John was an ‘aficionado’ when it came to playing bass, and that Dani was a bloody good drummer. He said previous rhythm sections had always been experienced in playing the fast, tight punk style that forms the basis of the UK Subs sound. Given John and Dani had never played with the Subs before, and that they had only had 1 gig and 2 rehearsals under their belts, he felt they were both coming along well. Well done lads! Charlie said drumming was the most difficult part of the Subs sound, and one that had always been challenging for a new recruit to fill. So well done Dani!
Mention to Michael that Charlie is aged around 62, and he laughs, quizzes me and announces that ‘if he’s still touring on stage there’s hope for all of us yet’, a reference to the fact that as 40 year olds we still have plenty of time to ditch the air guitars, learn three chords, form our own punk band, struggle financially, build a fan base, release an album, succumb to the excesses of living a rock and roll lifestyle, book into rehab and then break up over musical differences, all before we reach 50!
Five bands on the $22 bill tonight. Missed the first two, but catch the tail end of Charter 77, and then a fast and furious set by Kamikaze (I think that’s who they were), displaying an Oi meets hardcore sound that sits well with the punters. All I can see from my position is the large bearded guitarist and a prancing, stocky lead vocalist with a GBH t-shirt. During a song break he shouts out to one punter ‘why don’t you get your fucking hair cut’, which I find funny given his hair is well into its receding journey toward baldness. Ah the joys of aging! John’s band Bastard Squad was listed to play tonight, but I’ve no idea if they did.
The UK Subs take the stage as the intro music plays, but someone has put a Sex Pistols Union Jack flag as a back drop, which I thought was strange given it’s the Subs night tonight, not the pistols. Crowd size appears around the 150-170 mark, which is a great turnout for their debut Melbourne gig. Well, I hope they find it to be a great turnout. A crowd of this size at the Arthouse makes it appear full from the stage, yet there is still enough space for you to ‘own’ the area you are standing on once the band hits the stage.
Charlie appears from the crowd and the band launch into C.I.D with no introductions, and then play the next three songs without a break between them. The sound is good, despite a few PA mixing issues during the set, and the band appear to play tighter and more synchronised than yesterday. Squat 96 is only introduced as ‘a new song’ by Charlie, and goes down well with the crowd. As with yesterday’s version, Crash Course just doesn’t seem to sound right, but the song fades from mind when Endangered Species blasts out. Another great version and one the crowd reacts too with vocal accompaniment and fist punching. So far the set list is identical to that played last night, and this theme would run across the gig until its end.
Warhead is clearly the crowd’s favourite song, and 7 fans clamber on stage to take over Nicky and John’s mike for a sing-a-long. There are 9 fans on stage as the song ends, and they exit the stage when the Subs launch into Riot. This song is great live, and one the fans react too with more fist punching and stage diving. As the song plays three chaps jump onto stage and hug around the mike stand, but one stumbles back and immediately pulls the other two off the stage and into the crowd. Funny to watch, shades of Benny Hill. Stranglehold ended the proceedings, and Charlie thanks the fans for coming out tonight as he leaves the stage. The band said little to the crowd tonight, but the music said it all, and simply did the talking for the band.
I thought the cries for an encore were poor, certainly by Melbourne standards. A few die-hards chanted ‘UK Subs, UK Subs’ but the chant was not shared by the vast majority. Yet this mattered not to the Subs, who returned to the stage within minutes. Nicky thanked John and Dani for playing with them, and John reciprocated by thanking Charlie and Nicky for coming down under. Then they launched into Limo Life, Kicks, New York State Police and finally Party in Paris. “The gig ends when the string breaks” Nicky shouts as he greets and shakes Dani’s hand, and they both leave the stage. Charlie thanks the crowd for supporting them and the fans cheer. The UK Subs have blooded Melbourne with a terrific gig. We leave to enjoy the beautiful night’s air (23 degrees at 12:45) and to lament on the gig. Michael was delighted at the performance, particularly the guitar sound generated by Nicky. Around us stand 15 or so fans, many lamenting on the night’s performance, or trying to stand upright having consumed far too many beers for their fragile systems. Role on the ‘Espy’ and tomorrow nights gig…
The Esplanade Hotel, St Kilda, Melbourne Saturday 17th March 2007.
For the touring visitor, Melbourne in April has numerous perks. The weather is mighty fine, and even though it’s the first month of autumn, we still enjoy daylight savings and sunsets that don’t commence to change daylight into evening until 7:30pm. The city is alive with events, from the Australian Grand Prix to its local Moomba festival and numerous suburban music festivals covering the blues, jazz, folk, dance and rock. Many are all day events, and free to attend. All of the above, combined with its terrific culture, food and wine, make Melbourne a terrific place to be, so I hope Charlie, his wife and Nicky enjoy themselves while they are here.
The Esplanade Hotel is a beautiful white hotel that sits across the road from St Kilda beach. Built in the grand style, its future was saved from demolition by developers when they decided to retain the original building and keep it operating as a live venue and pub. Alas, developers being what they are, they built an enormous apartment high rise behind the ‘Espy’, with prices for beach front apartments valued at over $1 million per unit. But they did save the ‘Espy’, as it’s known to Melbournites, and for that we thank you. Their website also notes their commitment to the Melbourne live scene with the words: For over 100 years the Esplanade Hotel has been Melbourne's (and indeed Australia's) premier live music venue. Since the early days of string performances in the late 1800s the Espys hallowed stages have been graced by the finest performers from around Australia and the world.
The Espy has two stages, the Front Bar and Gershwin Room, and the Subs are playing in the latter. It’s an oblong room with ornate and grandiose ceilings that have clearly seen better days. The stage is 3 foot higher than the floor, ensuring you can see the band from the back of the room. Tonight the bill comprises three support bands - including Crack whore and the Twits - but I arrive late after a red wine fueled dinner with friends and enter with the intro music playing and the room awash with punks, skins and rock and roll types, mixed ages, with the ‘oldies’ again showing their age through receding hairlines and pot bellies. It’s around midnight, and the intro music segways into the now familiar ‘crashing and trashing’ sounds of C.I.D. My wife asked if they changed the set list for the gigs, and based on tonight’s performance, the answer is a resounding no. But it matters not, for they are the UK Subs.
From a vocal support and enthusiasm level, I find the crowd more vocal than the Arthouse, and the fans sing along, fist punch the air, attempt to jump on stage to sing a chorus or two, and stage dive. One bloke falls off, another funny Benny Hill moment, when the set is only 3 songs old. All the usual faves present, and played with the same energy and furious pace as the two previous gigs. Charlie seems relaxed, and I am amazed at how much energy he generates on stage for a gent who is, according to Australian statistics and consumer classifications, sitting in the ‘retired’ or ‘grey market’ category (55+), and fast approaching the ‘pensioner’ category (any consumer aged 65+). He puts many of us to shame. How many of us would still be rocking on stage aged 60+?
Still no intro for Squat 96, and I often feel the crowd think the chorus, which contains the words ‘cardboard city’, is the song title. Endangered Species is a crowd pleaser, ditto Rockers and Tomorrows Girls. Warhead generates an abundance of people on stage, and several chorus microphone exchanges with Charlie, although he never one lets the mike out of his hand when the chorus is being sung.
Riot and Stranglehold finish the set. The chants of ‘UK Subs, UK Subs, UK Subs’ and ‘moooooorrrrrreee’ are loud, and this must be encouraging for the band as they take the stage within minutes for their four song encore – Limo life, kicks, New York state police and a new song for the tour set list, Down on the farm, the only time it’s played in Melbourne.
Crowd size is around 130-140, and after the gig I catch Charlie at the bar and ask for his opinion on the night. He seems to favour the Arthouse set and venue over the ‘Espy’, but I never find out why. He also states that he’s amazed at how laid back and relaxed the Melbourne people are, and how friendly everyone has been since they arrived from London. He said that it’s such a change from the UK, European and US markets they have toured, and one he likes. We talk about the set list, and he indicates that it may change by one or two songs, but only if John and Dani can learn them in time. He doesn’t allude to what songs they have in mind, even though I ask twice. Finally, we talk about the crowd. He said that about 70 were paying punters, and the rest were friends of the support bands, plus band members. But they have made money, and may be able to pay the support bands and engineer, which he’s well pleased about. A few chaps walk up for photographs, and at this point I bid him goodnight and leave the ‘Espy’ around 1:45am bloated on beer and wine, mentally satisfied and physically buggered. I’m starting to feel old and tired. I used to party hard in my 20’s, but now I am ready for nothing more than my bed! A sure sign of old age!! Three gigs down, two to go. Roll on the Noise Bar tomorrow night…
The Noise Bar, Fitzroy, Sunday March 18th 2007.
Today is Grand Prix day down under, where Melbourne becomes a show case city for the world’s petrol heads and sporting elite. Beautiful day for Nicky and Charlie to enjoy (they were having a BBQ at John’s place).
The Noise Bar is actually the Railway Hotel in Brunswick, Victoria. Brunswick is a working class suburb with strong ethnic ties, and an area that has long been home to local live pub venues. Alas, they too are becoming an endangered species, and several notable pubs from the nineties have changed into theme bars, or stopped promoting live bands all together, around the Brunswick area. The hotel is tucked away next to the railway station, just off Sydney Road (and contrary to most road names, if you follow Sydney Road for 900 kilometers you’ll actually end up in Sydney!)
Arrive around 9:45pm for what I understand to be a taping for Noise TV’s website - www.noisetv.tv - a local music concern that broadcasts gigs via the net. I had been assured this gig would be a full gig, and not just a few songs being taped, and if this proves correct, I wonder if the Subs will release it on DVD?
A Sunday gig is rare for me. Usually at this time I am stuck on the couch with a bottle of red, having consumed a home made, al a carte dinner and watching a documentary or film. But I’m off work tomorrow, and fired up for yet another set with the Subs. My late arrival finds Piss Christ finishing their set, so I can’t provide any commentary on what they were like. Pay $16 and enter to meet Charlie and his wife by the merch stand. Sit down with a beer and chat for 15 minutes. Charlie talks about last nights gig. He doesn’t give me the impression he was happy with the crowd, compared to that encountered at the Arthouse, but maybe that’s just my reaction to our conversation. He praised Crack whore, who he said were ‘bloody good for a local band’. He also expressed concerns about the flat grill plate gas BBQ John used to cook their BBQ earlier today. He said people in England used coal fired BBQ’s, and that in his opinion they provide great flavour to the meat and fish.
At which point Head Inc take the stage and play to an almost empty room. Maybe 10 punters max. Nothing wrong with their set mind, but I still don’t like their music. A few cheers and hand claps when they finish, but nothing more. 25 minutes pass while Dani sets up his drum kit, and John and Nicky test their guitars through the amps used by Head Inc. Charlie sits for a while chatting to some punter who comes over and starts asking me question about the band, at which point I point to Charlie and he takes over. The chap then asks Charlie what is a quite innocent question, but one that clearly demonstrates for all his knowledge on punk and the Subs, he clearly knows sweet FA in my opinion. The punter asks Charlie ‘are you in the band?’ Are you in the 4ucking band? What planet you from son? This IS the man. This IS Charlie Harper, lead singer of punk legends and punk stalwarts the UK Subs. He IS the man. But as you can appreciate, being a decent bloke and all, I smiled and bit my tongue. He then makes my day by asking me if I was in the band. Do you know how hard it was for me not to tell a porky here folks? I wanted to lie and say yes, I am a UK Sub, but honesty prevails and I smile, proclaiming myself to be nothing more than a local Melbourne fan. Then Charlie pipes in and says ‘you’re not just a fan, you wanted to bring us out’ and I smile, slightly embarrassed. That was truly my 15 seconds of fame.
Charlie leaves to prepare, and within 15 minutes the intro music starts and the small yet homely Noise Bar room starts to fill. I estimate there are 40-50 punters, and the room’s layout is compact enough for this number to appear to fill the venue. I’ve not been here before, but already I like the place as a live venue. I stand in front of Nicky, to the side where there is a doorway arch and half a door to lean against.
The Subs start with C.I.D, introduced by Charlie, and then launch into the same set list as the three previous gigs. A group if 8 or 9 punks madly jump around in front of Charlie, and generally try to injure themselves as best they can. Bodies jump, sway, fall, jump, bump, fall, swig beer, jump, fall, swig beer, sway and fall. The Noise TV team of 2 cameramen stands either side of the small stage and record the gig with hand held cameras. A lone female photographer stands beside me and snaps away at the band and jumping punks. Some of them catch on what she’s doing, and pose for photos while the bands in full flight. Funny!
A few things happened during the gig. Nicky loses mike and guitar sound for his monitor 5 songs into the set, and I’ve no idea whether it returns or not, despite him pointing same out to the sound man; Charlie plays a 20-30 second blues inspired harmonica solo while Nicky tunes his guitar, and just before they launch into I couldn’t be you; the punks grab Nicky’s mike and sing a long to Rockers, all under the watchful eye of the sole bouncer, a large olive skinned chap whose sheer size casts shadows over myself. He singles out a mohawked punk with a walking stick and tugs frequently at his jacket sleeve, indicating that he wants him out. The punk doesn’t confront the bouncer, instead shaking his head in refusal, ignoring the bounders glare and focusing on Charlie as the band plays. Several tugs later and one of the punks whisper’s something into the ear of the bouncer, and shortly after he quietly leaves. No trouble, and all this happens while Warhead is performed. Charlie pushes the mike into the punk crowd, and they sing, and sing loud, until the song ends. Interestingly, during Warhead the band stop playing while Charlie sang a verse of the song solo. I haven’t seen that approach before.
The sound for Tomorrows girls is muffled, which is a shame, as it’s the only mixing sound hitch I can detect all night. Riot goes down well, ditto Stranglehold, before the band finish their set. At this point Charlie holds his empty pot up high, thanks the audience for coming to the gig and leaves the stage, heading direct for the bar and a refill. He returns with two pots and hands one to Dani as Nicky launches into Limo life. Interesting, the set list I have (Nicky’s) has Down on the farm as the first encore song, but it’s not premiered tonight. Instead we get Limo life, New York State Police, Party in Paris before Nicky announces ‘this is our last one, Kicks’. The punks go wild, and even a game female joins in the pushing and shoving mealy in front of stage. The band finish, the appreciative crowd cheer – applause is rare for the Subs at the gigs I have attended, which is rare in itself, as Melbourne crowds are usually loud and appreciative with their chants, cheers and hand claps.
Charlie returns to the merch stand and I join him for another chat. Then he’s targeted by the punks who were dancing (nee trying to injure themselves) and he happily poses for photographs, and chats away merrily. Before I leave I meet John Bastard, and he indicates that the Subs tour down under took 5-6 months of planning, with him working for up to 8 hours a day setting up the tour while holding down an early morning, full time job. Last week he was working mornings, then organising the tour in the afternoon and rehearsing or playing with the Subs in the afternoon and evening, then back to early starts for work the next day. He’s probably been doing 16-18 hour shifts for the past four days as the Subs arrived Tuesday. That’s dedication for you, and typical of the Australian commitment and determination to bring bands like the Subs down under. Well done mate! Respect John, Respect.
Tomorrow is a day off for the Subs. I ask Charlie what was planned, and he said him and his wife were going fishing, while Nicky may be heading for a skeptics meeting, well, according to Charlie that is. Charlie ends the evening posing for photos and chatting to the crowd, the consummate punk rock star and musician. He’s popular tonight, holding an audience with 5 or 6 at the same time. At 12:50am I depart, saying by goodbyes and leaving on a high. Monday is a day off, no gigs, and a chance to finish this gig review and give my ears a rest!
National Hotel, Geelong (near Melbourne), Tuesday 20th March 2007.
Horrors, it’s finally here, the last UK Subs gig for Melbourne. It’s gone so damned fast. Now, before I continue, here’s a quick geography lesson for you all. Melbourne is the capital of Victoria, which is a state of Australia. Geelong is Victoria’s largest regional city and the second largest city after Melbourne. Geelong sits on the bay (as does Melbourne) and is located around 50 minutes drive from the Arthouse, a central point in Melbourne’s city business district. People from Geelong like to promote themselves as Geelong people, and this makes them rather tribal in this regard. Make sense?
Fortunately, the freeway to Geelong is just five minutes from my home by car, and at 100km per hour the National Hotel is reached within 35 minutes. Geelong has a small yet healthy live scene, and usually rates a mention on most band schedules when they tour. Unless it’s the major bands, in which case they are ignored! Shame really, because Geelong is really appreciative and supportive of live bands, be they local, national or international. Tonight’s gig offers 2 supports and is priced $16. I can’t recall the first band name, although I met one of their members after the gig and he was extremely passionate about punk for a ‘young fella’ (18-22 max).
Upon arrival I make for the merch stand and find Charlie and his wife. Our welcomes are now familiar ones, which is really nice from my perspective. Sin City are the second support act tonight, and Charlie applauds them at the end of each song. With a tasty guitar playing female lead singer, the crowd shows their appreciation after every song for Sin City. Difficult to physically count each punter here tonight, but I would say 60 to 70. The room the Subs play is a compact, V shaped roofed room that is perfect for live music, and punk rock in particular. I’ve not been here before, but it’s a terrific place already. Gotta love Geelong!
Charlie says that he is so impressed by Sin City that he’s purchased their EP single. During the break I finally pluck up the courage to introduce myself to Nicky. Not that it’s a daunting task mind, it’s just that I am embarrassed to be a fan. But Nicky is a terrific chap, and one I learn is almost the opposite of what you expect a punk rocker rock star to be. For example, he doesn’t smoke, rarely drinks and is not keen on crowds. Yet he’s extremely sociable when approached, and it was a delight to meet and chat with him. We talk about New Red Archives, the tour, how it’s like to ‘blood’ two new members and his initial impressions of Melbourne. Then he leaves to take the stage for the gig.
So what of the gig? Charlie is the last to take the stage and thanks the various bands who have played with the Subs on their tour, all for free, to ensure the tour eventuated. By now the crowd has swelled to around 70 as he shouts ‘CID’ and the band launch into the crashing song intro. I live in a car, Squat 86 and Emotional Blackmail follow, although from where I am standing I cannot hear Charlie’s vocals clearly. Organised Crime is next, with about 12 punters up front jumping around, but I still cannot make out Charlie’s vocals. Some fans have heavy metal t-shirts, others true punk shirts.
Next up is Kicks, Endangered species, Barbies dead and Left for dead. During this song Nicky’s guitar goes out of tune, and he changes mid pace to a loaned black SG as the band play on, but the sound when he strums is terrible. Although Nicky quickly corrects the sound, it’s not done in time to save this fine song. Dani segways into Rockers with some nice introduction drumming, closely followed by Police state. Some over enthusiastic punk next to me leans forward to sing into Nicky’s mike, knocking me in the process, so I push him sideways to ensure my view is not affected.
Tomorrow girls enjoys a strong punk chorus from the crowd, as does Warhead. Mid way through this song Nicky stops playing when he’s hit by his make stand, that’s fallen over when pushed by the crowd. The band lose some momentum, but then Charlie continues to sing his chorus solo, along with a vocal and energetic crowd, and the song ends with loud cheers and applause. These Geelong folk really know how to punk rock! Riot and Stranglehold close the set, and I notice the light show is now down to 3 lights, all red. It’s almost dark on stage as the Subs close their set. Charlie raises his pot and thanks the crowd for coming out on a Tuesday night to support the band, and leaves only to find Nicky launching into Limo Life. Quickly returning the band play Limo life, New York state police, crash course and Disease, premiered for the first time eon the tour. Disease is listed on the Peninsula Hotel set list, but was replaced by Party in Paris. Then the band leaves, with Charlie again thanking the appreciative audience and holding his pot up in the air. The audience chants UK Subs, UK Subs as he leaves. Wonderful stuff.
After the gig Nicky chats with the support band Sin City, while Charlie poses for photographs, answers fan questions and signs autographs by the merch stand. Trade appears decent today. Then the bouncer wants to clear the room of fans, and when he approaches me Charlie says 'He's okay mate, he's with the band" and that's it, I am part of the UK Subs team, if only for one gig. Nice. With the doors locked and music turned off we can all hear each other talk for a change. During conversation Charlie indicates the next album is in progress, and has a working title (which I have forgotten). The front cover will show the UK Subs tattoo that sits on Lars Fredersken's neck. He also said that, subject to time, he'll start making notes for a UK Subs biography. But that's only when time allows mind. I forgot to ask what musicians will appear on the album, or when its due for release. Both questions will have to wait for a later date.
John and I agree to catch up for an post tour interview once he's back in Melbourne, and then I leave, wishing Nicky, Charlie and Yuki a pleasant trip up the east coast to NSW and Queensland. En route home I reflect on the tour that was so long in the waiting and too quick to pass by. The UK Subs Melbourne leg is over. I've seen 5 dates in 6 days and achieved the musical dream of seeing the Subs in Australia. I can't recall how many kilometers I have traveled, but I would put it around 270. Time now to reflect on the gigs and the experience, to finish these reviews and get them circulated, and dig out my UK Subs CD collection and give them a good flogging!
As the great man continues to say each and every gig, born a rocker, die a rocker. Long live the UK Subs.
Marc Brekau, Melbourne Australia.