The Time & Matter interview series...
Ex-Subs drummer interviewed by newest member of the T&M team.
Pete Davies - Tours, tales and titbits from behind the drum kit
"Writing about music is like dancing about architecture!"
An interview by Marc Brekau
The UK Subs are perennial punk rock survivors. For the past 35 years they have survived and prospered through the generosity and support of diehard fans; the ‘never say die’ attitude and good health of their charismatic lead singer; their relentless commitment to touring and recording; the wave of nostalgia that surrounds bands from the first and second wave of punk; the musical contribution from a staggering 70 plus band members and support from a plethora of road, tour, media and band management individuals.
Today, the UK Subs can boast a band membership that few bands could surpass. At the last count (April 2012), the list includes 21 guitarists, 17 bass players and 32 drummers (oh, and 4 other singers if you include Paul Slack, who sung on ‘She’s Not There’, and Bri and Pete who sung on tracks from ‘Normal Service Resumed’ and ‘Occupied’, and then there’s Alvin Gibbs on 1982s Endangered Species cut ‘Living Dead’ as well as on 2011s ‘Work In Progress’ track ‘Guru’. But I’m not certain that counts, and if it does, don’t tell Charlie!) Excluding ad hoc vocal contributions, and Charlie aside, that’s a staggering 71 musicians in 35 years, at an average turnover of 2 musicians per year.
If you were to rank members in terms of tenure, Charlie would obviously hold the No.1 spot, and I suspect Nicky would claim second place. But thereafter, who would rank third? Well my money would be on Pete Davies, an obliging drummer who has played with the UK Subs on four separate occasions, including two long term stints. The first was during the band’s most successful period, between 1978 and 1980, and the second in the early nineties, when the burgeoning American punk rock movement breathed new life into a largely underground British punk scene.
Yet little has been written about Pete and his involvement with the band, or his contribution to the music scene in general. So in this exclusive Time and Matter interview, I asked Pete to set the record straight by sharing his experiences, from life on the road with the UK Subs, to the reasons behind his departure after the ‘Brand New Age’ tour. Along the way, Pete also reflects upon his decision to re-join the band in 1991 (you can never leave – Pete), and what life has been like away from the music scene, as both a music teacher and devoted family man.
Born in Coventry, Pete lived in that unassuming West Midlands city when it boasted few musical roots of note (although Coventry would later gain international recognition as the birthplace of the Two-Tone movement, and home of ‘The Specials’). Pete’s father was an engineer, but like many teenagers of the time, he never responded well to school. Despite a flagging interest in education, and an opportunity to leave school aged 15, Pete persevered and completed his CSEs (what we now call Year 11.) After school he secured an apprenticeship with the prestigious Rolls Royce firm, working at the Bristol engine division, where they manufactured jet engines for aircraft, including the world famous Concorde. Rolls Royce offered him a job in the tool room, as a universal miller, and then jig grinder, and it’s around this time that his musical aspirations were founded.
“Although I held little interest in education, I was good at geometry, and I think this helped me during my apprenticeship” he said. Members of a local band, The Vendors, also worked in the same shop, and this association would eventually lead to Pete playing with the band, which he described as a “local ‘twang’ group”. But they were not his first band.
Previously, Pete had formed ‘The Adam Davies Set’ with a friend of his called Bazz Adams, and this band performed around the local club scene around 1971. Alas, they failed to progress beyond live gigs. Then came his second band ‘The Vendors’, after which he formed ‘The Wild Boys’ with another local musician and friend, Roddy Byers. By now it was 1974, and they formed after seeing the first British tour by stateside rockers ‘The New York Dolls’, and Pete recalls the decision.
“We formed one Sunday lunch time, when Roddy and I met at our local pub. I think it was the Tally Ho in Coventry. We had been talking about the possibility of playing together, and there must have been some sort of jam session at this place. With the help of Steve Wheate - a drummer - on bass guitar, we played Lou Reed’s ‘Sweet Jane’. Within a week or so Roddy had enlisted a guitarist named Jet, who couldn't really play, but looked cool, and a bass player whose name I can’t recall. The ‘Wild Boys’ were born, and we even had a roadie with us, a chap called Steve who was later known as Roadent.”
“We played some Stooges stuff, and I seem to remember a Roxy Music tune and something by Chuck Berry. Jet left and moved to Brighton soon after, so we continued to play as a three piece. Our bass player wore a white suit, and would often roll around on the floor during ‘I Wanna Be Your Dog.’ Visually, the band donned short spikey hair and drainpipe jeans, while Roddy sported a quiff. Musically, and in addition to covers, the band played early Radiation originals, like ‘1980's Teddy Boy’.
Pete said the band “continued after I left for London in 1976, and survived after Roddy left as well.” While Pete moved south, Roddy remained in Coventry and joined ‘The Coventry Automatics’, who were a precursor to ‘The Specials’. Around this time he also changed his name to Roddy Radiation.
“Well I guess there were many different reasons for moving to London around this time. Some of my work mates had been in the same factory since they were 14, and other people had worked there all their life, right up until they retired at 65. To me this was scary, and I knew that type of life wasn’t for me. I also had itchy feet musically, as in addition to playing locally, a workmate of mine had told me about making it big in the music industry. He had played bass for ‘Lieutenant Pigeon’, and they had a No 1 hit single in 1972 with the song ‘Mouldy Old Dough’. Lieutenant Pigeon’ had appeared on ‘Top of the Pops’ that year to promote the song, and it became the second biggest selling single of that year in Britain come the year’s end. I don’t think he ever made it big, but the point was that success, as a musician, was attainable. I figured if he could make it to No 1, as a part-timer, then I must be able make a living from music as a drummer. That was when I made the decision to go to London.”
It proved a sound decision, as Rolls Royce closed their Parkside factory in the late eighties, signalling the end of the so called ‘factory job for life’ concept in the Coventry area.
“Around this time Christine, my then girlfriend, also wanted to move on. We were both living in our parents’ houses, and I was now 23, so the timing (1976) and location (London) felt right. I remember I told Roddy about the move. I said that I thought we could make it in London, and that if he and I moved south and reformed ‘The Wild Boys’, we could do okay simply by playing the live circuit. Unfortunately, he had just got fixed up with his wife Angie, and wouldn’t leave Coventry. So I left the band, job and parents’ house and moved down to London. I remember the date clearly, it was June 11th 1976.”
“In London I was staying with friends, mainly around Tooting, while Christine and I looked for a place to live. We used to visit Flanagan’s Red Lion pub, just down the road in Colliers Wood. Bands used to play regularly down there, and one of the first I saw was called ‘Bandana’. Charlie Harper was the bass player in ‘Bandana’, and I got to know him rather well from that first gig. At the time I never imagined I would end up playing with him when he formed his new band, the UK Subs.”
Around this time, Pete was contacted by guitarist Stewart Knight to form a band. Pete had previously met Stewart via an advert in the ‘Melody Maker’ music paper, when he was living in Coventry. The advert failed to mention any band name, but sought an ‘Ed Marimba Approximation drummer' to form a new band venture (with Ed Marimba being one of Pete’s favourite drummers). Pete replied, and alongside Stewart and fellow guitarist Paul Crawford, the band ‘Shorty Fruits’ was born. They played original material with the odd cover thrown in for good measure. Interestingly, Ed Marimba was the stage name for US percussionist / drummer Arthur Dyre Trip III, a former chiropractor who returned to his profession after playing with Frank Zappa’s Mothers of Invention band, and Captain Beefheart (apparently it was Don Van Vliet, or Captain Beefheart, who christened him with the ‘Ed Marimba’ moniker). Of this band Pete said “I had nothing to lose by auditioning for new bands. I found Stewart to be a wonderful guitarist and guitar teacher, and in addition to ‘Shorty Fruits’ he also got me to teach drums at CLYP in Covent Garden. However, soon after joining I found the band was going nowhere fast, so I answered another advert in ‘Melody Maker’. It said ‘The Untouchables’ were looking for a drummer. The audition look place in what is now the ‘Pineapple Dance Studio’, and I was really nervous and didn’t play well. The guy who played after me had watched me struggle, and I knew he would get the job. And their lead singer was quite good, her name was Chrissie Hynde.”
By now Pete and Christine had settled upon Southfields, near Wandsworth to live (“and I remained there for the next 10 years.”) After the ‘Untouchables’ audition, Pete’s next musical venture was alongside musician Jeff Westly in a band called ‘Marabou’ (pictured left). They entered the band into a national talent contest called the ‘US Sound Spectacular’, where they won the London heat. Held at the ‘Marquee Club’, their prize was a cheque for £100, presented by legendary rock promoter Harvey Goldsmith. From there, ‘Marabou’ won the regional final, this time held at the ‘Rainbow Theatre’. The final was held at Wembley Arena, and although the band played well, they failed to win the main prize.
“By now it was late 1976, possibly around November, when another mate of mine, Kenny (later of ‘Dick Envy’) called, saying he wanted to audition for a band at the ‘British Queen’, a pub in South Wimbledon. For some reason, and I can’t recall exactly, I took Kenny to the audition in my transit van, which still had my drums in the back. Upon arrival I found the audition was for a new band being formed by Charlie Harper. By now I had got to know Charlie quite well, but I found that he couldn’t start the audition because his drummer had failed to show up. I still had my drum kit in the van, so I offered to play the audition alongside Charlie and a bass player called Greg Brown, who was also Charlie's flat mate at the time. Interestingly, their actual bass player couldn’t make the audition either! His name was Steve Slack. Anyway, we played loads of songs, mainly Charlie's favourite Chuck Berry / Rolling Stones numbers, which was to be the musical focus for his new project. It was great fun, and turned into a kind of gig cum party. Although Kenny played well, it became clear to everyone there that the black clad, punk looking guy would be the one to get the gig. His name was Richard Anderson, and on that day ‘The Marauders’ were born.”
“Even though Charlie had a drummer for his new outfit, to this very day I have always maintained that had Steve Slack played bass that night I would have joined ‘The Marauders’ there and then. Even though I didn't know Steve, or how good his playing was at the time. Musically it was a busy time for me, as I had the ‘Marabou’ thing going, and was still playing in ‘Shorty Fruits’ with Stewart. But there’s always room for another band adventure when you are a musician.”
‘The Marauders’ were Charlie’s fourth or fifth attempt to form an R&B combo, and the night Pete jammed with them was one such occasion. From R&B, Charlie soon moved his musical attention toward punk, after being inspired by bands like ‘The Damned’ and the crowd energy he witnessed at clubs like the ‘The Roxy’. With a new musical direction in place, Charlie changed the name of his band from ‘The Marauders’ to ‘The Subversives’, then the ‘Subs’ (1976) and finally the ‘United Kingdom Subversives’, or ‘UK Subs’ for short (1977). You can read about the bands formation in Alex Ogg’s excellent band biography, or via Nicky Garratt’s in-depth band history on the New Red Archives website.
Pete continued to explore new band opportunities, and was soon presented with the chance to audition for rising punk stars ‘The Clash’. At the time, the band was looking to replace Terry Chimes, and during the audition Pete played for an hour and a half with Mick Jones, Joe Strummer and Paul Simonon. Despite playing well, Pete didn’t get the gig, and he put this down to the fact he donned a ponytail, a visual look at odds with the band’s spiky punk hairstyles! During the audition Pete would also meet another aspiring rock star, and he recalls that meeting.
“Sid Vicious was also at the audition. During a break I took him to a nearby cafe (we were in Chalk Farm at the time) with their roadie Roadent, who I knew from my days in the ‘Wild Boys’. It was here that Bernie Rhodes told me I hadn’t got the job with ‘The Clash’, and suggested I team up with Sid instead. I saw Sid a few more times after that but, of course, we never did play together.”
Soon after the audition for ‘The Clash’, Pete would end his association with both ‘Marabou’ and ‘Shorty Fruits’.
Then Pete’s association with the now burgeoning punk rock scene took a new direction, when he was offered the drummer’s stool within ‘Dick Envy’. Based in London, ‘Dick Envy’ was fronted by American singer (and former ‘Search & Destroy’ fanzine editor) Vermilion Sands. At the request of then boyfriend Rat Scabies (from ‘The Damned’), Vermilion had come to London to see the punk scene for herself. She landed a job at Step Forward / Illegal Records (who released the first ‘Police’ Single, ‘Fall Out’, when they were a four piece band), primarily to promote the fledgling label and the bands they had signed. Reports from the time suggest her PR stunts were quite wild, including going topless whenever the opportunity allowed. Another report found her urinating in a sink, completely naked, while being photographed by the local press.
Pete first approached the band after seeing them perform at the Stiff / Chiswick Challenge gig in Kensington.
“My mate Kenny was playing guitar for them at the time, but their girl drummer was not really up to it. So after the gig I offered to help them out. This was in September 1977. Soon after my girlfriend Christine left me, and I started dating another musician called Kelly Johnson. She was a guitarist in a band called Girlschool, alongside my mate Kim”.
Girlschool were an all-girl band from the emerging New Wave of British Heavy Metal movement, and had released a single on City Records. At the insistence of Pete, the next single they released was the UK Subs’ debut, ‘C.I.D.’
“Dick Envy toured with ‘The Adverts’, and frequently played London’s Vortex Club, often jamming with people like Steve Strange of ‘Visage’ / Blitz nightclub fame. We also gigged with the ‘UK Subs’ quite a lot, as they, like ‘Dick Envy’, were frequent performers on the pub circuit. Around February 1978 we recorded ‘Angry Young Women’, ‘Nymphomania’ and ‘Wild Boys’, all on the same day, for our debut single. It was my idea to have 3 tracks on the 7” single (see the scans of the front and back covers right), and this theme continued through to the Subs. And yes, it’s true. Vermilion wore nothing beneath her leather jacket when she performed. But her breasts were not exposed, unless she raised her arms during performance, which she did quite often, and nearly always facing me!At the time, her boyfriend was a really nice bloke called Goat, and he was a well-respected member of the local Hells Angels. It’s his bike she's posing with on the single sleeve we photographed.”
Nicky Garratt also recalled the band in his ‘Early Years’ NRA website biography, “Dick Envy had opened for us at the ‘Mitre’ and a couple of sold out one-off gigs back at the Castle. Vermilion, who preferred to play topless, baring her breasts through an open leather biker jacket, wailed through their ‘Ramones’ influenced set with songs like Nymphomaniac and Angry Young Women. Later these songs were captured on 7” vinyl, released under the name ‘Vermilion’, way after Dick Envy broke up.” Pete challenges this date, stating the single was released around the same time he joined the ‘UK Subs’.
In London, the punk scene had originally formed around a close knit community of musicians and fans. As the scene grew, so did the number of bands and fans associated with it. From its London centric birth in 1976, the punk scene quickly expanded into new territory. New bands were formed, and the fans started to support the scene through promotion in the media (notably fanzines). The music scene also diversified from its original punk roots, as musicians were inspired to create or resurrect new sounds (new wave, ska, mod, Oi! et al). Many of these bands would enjoy a level of camaraderie and support that bands from the ‘first wave’ had failed to achieve, and I asked Pete why this was so prevalent within the second wave of punk.
“Well it was a key feature of the period, and especially within the punk scene I was associated with. The bands always helped each other out, for example, if ‘Dick Envy’ got a gig we would offer the support slots to our friends in other bands, and vice versa. This enabled new venues to be passed quickly around, which in turn expanded the rather limited number of venues that allowed punk bands to play. They included the Mitre, The White Lion Putney, Pegasus and RochesterCastle, and we had support from bands like ‘Raped’, ‘Crass’ and ‘Menace’.”
In addition to drumming with ‘Dick Envy’, Pete’s association with Charlie had become both personal and professional, and he recalls one particular gig where the two bands shared the same bill.
“We supported the ‘UK Subs’ at the Castle Tooting. We played first, and during our set the police arrived and stopped the gig, saying we were too loud. Considering our little amps and tiny PA, I don’t really know how we managed to play so loud. But we did, the police stopped the gig and the Subs didn't play. Then we played an all day gig in Reading, and I payed particular attention to the ‘UK Subs’ set. They had just lost their drummer, Rory Lyons (which was a shame), and Paul had just started to play bass for them. At the gig their fill-in drummer was OK, but he didn't help Paul out much. So I thought, well I don't know what exactly, but I did think that I could do a better job by drumming for them.”
Pete’s opportunity to impress came via a gig at the Rochester Castle, when the ‘UK Subs’ drummer failed to turn up for the sound check. As Pete recalls, “Dick Envy were support, and Charlie asked if I could set up my drum kit and do the sound check with them. I agreed, and we played ‘C.I.D’, and everyone knew something special had just happened. Vermilion was a bit funny for the rest of the night, and after the gig Charlie’s then girlfriend, Paula, went home with me. I think she made an extra effort to ensure I joined the Subs. It was Paula who took me to the Railway Hotel (also called the Moonlight), without telling me that I was being set-up to play drums as a stand in for their missing drummer. After that, they asked me to join the band.”
Pete made his live debut on the 15th May 1978 at the Railway Hotel, London. Nicky Garratt recalls his first impressions of their new drummer. “Pete Davies was a small, cool looking guy, from Coventry, with a James Dean hair cut. While not an energetic drummer, he was solid. We asked him if he could manage another set (at the Moonlight), to fill in for our drum less drummer, and he agreed. He already knew our songs from opening for us, and although a little rough around the edges, it was clear he was the most solid drummer we’d had to date. This was important for me as I was now spending as much time diving into the audience, or trashing the equipment about, as playing. After the show we asked him to join, and after a couple of day’s consideration he said yes. This marked the start of the first stable, and in many ways, most successful line-up of the band. We now had the weapons to elevate to a new level.”
“Unfortunately, Fritz, the lovely bass player from ‘Dick Envy’, died soon after I left to join the Subs” Pete reveals, a sad note to an otherwise fruitful year for the new Subs drummer. So what did Pete think about his new band mates?
“Well I found Paul to be a really nice, intelligent and talented bloke. Charlie I knew from ‘The Marauders’ and I had met Nick a few times before joining the band. I had also got to know their original line-up, Steve Slack, Richard Anderson and Rob Milne, who I had met sometime when playing for ‘Marabou’. He told me he had also auditioned for ‘The Clash’.”
Shortly after joining, Pete was involved in the first of three John Peel sessions, recorded on 23 May 1978. Such was Peel’s enthusiasm for the band that he offered to finance their debut single. Pete also played on the next two sessions, on 6/9/1978 and 17/6/1979. It was the Roxy album that first gave the band an introduction to John Peel. As Pete recalls, “I remember one evening I was at home, listening to the John Peel show, as usual. This was about February or March 78, and to my surprise John played a track from the Roxy album. He loved it, saying so on air, and promised to play another track before the end of the show, which he did. The next morning I popped down to Tooting to see Charlie in his shop, and I told him about what John played. Unfortunately, he hadn’t heard the show, so he knew nothing about it. I then suggested he call the BBC to see if he could speak to John, or his producer John Walters, to thank them and, at the same time, offer to record them a session. Charlie did, and they accepted, so that’s how we ended up recording a session for John Peel.”
Pete also recalls an issue with the first session they recorded for John.
“The first session was held at the BBCs Maida Vale studios, and we recorded ‘C.I.D’ first. Having checked the sound and everything we were asked to perform the first song, and the intro of ‘C.I.D.’ has us playing loud. After we finished the track, we went back to the control room, and the engineer told us that one their 4 tannoy monitor speakers had blown once we started the intro. Whoops! They still only had 3 working when we returned to record the next session for John.”
After the Peel session, the band embarked on their first national tour in support of the ‘Farewell to the Roxy’ album, and Pete recalls a different version of events that ended the tour (as originally noted in Nicky’s tour diaries).
“Well one morning, we thought fuck this youth hostel based tour, which was really silly. Nick’s girlfriend had credit cards, so we hired a car and I drove getaway. The (Roxy) tour hadn't finished by then, we simply ran away. I think it was on that journey, back to London, that we heard ourselves on the radio for the first time. BBC DJ Alan Freeman (whose nickname was ‘Fluff’ and was born in the author’s home town of Melbourne) played ‘Tomorrows Girls’ - I think it was that track - from the John Peel session which we had recorded, but at the time had yet to be aired. His producer was Dave Robinson (I think that was his name), who was also producer for the John Peel session.”
It was also John Peel who recommended Spaceward Studios, in Cambridge, as a potential studio to the band, and on July 11th 1978 the band booked time to record their debut single, ‘C.I.D’, backed by ‘Live In A Car’ and ‘B.1.C.’ The single was released on City Records, under a one-off single deal, in 7 different coloured versions. Soon after the band started to generate significant media and fan attention, but it would take almost nine months of hard work and frustration before they secured a record deal. That was with GEM, and once signed they were able to book further studio time to record their debut album.
The group were interviewed by Garry Bushell for ‘Sounds’ newspaper in August that year (see scan to the right), and in the interview Pete said “I don’t consider us to be a punk band, because punk, when it started, was young kids who didn’t really know how to play. We’ve all been playing for years, apart from Paul, the bassist, who started from scratch. He learnt the bass in about one week before they played Eric’s.” But a punk band they were, certainly to the fans and journalists who followed them at the time. After all, it was easier for both parties to label the ‘UK Subs’ a punk band, over any other musical genre of the time.
Pete also recalled another incident when recording for John Peel, this time involving Paul’s sister, Joanne. “At the time, Joanne was my girlfriend, and she turned up to a recording session for John Peel with her dog, a Shih Tzu. Unfortunately the BBC had a ‘no dogs allowed’ policy for their studios, so she stuffed the dog into her handbag and sneaked it in without the Beeb knowing.”
BELOW 4 PICTURES (click to enlarge):
1) Dave Fullbrook in Pete's back garden circa 1979 2) Dave again
3) Greg Price in 1979 4) 'RC2' and 'RC1' 27th December 1979
Aside from recording and touring, Pete also performed another key role for the band, that of van driver. “Yes, I did most of the driving, and at the very beginning I was the only driver in the band. We had used a bloke called ‘Old John’, a defrocked vicar who had this old van with a wood burning stove inside. He usually had a young male friend along to help him out, and he took us to quite a few early gigs in and around London. After ‘Old John’ we asked one of my then flat mates, Greg Price, to help us out. He was from Coventry, and was quickly joined by Dave Fullbrook. We called them RC1 and RC2 (the band acronym for roadie c*nt).”
The Peel Sessions allowed the band to demo several songs that would appear on their debut album, which after the first session, was recorded around 14 months later. And it’s here that the ‘UK Subs’ embarked on a journey to name each album after a letter of the alphabet, commencing with A and running through to W (at the time of writing). Interestingly, it was Pete who first came up with the idea. “Yes, it was my idea to name the albums alphabetically. This was something I had first suggested to the band ‘This Heat’, who I had been friendly with a little earlier. But when I joined the Subs, it seemed logical for them to progress the idea. It’s funny now, looking back after all those years, but I had no idea the band would actually get close to naming their albums after all the letters in the alphabet.”
“Well on some of the tours things got a bit out of hand. I remember one tour when I was woken by a policeman, knocking at my hotel room, in Barry, South Wales. He said we were being chucked out, because some of us had been ambushing people on the stairs with fire extinguishers!”
“On another tour, we were booked into a nice hotel, I can’t remember where exactly, but I do remember the owners had left their daughter in charge. It was her first time as manager, and we’d been put into an annex with our PA crew, Dave, Chutch and Al, from Supermusic, our fabulous PA company. At some point we were relaxing in their room, when I saw RC1 push a small wardrobe into RC2. It was quite a gentle push, and no one expected the wardrobe to collapse quite as it did. It literally collapsed. Then, within minutes, all the furniture in the room was broken. Of course we made a hasty exit and headed back to our rooms. The next morning, upon waking, we found the PA crew had left, leaving us behind to face the music. We were in trouble, and had to agree to immediately pay for the damages, or the manager would call the police to arrest us. Poor girl, her first day in charge and we did that to her.”
Another recollection from Pete was published in Tony Hill’s book ‘The Palace and the Punks’ which details the music scene of the Grey Topper club in Jacksdale, Nottinghamshire (while researching this article I found the following tourist biography for Jacksdale: ‘Local amenities include a Post Office, supermarket, licensed newsagents, chemist, two hair salons, estate agency and lettings agency, decorating supplies, hardware and motor parts outlet, betting shop, garage, Butchers, Newsagent, Library, Miner's Welfare, tea rooms, schools, Internet Cafe, Chinese restaurant, 'Community Centre', chip shop, Dentist, Doctors surgery, Garden centre, Sign maker, and a flower shop.’ Sounds like the perfect place to live!)
“One thing I remember is the gobbing. At the ‘Grey Topper’ it was extreme, there was so much (gob) on the guitars that I remember Paul taking his hand off the neck and a ribbon of gob from his hand still attached to the bass, and stalactites (gobicles) hanging from the beam above the stage. My old Slingerland drum kit still bears the scars. After the gig, I remember sitting quietly in the van waiting to leave, when there was a knock on the window beside me. On opening it a roadie [RC2] handed me bottles of Creme de Menthe and whiskey, saying 'quick Pete, stash these.' Then everyone piled into the van with suspicious clunking from bags, before we made a hasty exit. Party on!”
“Then there was a gig at Eric’s, in Liverpool, where Paul had his bass guitar stolen. Paul had arranged to get the first of a new colour fender jazz guitar, in grey starburst, but it had to be collected from their warehouse in Edmonton, North London. So I took him down to collect it. The roads were just beginning to freeze as we left South London on the way. Eventually we got to the Fender warehouse, and Paul collected his fantastic new bass. We then had to drive back to Brixton, in South London, for a gig. By now the roads were really bad, with lots of ice, and it was snowing. We arrived very late, but we played the show and then loaded up for the next gig, the following day, in Aberdeen. It was a manic time, but most of the time that was the reality of life on the road. Nothing was ever normal, even though the things we did, travel to a gig, setup, play, meet fans, pack up and travel onto the next gig, or back to home, were normal for a band.”
ABOVE / BELOW: Previously unpublished photos of Paul Slack, above in the Subs' 'rehearsal studio' at the Wandsworth 'Rose and Crown'.
3 below from the USA/Canada tour, December 1979 - click images to enlarge
One fact that all members agree on is the ‘hand to mouth’ existence they endured in the early days. Most gigs payed little, if anything, and in the 1970s the sale of merchandise was largely unheard off within the punk scene (fan clubs aside). While bands today can earn good money from the sale of t-shirts, stickers and CDs, back in 1978, many bands, including the Subs, survived from whatever money they could make from their gigs, or money they made from day time jobs.
As Pete recalls “the early days were pretty much hand to mouth, and we all worked outside of the band to earn money, mainly to survive. Charlie had his hairdressers, Paul worked for a local picture framing business, Nick had a range of jobs, and I remember him doing Kango hammering all day, at some stage. Although the gigs paid us something, in most cases (financially), it was actually very little. Some weeks you’d cover your expenses, other weeks you’d be pulling from your own pocket to get the band around. Nick and I also spent many days going around the music business agents, managers and publishers, trying to get some help to move us forward. We had steadily built a strong and loyal live following, then we did the John Peel session, and then ‘C.I.D.’ was released in the shops, and from there things got better. But in the early days, we just managed ourselves as best we could. As for merchandise, things like stickers and t-shirts, well if we did anything; it was only available through the fan club.”
“Eventually Mike Philips (pictured left and right in the USA in 1979), a guy from a music shop in Tooting, told us that a management company called Ramkup was looking for another band to manage. At the time they managed a rock band called Samson (featuring Paul Samson and soon to be global metal icon, Bruce Dickinson), so we agreed. It was Ramkup who got the band the GEM Records deal, and set us up with an agent and publisher. From then on we paid ourselves a wage of £70 a week, with a regular amount for RC1 & RC2 (I can’t remember exactly how much mind), and double earnings for the band when we were on tour.”
As a musician, Pete’s background is similar to Charlie and Nicky’s, in that he had played with other bands prior to joining the burgeoning music scene. Did you ever consider yourself to be a punk, or were you simply a musician playing punk rock music?
“I dunno really, as I had been more of a hairy hippie in the early 70s, but I began to move towards a more punky image as the years progressed. I was always worried by the 'punk tag' mind, as the style created by the Kings Road crowd was great, quite menacing and groovy, but it wasn't for me. So I did my own thing, I think, to fit in, and wearing coloured hair was good fun. I always had coloured hair in the Subs, there was pink, orange, red and purple.”
ABOVE: Pete and girlfriend of the time Joanne Slack. Click images to enlarge
Four previously unpublished pictures, taken in Pete's bedroom (above) and in his flat (below)
in the summer of 1979.
BELOW: Pete and Joanne. Hole in the roof at same flat!
“The other thing was the sound of the early music. I was surprised when I first heard punk, as it was played by a heavy rock band with a great and original singer. That was the ‘Sex Pistols’. At the time I felt real punk rock music was ‘The Ramones’, ‘Wire’ and like bands that were really having a go, without attracting the hype, or without trying to become rock stars. Although I would later join this scene, music wise I would have preferred to play jazzy music. I'm good at playing that, but have always wanted to try other styles of music as well, to see if they fit with the way I play, and to expand my drumming vocabulary. So did I think I was playing punk rock with the ‘UK Subs’? I dunno, but it was a robust sound and style, and I thought there was quite a bit of parody in the band’s songs. But I played what I thought it needed, call it what you like. Remember – to quote Frank Zappa – “writing about music is like dancing about architecture”.
A key feature of the band was their total commitment to playing live. Touring was pivotal to building the fan base, and band brand, across the UK, and earning money to sustain them financially. The band travelled the length and breadth of the country to perform, and were frequent visitors to Western European countries like Holland, Germany and France. Touring separated the ‘UK Subs’ from their peers, and often they would perform more gigs in one month than most bands would play in six.
“On two occasions the ‘UK Subs’ were the last band to play a venue, just before it was bulldozed. The first was in Cheltenham, in 1978. During our show the audience just took the place apart, there were holes through the walls, the windows were gone and at the end of the gig, most of the furniture was outside. In fact, I think most of the gig was outside by this stage. Only the stage PA and power supply were left alone. The other one was at The Mayflower Ballroom in Hulme, Manchester. While we were playing, water, from the destroyed toilets, came pouring onto the dance floor. Very nice, and good fun for the punks in attendance.”
“Another gig was the Carshalton Festival, and it was a really crazy performance. I remember watching Charlie, Nick and Paul spinning, crashing into things, and one another, jumping and running all over the stage, and using the scaffolding around the stage to launch off and spin around. I thought, wow, we are really good live. And we were, not just as musicians, but as entertainers.”
“I remember the North American tour we did in 1979, when we travelled to Canada from New York in the vehicle given to us by our agent, Ian Copeland (the brother of Stewart and Miles), when we got stopped by a cop. He asked us where the number plate was on our van, as it didn't have one, and no one had noticed when the van was delivered. We said we were English and didn’t know anything about the US road laws, and after some discussion he let us go. We went to Canada and back into the US across the RainbowBridge, and this time we were stopped by the border police, who searched the van but said nothing about the missing licence plates. The song ‘New York State Police’ was inspired by that incident.”
Pictured left: Tour bus in Toronto, Canada, 28/12/1979
Click image to enlarge
Pete recalls that some gigs could also be dangerous. “We once played a gig in a trendy club in Leicester. At the end I was outside with some local punks, who were having trouble with the club’s trendies. The police arrived and closed the doors, which locked me out and locked the rest of the band, and our gear, inside. The police then helped the trendies beat up the punks. Meanwhile, the band got out somehow, and we went back to the hotel, leaving the gear at the venue. The next morning we went back and found our van, which we also had had to abandon the night before, damaged. I think it showed that punk, and the bands and people associated with punk, were not welcome in backward places like Leicester. Well, certainly not at that time.”
Crowd trouble, small venues and disinterested towns folk were not the only challenges the band faced back then, for there were also challenges of the mechanical kind. Pete elaborates, “In April (1980) we were travelling to another gig from Grangemouth (Scotland) in 2 rented cars, and I was driving the rather ropey Ford with Charlie and Paul, heading toward Aylesbury to play at the Friars. I’d been keeping my foot down pretty much all the way, due to the distance, and the need to get there early for the sound check, set-up etc. Then suddenly the engine cut out, which was scary as we were doing 80mph at the time. Luck was on our side though, as Keele Services was up ahead, and the car rolled in until it stopped, rather conveniently, next to a phone box. From there I called a cab, but it took a great while for him to arrive. We all loaded up and were off again, but at a much slower pace this time. We got to the venue very late, and I walked straight into Greg (RC1) upon entering and he was far from happy. Some press person wanted to interview Charlie, but his face was a picture when I said ‘don’t worry about that, just pay the cabbie the £36 we owe’, then he had to call the rental company. It was all in a good day’s work for RC1!”
Pictured right: RC1 & RC2 17th August 1979
Although there was a hand to mouth existence when touring, occasionally the band would experience the trappings of their new found success as Pete recalls, “Once we were recording for ‘Top of the Pops’ (see below YouTube footage), on a Wednesday in May (1980), and straight after the show we were taken by taxi to Heathrow, where we boarded a small private plane to Exeter. I remember Chutch, one of our road crew was with us, and the pilot was unhappy with him taking photographs as he was using his flash, especially as we came into land. The plane also had a mini bar on board, which came in quite handy. The gig was at Routes Club, and the show was just great. I remember Paul tried to do a back flip off the wall, at the rear of the stage. Unfortunately his foot went straight through the wall and he was left hanging there by his foot, still playing bass of course, until the roadies rescued him.”
“I played on the single 'Barmy London Army’, although ‘Talk Is Cheap’, on the b-side, was the better of the two tracks, with Steve Slack and James Stevenson (of ‘Chelsea’ and ‘Generation X’) on guitar. The single was recorded at RMS studios, down Croydon way, and we recorded two tracks in one day. The second track, ‘Talk Is Cheap’, is a favourite of mine. After we recorded the track I thought it needed a coda, so I got the engineer to play it back and drop us in (as they say), and we stuck on the piece at the end. Steve Slack came up with the goods as always during that recording.”
“Speaking of 1980,” Pete (pictured left in 1980) adds, “I recall another incident while on tour. This time we were entering Belgium, and we had Charlie’s old girlfriend Paula (RIP) along for the ride, mainly for old time’s sake. We got stopped at Customs and were searched, but she had a chillum and a syringe in her handbag. I’ve no idea how we managed to explain our way out of that situation.”
Did the GEM association provide any other benefits to you as a musician?
“Not really. We received a regular wage, but I know it wasn’t enough to afford me a car. Not that I needed one mind. During that time I was living with Jo, and she was on the band’s payroll, so with two wages I guess we got by. After the Subs, Ramkup kept me on the payroll for a while, which helped me get some by then much needed wheels. So in some regards there was a benefit, but it wasn’t significant.”
What are your recollections of recording with the band?
“Well I found it pretty simple, but this may also be down to the approach we took when recording. It can be very easy, or quite complicated, especially on tape recordings. Some things that took time to put down, back in 1978, are now done in seconds on a computer recording. I remember when recording ‘Another Kind Of Blues’, Paul and I went to the pub while Nick was overdubbing, adding crash chords and so on. When we returned we were quite cheerful, as you might say, and wanted to lay down some more tracks, so we flew through ‘B.1.C’, a particular favourite of mine, and then ‘Disease’. Recording that album was great fun, and the producer John McCoy was just great.”
“Another recording trick we later used came from Charlie. He told us to play over the headphones. He would give us a chord to start, and let me know the pace he wanted, and off we’d go. Then he would call for chord changes, say C (or whatever), now change, now middle 8 and so on. Through this process we would know the structure he wanted, and we’d play on until we heard him say ‘OK you can stop now’, and then we’d somehow contrive the ending. And that was that, backing track done.”
To support the release of ‘Brand New Age’, the band hit the road for a tour of the same name, covering 21 dates across the UK, and Pete recalls one humorous incident from the tour.
“After one particular show, I don’t remember where, we were heading back to our hotel, which was located in the next town. I recall it was very late, and everyone was asleep in the van. Dave (RC2) was driving and I was riding shotgun. The road had just narrowed, from a dual carriageway into a two lane main road, when after half a mile or so we drifted into the right hand lane. A car was coming toward us, so I grabbed the wheel and pulled us back to the left side, just as the oncoming car came shooting passed us, flashing its lights and blowing its horn. RC2 thought we were still on the dual carriageway. It had been another long day, and it’s another incident that bands have to deal with when they are travelling the length and breadth of the UK to perform. Sometimes I do wonder how we managed to survive the madness of travelling.”
The tour ended on May 31st at Manchester’s Russell Club, and the show before this, at the Rainbow, was recorded and released as ‘Crash Course’. During the tour, inter-band tensions had begun to surface. One report quoted Charlie as saying that ‘Paul and Pete had become a little star-struck with the group’s new found popularity, and that band tensions had simmered for a while, before reaching a crescendo after an altercation on a Dutch TV show taping (recorded before the final gig of the Brand New Age tour).’
In his band biography (on the New Red Archives website), Nicky recalls the events that led to the split. ‘During a meeting with management, after the tour, Charlie and I were preparing to announce that we were going to continue with a new rhythm section, but Paul Slack beat us to it by quitting. I think the pressure within the band was quite high at that time.Pete and Paul seemed to be unhappy and, as I recall, complained quite a lot. We were doing an awful lot of shows. Charlie and I felt the Subs were our baby, I suppose. We were working on stuff all the time and a natural crack formed between us.’
When interviewed by this author, Paul Slack challenged this view by providing light on his decision to leave the band. “At the time, most punk bands never held the view that they would last beyond a gig, or a month, or a year, or a single, or an album. It was quite a simple philosophy. The Subs seemed to outlast that philosophy. We did a single, then another. We did an album, then another. We did a tour, then another. Then radio, TV, and then more of the same. It’s strange to say this today, but as I said before, the idea of longevity seemed a direct opposite to what we stood for at the time.”
“Sure, there were other pressures to deal with at the time. As a band we were not getting along well. But it wasn’t that bad that we couldn’t deal with the issues at the time. Ultimately, all these factors influence you in some way or another. But for me, it really was a simple musical decision. I felt we (the band) had to move on, but the band felt otherwise. At the back of my mind, I felt we had reached our full potential at the time. Unless we changed (musically), I could not see us progressing beyond the sound we had developed.”
“I wanted us to move into another musical area. But in a band, you are only one opinion, and there were definitely musical differences in this regard. I wasn’t really the principle songwriter in the band. Nicky and Charlie seemed better at taking care of the writing side. I think they had written all their best songs in the first few years, and their musical direction (after ‘Crash Course’) was different to the one I wanted to take. Plus I wanted to do something different musically anyway, so the decision to leave was easy to make” he said.
“The last recording that Paul and I appeared on was 'Left For Dead' and the very wonderful 'New York State Police', both b-sides on the ‘Teenage’ single. But the issues I experienced in the band began when ‘Brand New Age’ was recorded. Nick had been asked to produce it, and from then on I found my relationship with him just deteriorated.”
“After it was finished, I was certain there had to be a change in musical direction, especially to prolong the band’s life (something Paul also believed at the time). But I was not sure if it was really possible. From the last recordings we made, I thought 'Left For Dead' was rather average, but 'New York State Police' was great, it’s one of my favourites, so you can see I was still into playing Nick’s music, despite the tensions that were evident.”
“Nick and I had worked closely to move the band on from a managerial sense and, of course, with Paul we all worked very well together to get the music right. We really were a tight outfit live, and each member contributed toward the band’s success of the time. We had become a great team, but after a while it was no longer. I think the whole thing had changed for us, in that we finished what we started. After the last recordings, I really didn’t want to continue playing with Nick in the band, and it all came to a head at the end of the tour.”
“You also mentioned the Dutch TV thing. All I remember is that the gig was enjoyable, and although there were some tensions in the band at the time, I don’t recall a fight or bust-up occurring at that gig. Having said this, I do recall something occurring when we played Brighton’s Top Rank. I think this must have been the final straw, because the band split after that gig.”
The split gained some coverage in the music press, while a personal note to fan club members announced the departure of Pete and Paul in the newsletter for July 1980. It said ‘the UK Subs, Pete, Paul, Charlie & Nick, are no longer! Due to musical incompatibility, Paul & Pete have left. The band wanted to progress, but they all had their own ideas on how to do it. Hence the split.’ For Pete, the newsletter said he was ‘having a couple of week’s rest, before thinking about working again.’ Soon after the split, Charlie and Nicky recruited a new rhythm section, with Steve Roberts joining from Yorkshire band ‘Cyanide’, and Alvin Gibbs joining from ‘The Users’. This line-up made its debut on July 21st at London’s 100 Club, with support from The Line and Paul’s new band, ‘The Allies’.
As a musician, Pete, alongside Paul, formed an effective rhythm section at a time when the band’s popularity was sustained through their cohesive musical stability. Commencing with his debut performance, Pete’s contribution and legacy remains significant: 3 John Peel sessions; 3 albums, all charting in the British Top 30 (‘Another Kind of Blues’ 1979 / No. 21, ‘Brand New Age’ 1980 / No.18, ‘Crash Course’ 1980 / No. 8); 6 singles, with 5 achieving a Top 40 chart position (‘Stranglehold’ - 1979 / No. 26, ‘Tomorrow's Girls’ - 1979 / No. 28, ‘She's Not There’ EP - 1979 / No. 36, ‘Warhead’ (see right) - 1980 / No. 30 and ‘Teenage’ - 1980 / No. 32); approx. 229 gigs across the UK, Western Europe and North America; appearances on TV (including the BBC flagship ‘Top of the Pops’), in movies (‘Punk Can Take It’), and the music press (with a front page appearance in Sounds being a notable example). Although the band survive and prosper to this day, and touring aside, they have never emulated the success they enjoyed during this period.
Speaking of the documentary, Pete remembers the filming of ‘Punk Can Take It’, and the band’s decision not to play Glastonbury.
“That film was made at a variety of locations, including one memorable gig at the Trinity College May Ball. Prior to the gig we’d been on ‘Top of the Pops’, and had been invited to play the Glastonbury Festival. They offered us £50, not a great deal given our success at the time, but we decided to do it anyway. Upon arrival we were shown to a boxing ring stage, where we were to play, but there was no PA set up. We assumed they were taking the piss out of punk rock bands in general, via us, so Charlie got right into the spirit of Glastonbury by taking some magic mushrooms. Then a couple of septuagenarian hippies strolled past us, all naked, and upon seeing them Nick said he 'didn’t want to play to this bunch of hippies ', so we agreed to leave without playing.”
“Upon leaving the site we were stopped by the police. Someone quickly gave Charlie a can of beer, just in case they were suspicious of Charlie’s incessant giggling. The police were very pleased to meet us, they really were. We told them about why we had left without playing, and gave them some stickers. They generally got on OK with us. We had Paul Slattery on board, so he took some snaps just as another car passed and stopped. Out climbs Julian Temple with a microphone that looked like a Pekinese dog on a stick, and the cameraman, both of whom ran back up the road to catch this moment on film. But the cops simply jumped in their cars and took off, with ‘UK Subs’ stickers on the back of their windows!”
The film was an early project for Julian Temple, whose career has mainly focussed on music documentaries, or films with a key musical connection (with ‘Oil City Confidential’, ‘The Filth and the Fury’ and ‘Joe Strummer - The future is Unwritten’ among them). Unfortunately, Julian’s Wikipedia biography fails to mention ‘Punk Can Take It’, a glaring omission given this film, alongside ‘The Great Rock ‘N’ Roll Swindle’, were pivotal releases from his early film career.
Pete’s father kept a scrapbook of his time with the UK Subs. Were your parents proud of your musical achievements, and did they encourage you to pursue your musical ambitions?
ABOVE: Left to right - Pete stood next to his Dad, with Steve Slack to his Dad's left. Nuneaton 12th May 1980 - click image to enlarge
“My parents have always been happy to see me do what I want to do in life. They probably didn’t understand some of the decisions I made, but I know the scrapbook was his idea. I took my Dad to see us play at the 77 Club in Nuneaton, when Steve Slack was standing in for Paul, during his illness. He spent most of the gig at the mixing desk listening to us through headphones. I think he enjoyed himself.”
“I didn't play in that band, as ‘The Allies’ were Steve Slack on guitar, Paul on bass and Steve Jones on drums (Steve was also a stand-in drummer in an early incarnation of the ‘UK Subs’ - see picture left). I saw them perform, quite often, as I was living with Paul and Steve’s sister, Joanne, at the time. She was more commonly known as ‘Sindy Yob’, and ran the ‘UK Subs’ fan club. Sindy was also the cover girl on the ‘Tomorrows Girls’ single.” (see below right sheet music with single cover and above right Pete & Yob pic - click to enlarge)
“From the Subs, the first person I played with was Roy Harper (no relation to Chas).” Roy Harper was a seasoned folk / rock musician, and highly regarded by his peers, who included ‘Led Zeppelin’ and ‘Pink Floyd’, among others. Interestingly, prior to Pete’s association, Roy courted controversy with a song on his 1977 LP ‘Bullinamingvase’, when the owners of a Watford Gap service station objected to his criticism of their food. In a song entitled ‘Watford Gap’, Roy wrote ‘Watford Gap, Watford Gap, a plate of grease and a load of crap’. Charming, sounds more punk than folk rock to me!
“Roy wanted to form a new band for a tour he was planning. I brought in a bass player called Bob Rennie, who I knew, and we rehearsed for a couple of weeks, including many famous songs from his career. Roy stayed at my place during this time, and would tell me tales about his career, and the mayhem that occurred when he supported ‘Led Zeppelin’ on their tours. Unfortunately for me, the tour didn't happen, and Roy later went ahead as a solo artist”, Pete recalls.
“After Roy I joined a band called ‘London Secret’, and we were good. I also rehearsed with Dave Dudley and Tom Hickland in a band we called ‘Ronald’, but I was playing with ‘London Secret’ up until I went on tour with ‘Roddy Radiation and the Tearjerkers’ (see the 3 below pictures). When I left ‘London Secret’, I got Steve Jones, from ‘The Allies’ to take my place.”
‘The Tearjerkers’ were a band put together by Pete’s mate Roddy Radiation after ‘The Specials’ had split in 1981. Byers had been released from his contract by Chrysalis, and put together the new band while in the final months with ‘The Specials’. ‘The Tearjerkers’ played numerous gigs, and attracted a cult following, before signing with Chiswick Records in 1982. The debut single ‘Desire’ / ‘Western Song’, followed soon after, making it the third band Pete had formally recorded and released material with. ‘Desire’ was produced by Nick Lowe, while ‘Western Song’ featured Tom Hickland (5 hand reel) on fiddle. ‘The Tearjerkers’ also toured with ‘The Mo-dettes’ on a tour called ‘The Good, The Bad and The Ugly’. All tracks, plus 3 additional ones from the time, are available on Roddy’s anthology CD.
“During ‘The Good, The Bad and The Ugly’ tour we played a show in Reading, but were staying in Coventry. It was around October and we were travelling from the gig in Roddy’s van. At the time the band was Roddy, his brother Mark Byers on second guitar, Joe 'dangerous' Hughes on bass, Slim on keyboards and driving was our tour manager, Dick Glaze. Well it had been raining beforehand, and then it got cold. We were nearing the outskirts of Coventry and could see the lights of the town when we crested a hill on a bend, hit some black ice and went straight into the massive stump of an oak tree. We were sitting in the rear seats, and the impact pushed us into the front seats. We had a pretty lucky escape that night, although some ambulances took us to the local hospital for observation, and we didn't play the next show. But in true music fashion, we borrowed some wheels from the ‘Mo-dettes’ the following day and simply carried on with the tour.’
Although officially a Tearjerker, Pete’s drumming prowess was also in demand by other bands. In 1983 he found time to help aspiring punk band ‘The Straps’ (see picture left), and band member Dave Reeves recalls the association. “We were recording the album, which was self-titled, on a label called Cyclops. But our drummer (Jim Walker) left before we could start the recording, so we asked Pete (Davies) to fill in for him. The album was recorded in 6 hours and we just played the session like a live gig, with no overdubs or extra tracks, or anything. Pete stood in, he didn`t even rehearse with us, he just turned up at the studio and we gave him a brief blast of each song. I then nodded to him when each song was about to end. Rat Scabies played on one track only, called ‘No Liquor’.”
Come 1984 and Pete is touring with ‘The Tearjerkers’, but along the way he astounds friends and fans alike by rejoining the ‘UK Subs’.
“The story of how I returned to the ‘UK Subs’ must start around 1982, when Charlie phoned me to say they (Alvin and Nicky) had sacked him. He wanted me to help him out with a new band. Given Nicky and Charlie had sacked me in the summer of 1980, I didn't feel I owed him anything, even though he needed my help. Having said this, I had been working on Charlie’s solo stuff from time to time, so there was still a connection with him.”
“At the time (1982) I was playing with a band called ‘London Secret’, but managed to find the time to help Charlie record the single ‘Freaked’ / ‘Jo’, alongside Steve Slack, Dave Dudley and Tony Conway. I then worked with him on his ‘Stolen Property’ LP. I had brought Dave in to help with Charlie's solo outings. He was great for sorting out what Charlie was trying to do at the time, and played vox continental or lead guitar.” When reviewed, one journalist made the following comment on the album. ‘Stolen Property is no more than a collection of Lou Reed/Bo Diddley/Chuck Berry covers, and I sincerely doubt whether anyone other than Charlie Harper could get away with such gall.’
“Move forward to 1984, and Steve Jones (now the ‘UK Subs’ drummer) leaves the band after their European tour. With further tour dates pending, the band urgently needed a replacement, so Charlie asks me to help him out again. As ‘The Tearjerkers’ were not so busy, I could easily fit in the Subs’ tour dates, but it was never going to be a permanent return. I remember playing with ‘The Tearjerkers’ in Brighton one day, then flying to Bergen in Norway the next, to meet the band. The line-up was Terry ‘Tez’ Roberts, formerly of Discharge and Broken Bones, on bass, Captain Scarlet on guitar, Charlie and me. This was about March 1st, and we flew to the Arctic Circle and played at Budo and Tromso, plus some shows further south. Then we flew to the USA and played a massive tour. I think we played Washington first, and I remember some great shows around Providence, Boston, plus Philadelphia and CBGBs.”
The band’s show at the Los Angeles Olympic Auditorium, on 23/3/84 alongside the Exploited, attracted 7,000 fans and was filmed for inclusion on a Flipside compilation, later released by Jettisoundz.
What was touring like in the USA?
“Well, you never made any money, that’s for sure. I was also told, by the promoter from memory, that there was ‘no need to bring a kit, as all the promoters will provide you with one. Provide my arse. Every night we had to borrow someone’s drum kit. At times we even had to beg to use the support bands’ gear. I remember when we recorded the ‘Gross Out USA’ album, the guy who owned the drum kit had not been informed that I was going to use it. But begging and bribes won on the day. It was such an experience that I wrote a song about it, for the X album, called ‘Bongo Bingo’. ‘Gross Out’ was made on a 4 track cassette machine, and the quality reflects this. So the people who criticise it, for not being of the standard of ‘Crash Course’, which had the Rolling Stones’ mobile recording studio, should go away quietly. The albums are truly chalk and cheese where recording is concerned.”
“On the cover you will find two photos of Tez chucking up. We were sharing a room in a motel in New Jersey, the day before the Trenton gig. We had stocked up at the local supermarket, and Tez got us a range of drinks. After a while Tez looks a bit green, and then lurches out of bed, pulls open the door and drops to the floor. But in doing so he head butts open the screen door. Lucky I had the camera handy, and managed to jump over him before he began to puke. I took the first shot, and when he finished he looked up at me and asked if I got it, at which point I took another. It was these shots that eventually made the album cover.”
“Speaking about that tour, a funny thing happened in Trenton, NJ. I remember our road crew took the van off to LA, leaving us alone to play that night. Tez was drinking beer from a huge pitcher for quite a while, and then our intro music started, a Sergio Leone piece, so we went off to the stage to start playing, bang on the last note. Then Tez arrives and wonders where his bass guitar is, and is informed by us that if he didn't have it with him, it must still be in the dressing room. We had no roadies with us, so right at the end of the intro I go bang into ‘Emotional Blackmail’, with a guitar and vocalist, but no bass. I shall always remember Tez’s face, as he walked across the stage a minute or two later, carrying his bass case on the way to plug in and join in with rest of us. He ended the gig lying on his back, his head inside the bass speaker, strumming away. We flew to LA the following day.”
“Then we played a nice gig in LubbockTexas. I remember meeting Buddy Holly’s sister that night, and everyone was really nice. Some of the band went off to various parties afterwards, but I was woken from a deep slumber, sleeping on someone's couch, by our tour manager. He said Tez Roberts had been arrested. What a nightmare. So we drove down to the jail and discovered that if we stood bail, we could get him out. We all chipped in the bail money, so we could continue with the tour. From memory we had to raise $600, and we did. Unfortunately, his release condition required Tez to return to court a month later, to stand trial. In true punk rock spirit, he didn't, and by the time the date came the band were on the other side of the states. I don’t think Tez ever returned to face the court, and the bugger still owes me about $100!”
“Another funny incident occurred when we were in New York. We had gone out of town to a late gig, and were heading back to the Iroquois Hotel when it was just getting light. We stopped at a set of traffic lights, which were against us, and our van was immediately surrounded by hookers. ‘Come on guys' they said, 'just $5 for a blow job, aww come on'. Our driver Bruce sped off as soon as the lights changed, no stopping, so we could get safely home to bed.”
“Then I recall a time, after we played a gig in LA, when some of us went back to our second hotel of the day. We were kicked out of the first one, which was very nice, because Captain Scarlet, who was in a drunken haze, decided to throw a large potted plant into their beautiful pool (hey, we were a punk band, after all!) At about 3am we get a call to attend a private party, somewhere in Hollywood, where they want us to play. Charlie, Scarlet and a roadie chap were already there, so Tez, Jim Moncur (then our guitar tech and pictured right in 1984) and I get up and take the guitars over to this grand house, where the back line equipment was already set-up for us. I can’t remember much about the performance, but we played for half hour or so, and then joined in the party.”
“We eventually we got back to the hotel, with some of the party peeps along for more of the same at our hotel. I think we had three rooms between the band, but Charlie had gone to bed and the party seemed to be in Tez’s and my room. I was pretty exhausted, so I told everyone to go to Scarlet’s room and party, as I needed to get some sleep. I started to take my jeans off, and the next thing I know Scarlet (still in his drunken haze) grabs my ankles, pushes them over my head and pretends to mount me. I didn’t think long about my next move, and I punched him as hard as I could, right in the bollocks. He dropped like a stone and was out cold as I was dragged from underneath him. The party goers soon got the message and took off for the exits, while I moved into the next room to sleep. Later, Jim got up and thought Scarlet was dead, but no, he was still breathing. He hadn’t moved from where we left him earlier. Scarlet was quite a character, and a couple of years later he had a liver transplant - he’s almost invincible!”
Pete was not a fan of touring the USA, as noted by Charlie in an interview for ‘Maximum Rock ‘n’ Roll’ magazine. “There was effectively a UK and a US version of the band, and there has been ever since Pete Davies told the band never to play in the US ‘cos they can't earn any money’, which is basically true, you know. You don't earn any money. It's a shame, you have to get a work permit to work here, but you don't earn anything. It's criminal, what a con! So one by one the band just stopped coming over. The whole band were over one year, then it was just like three of us, the next year it was two of us, and the last time I came over I came completely by myself. But there's easily enough former UK Subs in the US to not bother about getting new musicians.”
After the US tour, the band returned home and recruited Steve Roberts to the fold (for another a brief liaison), leaving Pete free to pursue other music opportunities. I asked Pete if he was keen to remain with the Subs at that time.
“No. On my return from the States I was still in the band, and could remain if I wished. We did a gig in Barcelona, and several in Britain, before I decided not to continue. At the time, I was not happy with the directionless nature of the band, and didn’t want to continue with that approach as a musician. I wanted something more focussed.”
“While I was away, my mate Dave Dudley had been rehearsing with two female musicians, Rebecca and Melissa (at the time, both 16 year old schoolgirls), who I had also got to know very well. They were quite young and had never been in a band before, but they had this natural musical harmony. Their friend Shelley was also involved. So after the Subs I joined them. We then acquired Pete Groves on bass guitar. We began by rehearsing Dave’s songs, and we collectively suggested songs we could cover to build up our set. Songs like ‘Cold Turkey’, ‘Wild Thing’, ‘In The Wild’ and ‘Limo Life’ (a favourite of mine from the recent ‘UK Subs’ tour). After a few rehearsals we were then joined by Annie Black on keyboards, and the band moved forward quite quickly from there.”
Dave Dudley recalls the band’s formation, “the girls, Shelley, Rebecca and Melissa, could, "sing a bit". It turned out they could sing in very good harmony, quite naturally without too much "working out" (well two of them could!) I met up with them with a view to making an act out of them (I'm not some sort of music biz Svengali, but having seen and heard them, I thought that it could work). We started rehearsing at my house in Wimbledon (South London) and sorted out an eclectic bunch of material, ranging from Zappa to ‘the Carpenters’ via Marilyn Monroe. After a few rehearsals we needed a band. I played guitar, my old friend Pete Groves came out of (at the time) musical retirement to hold the bass and, after much nagging, we persuaded Pete Davies to bash the skins.”
Pete also recalls how the band got their name. “I remember we were in the Hawley Arms pub one evening, trying to come up with a band name, when the John Cleese tune ‘The Rhubarb Tart’ came to mind, so I suggested this as the band name. Over the next four years, the band became a central activity for me, and although there were several personal changes during this period, the core group of Rebecca Davies, Melissa Heathcote, Annie and I remained. In addition to the band, I was still playing with ‘The Tearjerkers’, quite regularly in fact, and I remember Rebecca making her stage debut with us at the Rock Garden, playing tambourine and singing on the song ‘Bad Moon Rising’.”
Dave Dudley also recalled the band’s early period. “We booked a couple of local gigs and did them. The band really rocked, the girls right on it with the sweet harmony, Rebecca country-ish, Melissa spunkier, Pete's drumming, fat and right in the groove, Groves' lyrical bass playing. After the first flush of performances, Shelley left. The five of us continued gigging for some months. There were never any commercial recordings made available. As I mentioned above, we did record one session in earnest with view to release but it never came to anything. The song was our arrangement of a Charlie Harper song (‘Limo Life’). But there were also a few "demos" made, and tapes to sell at gigs.”
Line-up changes were frequent in the band, as Pete recalls. “After a few months the line up of musicians changed. Rebecca’s dad, Alan Davies (Cat Stevens) joined briefly, followed by guitarist Gerry O'Grady and bass players John Boyce, Malcolm Hoskins and Malcolm Foster (later of ‘the Pretenders’) and finally Teresa Kemp, who remained until the end. We also hired a management company, and were recording some quality demos, with a view to recording and releasing material. People were taking the band very seriously, and new songs were being written by Annie, Bec and Liss. Over the next couple of years we would attract some major record company interest, but our management company failed to capitalise on this.”
“Around this time I also joined up with guitarist Stewart Knight again, this time in a short lived band called ‘Steve Fiction and the Rebel Sci-fi Blues Bastards’, which was, as the name implies, a blues band. We played a few gigs in and around CamdenTown, and undertook a short tour of Norway, but nothing came of the band beyond these gigs.”
“Then in 1987 Rebecca, who was now working in a band booking agency, got me a session job for a band called ‘Here & Now’. The band had a big influence on me at the time, and the first gig was a warm-up at the Cricketers Arms in Stockwell, near the Oval. I played two shows that night, as ‘The Rhubarb Tarts’ were the opening act. Then ‘Here & Now’ went on tour, which lasted three weeks, and at the end they asked me if I would become a regular member. I was very happy to join them, on the understanding that ‘The Rhubarb Tarts’ came first. Then the band’s management messed things up by playing record companies off one another, with no end benefit to the band, and after that I simply walked away. I was pissed off by their decision, and I found them incompetent, especially with the band having come so far together. So I walked away. ‘The Rhubarb Tarts’ continued to perform after I left, for some time I recall, but unfortunately it would soon end for them.”
“So in addition to ‘Here & Now’, I also found time to team up with Gaz Top, a TV personality who wanted to be in a band. We did a few gigs, and it was good fun, but didn’t lead to anything permanent. ‘Here & Now’ comprised Dino Ferrari on guitar, Keith Der Missile on bass, Gavin Der Blitz on keyboards and myself. We recorded three tracks and released a 12" single called ‘Standing Forever’, with ‘Squeezing The Tube’ and ‘Slam Bam Wham (in the back of the van)’”
‘Here & Now’ originally formed back in 1974, and associated themselves with the punk and new wave movement through bands like ‘ATV’. They continue to perform today, although with a different line-up and musical guise. According to reports of the time, the band toured extensively in the early eighties, living on their converted communal bus. They performed wherever they could, including the then free summer festivals of Deeply Vale, Stonehenge and Glastonbury. The band would perform for free, and pass the hat around for donations at the end of each performance.
Pictured above right: Pete Davies in Here & Now, at the Town and Country Club, 1988
“Previously, ‘Here & Now’ had collaborated with a chap called Daevid Allen in a band called ‘Planet Gong’ (a Melbournian by birth, Daevid was a founding member of late Sixties psychedelic rock bands ‘Soft Machine’ and ‘Gong’, after which he formed ‘Planet Gong’). This was around 1977. For the tour, Daevid was coaxed back from cab driving in Sydney, Australia, and soon we toured. Daevid’s music reminded me of music to accompany ‘flying teapots’. It was different and unusual. The tour rekindled Daevid’s career, and for me it was a very interesting time musically. Later, and rather unfortunately, we were recording an album at a recording studio in New Cross, South East London, which was owned by Dino and our sound engineer, Nigel. Well one day they went to open up and found the entire studio had been stolen. Only the mixing desk had survived, and all the recordings were lost. Gav left the band soon after this, but a replacement was found and we continued gigging. By then I was joined by Dominic Luckman, from our friends ‘The Cardiacs’ on drums. I remember having two drummers in the band was great fun.”
At the end of 1987, Pete would leave ‘The Rhubarb Tarts’, with the band eventually calling it a day the following year. According to Dave Dudley, after the split Rebecca and Melissa found work as backing vocalists, recording TV soundtracks and jingles in the early days of Sky and cable TV. Dave continued to work in music, later joining ‘Crush UK’, while Pete balanced playing drums with work of a different kind.
“Between 1984 and 1989 I took up a delivery job for a local laundry. I was delivering roller towels, overalls and linen. It was a piece of cake and only took a few hours a day. This job made up for the fact that none of the bands I was in made sufficient money for me to get a mortgage. I wanted to buy a flat, so I had to work in a job that paid money on a regular basis. Then, around 1989, I re-joined with Rebecca (from ‘The Rhubarb Tarts’) in her new band the ‘Angel Hearts’, which also featured former Sub Jim Moncur on guitar. Jim just happened to be her husband, and I played with them as it fitted in nicely with the ‘Here and Now’ gig.”
Although no longer a UK Sub, Pete continued to keep in touch with Charlie, and followed the band when time allowed.
“After 1984, and during the intervening years, I stayed in touch with Charlie, and still did some gigs with him, Dave Dudley, Steve and others at venues like the 100 Club. I often turned up to the Subs gigs, and usually got up on stage to play a song or two. Unfortunately, it was a rather sad time for the band, during the late 80s, as Charlie had some low grade line-ups supporting him, and given the limited amount of new material being released by the band, it was sad to see and hear how pedestrian their music had become.”
Alex Ogg, in his ‘unedited’ biography of the band on this website, noted that ‘they’ve been through so many drummers in their 25-year career that I had to check my diaries to make sure I didn’t play with them at some point’.
But one drummer who did make a return was Pete, playing with them from 1991 until 1996, and providing additional musical stability at a time when the band’s line-up was constantly changing, often at short notice.
“Then at the beginning of 1991, Charlie got me, Dave (who calls himself Yhaal House these days), Steve Slack and a few others to play the launch party for the band’s M (‘Mad Cow Fever’) album (launched on January 14th January JFK's bar in Portland Street, London). It was a week after I met Cathy, my future wife. She came along to the launch, and was a friend of Dave’s then girlfriend.
Later that year, sometime during summer from memory, I received a call from Toxin, then the band’s agent, asking if I would help out Charlie again when he got back from the States, as half of his band were staying on in America. Once again he had gigs booked, and needed a helping hand. In September I played at the Brixton Academy with Brian Barnes on bass, Chas and Darrell Bath on guitar at a gig called ‘The Day the World Turned Dayglo’, featuring a stellar line-up of bands to support X-Ray Spex (including Chelsea, Sham 69, 999 and the Lurkers). At that stage Charlie was saying he had a young guitarist coming from California to join us, but until he arrived, we continued to play some odd shows, and appeared for a TV show that was filmed at TowerBridge in London, and later broadcast on Japanese TV.”
That Californian was Lars Frederiksen, and he recalls how he joined the Subs.
“One of my former bands was supporting the UK Subs, and I ended up having a beer with Charlie Harper. He told me that they’re looking for a guitarist. So I joked and said that I’d like to be their guitarist. The next day he called me and asked where the hell I am. "Why are you not in Oakland? We’ve got a gig here!" An hour later I was there. Charlie was like a father to me. I still like him, and I visit him whenever I’m in England.”
Pete recalls the tour, and the Californian’s contribution.
“Lars was a very young and naive person, but musically talented and very eager to play with the band. With Lars on board, the band first went on tour with ‘Discharge’, then ‘Stiff Little Fingers’. We finished the year with the band’s usual tour of Britain, ending in December. I thought we were rather lucky to have Lars in the band, because he played great. Bri and I had forged a great musical understanding from a rhythm perspective, and I was actually looking forward to the forthcoming European tour that was booked. Then after the UK tour, things changed when Charlie sacked Lars, just before the European tour was about to begin! It was madness, with only a few days to go before the first gig and no guitarist. I don’t know what happened, so you’ll have to ask Charlie. But I blame Charlie’s daft wife, because I think she made him sack Lars. But as I said, I don’t know the full story.”
Reports from Lars, from that period, suggest he left the band because the UK Subs were disorganised. Pete continues the story, “so we found Scott Snowdon (pictured right), and with literally no time spare we rehearsed a quarter of what we needed for the set list. Then we headed off to the first show in Oslo (Jan 12th, 1992). We were not very good at that gig. Scott had told Charlie he didn’t drink much, or take drugs, but on tour he really didn't do much else. He was a nice bloke, if not the best of guitarists, but soon the band got much better and by the end of the first week we were getting pretty good.
On that tour we had my mate Gary McLaughlin along, as a roadie, but I found the tour was rather badly organised. And we didn’t have a very good tour manager either. Looking back now, I think we were all glad to do it, but it wasn’t the way the band should have been operating. It was manic and chaotic, at a time when it should have been better organised.
From Europe we went to Argentina, which was great fun. There was still some resentment towards Britain at the time, due to the Falklands conflict. We had to fly on Aerolineas Argentinas, which was a bit hairy, and to say the old 747 was full was bit of an understatement. It had flown from Spain to Paris, before picking us up at Heathrow, and seemed to be carrying everything for the journey - from chickens to us as passengers - and I was quite sure, during take-off, that we’d not get airborne. Thankfully we did, but then we had to make an emergency landing in Rio. It was sheer madness.
Below: Snowdon, Davies and Barnes. Click to enlarge
Finally we get to Argentina, a week before our two shows, and lived on steak and salad twice a day. It was fantastic. We were always finding ways of having fun that trip, mainly at Scott’s expense. One day he was pushed into the pond in our hotel’s reception, and when we knew he was visiting the strip club across the road, Gary (our wonderful roadie) and Bri put his bed out in the corridor. This line-up also recorded some demos for Jungle Records, including ‘Lydia’, which appeared on the ‘The Road Is Hard The Road Is Long’ EP. Back home again we played shows supporting ‘SLF’, and after a gig in Glasgow a guitarist got in touch with us, using the 'I’m better than him' message (Alan Campbell). We kept his details, and that came in handy, as unbeknown to us we’d soon be calling on his services. That gig was in March, and soon after there was an incident at Charlie’s flat, where Scott went on one of his binges and disgraced himself somewhat. Charlie sacked him, and we found ourselves looking for a new guitarist. That’s when Al’s details came in handy.”
I’ve heard a few stories about the cultural differences between countries, and how they influenced the riders you received. Do you have any to share with us?
“Well I remember a rider from Club Bratislava, around 1992; we had just finished sound checking and were getting ready to go to the hotel when the promoter’s girlfriend asked 'why don’t you want this food?' In front of her was a huge pile of what looked like white cabbage sandwiches. ‘Who are they for?’ I asked. ‘You’ she said, and she let me have a copy of the rider she’d been sent, to make sure they had got it right. I hadn’t seen it before, but it seemed to ask for loads of sandwiches, water, cola and beer. And given we were in Bratislava, our sandwich fillings were cabbage.
So when we started the next tour, we had a new agent and rider, which specified 1 bottle of vodka, 1 bottle of whiskey, 1 bottle of red wine, 1 bottle of white wine and 48 beers of a good quality. Usually the wine and beer were local, and generally of good quality. On the food side we asked for a nice selection of cheese and cold meats, fruit, bread rolls and coffee, all to be served 2 hours before show time. In the UK you generally find yourself scratching around for food, but booze was never an issue. But in Europe there was always good food, they seem to excel in that regard. Sometimes we had too much booze, so we’d load it into the van and carry it to the next venue. Then we’d hand it out to people outside the gigs, swapping it for tee shirts and other items of interest. I once took a crate of assorted wine home after one tour, because we had so much of it left.”
“I have been known to say that the new string section was (and still is) the best ever for me where the UK Subs are concerned. At the first rehearsal, none of us could understand Alan; his Glaswegian accent was so strong. And then a funny thing happened at his debut gig. Right at the start of the first song his guitar strap came off and he dropped his guitar! Then we joined Germany’s ‘Die Toten Hosen’ on the ‘Learning English’ tour (September 1992), where Charlie joined them on stage each night to sing ‘Stranglehold’. We supported them on quite a number of dates that tour. I think the first was the Loreley Festival, a big outdoor gig and then we played some very large venues across German speaking Europe.”
‘Die Toten Hosen’ are a punk band of long standing, having first formed in 1982.
“They were huge in Europe, and at the time I had asked European agency IBD to represent us from their Munich base. With their support, the UK Subs renaissance began. We recorded tracks for ‘Normal Service Resumed’ soon after, which included a cover of ‘Here Comes Alex’, which is a Hosen song. ‘Squat The World’ was based around a jam Bri and I were having, and is a bit of a nod toward the ‘Here and Now’ band. I remember I got Bri to play a bass riff, and then Al joined in while Bri was doing some daft singing. We were just jamming at the time, filling in time while Charlie was writing in the control room. Then we stopped jamming and went back to the control room, and Chas said ‘great, I'm just writing the words to that song’ and that’s how ‘Squat The World’ was born.
It was a good time for the band, as we all contributed music, played it hard and delivered a good album with a bonus live album from a visit to Croatia (recorded at Zagreb on Feb 9th). We also had the bananaman cover, featuring our former roadie Rene, in a parody of the 'A' cover.”
“To me the band was more interesting musically. Just listen to the studio albums for ‘N’ and ‘O’ and you’ll hear new musical directions and influences, from reggae (‘Squat The World’) to the hip-hop sounding ‘Brixton’, which is also a great live track. Al’s ‘Dumfux’ and Bri’s ‘Killer Time’ were good, plus ‘Let’s Get Drunk’, all great stuff. Musically speaking, at the time Bri, Charlie and I had worked with 4 different guitarists before we found Al. I found our musical kinship got stronger once he had settled into the band. As musicians we were very much on the same wavelength. For example, at sound checks the three of us would jam for up to about 10 minutes, and if you were listening, you would assume we had rehearsed what we were playing. We hadn’t, but at the time we played tight. For me this was something special within the Subs, and I know this had not happened before.”
BELOW: Pete during the recording session for Normal Service Resumed. Click to enlarge
Pete further reveals that “we had also started to write individually and collectively. It wasn’t always one person writing, as it had been within the Harper/Garratt/Slack/Davies line-up. Bri and I worked together on his songs, and sometimes my own ones. Bri also sang on several of his songs, which you’ll find on the ‘N’ and ‘O’ albums. I even shared the vocals on ‘Nazi Cunts’ on 'Occupied' with Bri, but I only did the swearing! I'm not sure how many tracks on these albums were shared, but many did not include Charlie in any capacity, although he may have made the tea for us at the time.”
“Here’s a story about the European tour from 1992. We were entering Czechoslovakia and our van was searched at the border. The guards held us up for ages, so we entertained them by playing a few songs live. There was Charlie on acoustic guitar, Scott on mandolin and Bri on bass, merrily playing away entertaining the border guards. I suspect it relieved the boredom, at least. They played until the guards let us pass. It’s moments like this that make you realise how interesting and enjoyable touring can be.
I have to say that by now the tours were better organised. Well, let me preface that. The European tours were better organised. They were well routed, with very few overnight drives, mainly thanks to IBD. The tours were also longer, often taking us across Western Europe and into new areas like Poland and Hungary, offering new audiences and good venues. I liked touring Europe, and countries like Germany, Finland and Italy are among my favourites, with the latter being the best. You can also add the USA to that list, although more from a travel perspective, as you never made any money touring the USA. My least favourite was the UK. As a band we played every day, and we didn't like having any days off while on tour. As a musician it’s simply a frame of mind you get into, and soon it becomes a way of life. With the band it’s all about the gig, and as a band member you rest, sleep and eat when you can. We also had a good crew in Kurt, our German tour manager, and Gary McLaughlin. Good people make for good tours. The venues were also a good size, we pulled decent sized crowds, especially in Europe, and the hotels and meals were good quality. Unfortunately, we still weren't paid very well, but Charlie let us sell our own merchandise alongside his own, which helped me out no end financially.
Touring with the Subs has always been on the cheap, and this is the only way to manage the band with their chaotic set up and busy schedules. But gigging every night means not having to support the band from your own funds, and generally speaking this means not having to pay for the hotel, the booze and food, and your sundry expenses like road crew, petrol and diesel. In my experience the band tried to limit the number of days off you had, as a day off nearly always creates problems. Musicians and road crew are programmed to perform each evening, but on days off this energy has to find an outlet. Things go wrong. People disappear, or end up in hospital, or turn up way too late the following day and impact the touring schedule. That’s why I preferred to work through the tours.
Although the European tours were good, the British tours, of which there were two per year, were rubbish. They couldn't have been any worse. We were sleeping wherever we could, blagging floor space in the van or, in some cases, at the venue we were playing at. We were driving all over the place, and it was as if our agent (Toxin) didn't know what a map was!”
As a fan I fully concur with Pete on this point. I’ve often wondered what logic applies when planning the band’s British sojourns. Surely common sense should apply when planning a tour, in the same way it does when planning a holiday. No one benefits from frequent 200-400 mile journeys within 24 hours, do they? It can’t be a cost effective, or profitable, way to tour either, one would think. But that’s just my opinion. Oh, and Pete’s!
During this period, one country Pete declined to tour was the USA. Why did you have an aversion to touring there then?
“Well I hadn't gone on the USA tour because Charlie said he could only pay me $25 a day, roughly £13, and I had to laugh. There was no way was I willing to play for that kind of money in the USA. It’s hard enough to play and survive in Britain and Europe, but the USA?”
I asked Pete if he did any tourist activities while touring, as the band’s tour schedules always appeared quite tight between dates. Yet there were times when they would be in one country for 3-4 days at a time.
“Well, when touring, we always took the scenic route to the next venue, especially if time allowed. That gives you a feel for the country visually. Plus there’s always some decent place to stop, so you can taste the local food and drink. We have visited many tourist destinations over the years. Places like Belsen, Dachau, Graceland, Disneyland, and Mount Vesuvius. Generally speaking the band will go as a group, although I do recall Charlie refusing to visit Disneyland. He stayed in the van all day when we went there.”
Was there anything else that had changed during your second stint with the band?
“Well by now I was older, aged 39 and very fit. I also played faster, as some of the music was fast compared to the material I played between 1977 and 1980, but it was not a problem to play. The fans were always good to us, and on tour the usual band silliness applied, so neither of these things had changed. I remember one night, in Denmark, Bri and Gary came back to the hotel out of breath, having been chased from a club by the local boys. It transpired that Bri had been dancing around the club, trying to pull on the dance floor with a condom in his mouth. The local boys didn't appreciate this direct approach.
One thing that was evident, and clearly different from my first stint with the band, was the resurgence of fascism in Europe. I recall in Sweden, at two different gigs, we had to stop playing because the idiots in the crowd were doing Nazi salutes in front of the stage. Our approach to managing this was simple - we stop playing, they get kicked out by security, then we restart playing. You have to remember that in the late 70s there were punk bands that never did anything to stop them, even though they didn’t agree with racists and fascists, while others gained a reputation for supporting the extreme right wing, even though they didn’t.
As a band we’d always supported the ‘Rock against Racism’ gigs, especially in the early days (see left from 1978). There was always a minority of supporters at the time, but it became more prominent in Britain and East Germany in the nineties. I remember one day we were leaving Munich, on our way to the next gig, when I noticed on the map (as I always did the navigation) that Dachau was nearby, so we made a visit. It was a chilling experience, to say the least. Later that same tour we also made a visit to Belsen, and that was even more chilling. I later wrote ‘Nazi Cunts’ in response to this.
It was during this time that I received a bit of a bombshell. Our roadie Gary, who’d been working with me from the Tart’s, ‘Here and Now’ and now the Subs, was diagnosed with cancer. He had told the doctor there was something wrong with him while on a short trip to Normandy. The next week he said he was feeling worse, and was admitted to hospital where they removed an offending testicle. Thereafter he began chemotherapy, and the band agreed with me that we should do a fund raiser for him. We did this with support from many other bands. We played a great show and managed to give him sufficient funds to go off travelling around the world. He finally stopped his travels in Invercargill, where he remains to this day, working as a prison warder. I think being a roadie for the Subs was very good training for the role!
Another thing I noticed was the change in musical output. There was a lot of touring, but little recording done during my second time with the band. It had been three years since we last recorded an album, which was a bit too long in my opinion, but in the autumn of 1995 we finally headed back to record the ‘O’ album. It was quite hard work, and took about three weeks, as we were gigging between trips to the studio, which was located in Glasgow. That year we also did our usual winter tour of Europe, which was very good, and then we undertook our very long and strung out British tour, with trips abroad squeezed in between. Finally, we went on a nice summer tour to Europe in July. We visited places like Rimini, with its lovely beach, and Pescara. We also played several gigs in Croatia, but by this stage I’d had enough. I won’t go into the exact details, but during the tour I figured I didn't need the band lifestyle and existence any more. I told Charlie which show would be my last. It was a festival I had arranged for the band to play in Navarra, north of Spain, that August. Once we finished playing I returned to London and ceased to be a UK Sub.
After that I moved away from music and entered college to study CNC engineering, and before completing the course I joined another laundry company. Their managing director bumped into me one day. He knew me from my earlier delivery job and said he could find room for me. Thereafter my musical direction changed, and I think I only played one gig between August 1996 and the end of 2005. That was with Brian Barnes and his band Slutch, at the 100 Club. From memory that was around 2001, and I didn’t give much thought about drumming for anyone else at the time, as I was more into the study of drumming by then.
Around 1998, I devised a plan to move from London. I wanted to settle into a rural location, and hoped that I could convince my girlfriend to come too. By 2003 we had started a family, and then we moved to the east coast the following year. From there we bought our house in Suffolk, and then I started to build up my own drum tuition business. We built a studio, in which we installed the Slingerland drum kit that I had used since 1974. Come 2007 and I had invested in a new Starclassic kit, with new cymbals. It was around this time that I was ready to start playing live again.
My teaching business has grown steadily over the years. I mainly operate through local schools, the odd music school and from home. For the first couple of years, the only playing I did was with my pupils, or practising in my studio. Then I played on some poetry, for Al Stokes, and played my first gig in years alongside Bernie Elliott. This was around 2007. I also played with some local function bands, purely for fun I may add.”
You then made a return to the UK Subs in 2007, how did that occur?
“Well I had gone to see the 25th anniversary show at the New Marquee in 2002, and Paul and Steve Slack were both there. The band played poorly, and many old fans wanted to know why we were not playing. I next saw the Subs at Pontins Holiday Camp with Bri and Al playing, at Hemsby near Great Yarmouth. Afterwards Charlie and I started talking about how bad that show had been, and from there the fact we all got back together again was through Charlie’s dogged perseverance.
I guess getting Paul and I to agree to play was his idea, although we were all in touch with Charlie around this time. Every time they played East Anglia, over the next couple of years, I’d go along, and usually I’d get up to play a couple of songs with them. From then the reunion dates emerged. Then later that year I agreed to do a few gigs with Paul, Nick and Charlie. From those gigs I suggested we do a few more, and I think we played around 10 all up. They were good to do. The following year I was back with the band at Rebellion. By now we were all getting along pretty well, and I made an effort to talk to Nick about music and bands we both liked, particularly the prog rock ones, some of them we like to this day. As a family man I took the children to that gig, and it came as a bit of a shock to them. I think they loved their weekend in Blackpool, and all the wonderful hair styles, but I’m not too sure about the music!”
“During the tour, what you might call the band’s usual audience was augmented by an older crowd who hadn’t seen the band for many years. At each show we had a mix of old and new fans, many checking the band out for the first time. Mostly teenagers I recall, who really enjoyed the shows and didn’t know that bands like the Subs, who played playing this sort of music, still existed.
That’s how Blackpool (Rebellion) was for me. The crowd and vibe was very much how I remember the earliest days of punk. The primping of the hair, make-up and clothes almost like the fans were in a fashion show. This is not a putdown mind you, as they were fantastic. In some cases, it was as if the scene from 1977 was still alive, virtually unchanged. I suppose that’s what keeps it alive and healthy, the youth of today discovering and supporting the bands of yesterday, which in turn generate the bands of today and tomorrow.”
As a fan of both the band and genre, it’s interesting to reflect on the longevity of both the UK Subs and the scene they are associated with. Having survived and, in many cases, thrived over 30 years is an amazing professional and personal achievement. Thankfully today, a new generation of fans sustain the punk rock life cycle, be it the bands, the DIY philosophy of punk, the fashion, the attitude or the independent spirit of teenage rebellion. The fans have prolonged punk rock well beyond what musicians of the time anticipated, while anniversaries, festivals and CD reissues fuel the masses who want to relive the past, support the present and preserve it for the next generation of fans.
“Personally speaking, I’ve no desire to make my return a permanent one. Having said that, if anything happened to Jamie Oliver (and let’s hope it doesn’t), and if I got the call, I would be happy to help the band out in their time of need. He doesn't play anything like me, I know, but the arrangements of the songs they play today are the same as when I last played them, so I’d only have a couple of new ones to learn. But beyond that thought, I’m extremely happy being a teacher. But as always, if the right opportunity came along to play professionally I’d take it. But I would not play professionally again for the UK Subs.
I do this full time, and typically teach around 30 plus hours per week. I have more than 60 pupils to work with now, and as a teacher I find peripatetic music teaching pays reasonably well, although I have to drive frequently from one school to another. Teaching is quite regular during school terms, but every year brings forth long periods without work, or an income, mainly due to the school holidays, so in this regard teaching is just like being a musician. But I work for myself, and can support my family, so the profession has many, many positives.”
“I have had some former and current students continue with their music playing, either to be creative and play in bands as a drummer, some move from drums onto another instrument. Many of my students have statements of educational needs, and through my work they undergo a kind of drumming therapy. Learning to play and read drum music, and taking part in rehearsals and performances with other students are important steps toward building or improving their confidence. Drumming, and the manner in which I teach, provides a broad range of benefits to these students. From learning how to play, or keeping a beat to time, to building up their confidence and helping them deal with any issues they face. For example, I can spot a person with Asperger’s syndrome almost immediately these days, or students with dyslexia or dyspraxics. My approach is to tailor my lessons to suit them individually. That way they benefit from the lessons, each and every session. They all seem to find their way to my lessons at the schools and colleges which cater for their needs and my main aim is to build up their confidence through drumming.”
You mentioned your dad and children had seen you perform, what about your wife Cathy?
“‘Well she has seen the UK Subs enough times over the years, but she doesn’t come to see me play that often these days. Cathy is really very eclectic in her musical taste. She has a good ear for music, and she is a handy person to bounce ideas off for things I'm doing, or listening too. Cathy is more likely to listen to Miles Davis’ ‘Sketches of Spain’ or Turandot than punk. I did ask her for a comment on my playing with the Subs, but she said no comment!”
How did the ‘Harbour Rats’ concept come about?
“Well during this time Charlie and I had been talking about performing acoustic versions of his songs. He always seemed to mention that way before I joined the Subs, especially after he had written ‘Stranglehold’ about me and the Saturday girl he employed at his hairdressing shop in Tooting, London. Her name was Bonita and she was lovely and 'only thirteen, but oh so sweet'. Despite the attraction, well mainly mine I think, nothing happened! Anyway, Charlie had a desire to do an acoustic version of ‘Stranglehold’, and from this idea the ‘Harbour Rats’ were born. After many years of talking about it, we finally got some time together with Charlie. Once he was available, I then asked several friends of mine, all local musicians from Suffolk, to help rehearse and record the songs.
Now we have begun the process, and the backing tracks (at the time of writing) have been recorded. The songs are mainly R’n’B standards, old songs that Charlie adores, and the odd Subs number thrown in for good measure. In addition to this project, I'm helping out ‘The Straps’, ‘Red Mecca’, and the ‘Harbour Rats’ without Charlie, so I’m quite busy at the moment. There are also a couple of other things in the pipeline, which may or may not happen.”
As a musician, Charlie strikes me as a rock and roll gypsy. He doesn’t seem one for the grandiose lifestyle, or excesses that the music industry can provide. Having worked with him over 4 decades, what is you view of him today?
“I believe Charlie is very comfortable in life, and I think he is exactly where he always wanted to be. He lives a low key lifestyle, writing, singing and travelling from town to town playing his music. He has a good group of friends to support him, and he is adored by his fans, both old and new. He still tours and performs with the same energy and commitment today that he had when I first met him, back in the days of ‘Bandana’. And in some regards, with the new line-up, he appears to be enjoying a renaissance of sorts, in that he’s as popular today as he was when the band first enjoyed success back in 1978. I’d even go so far as to say he’s more popular today, for he’s travelled the world singing his songs, and he manages to sustain the band’s popularity through gigging and recording. He’s never lost faith in his ideals, and he’s never lost the desire to play as a musician. Even when the chips were down, he was still gigging away.
He seems very drawn to his music, and he always keeps his acoustic guitar handy, ready to sing or record a song of his own, or some of the old American folk songs he adores. He’s not changed over the years in this regard, because he still enjoys the music and lifestyle. You would think he’d want to change, but he doesn’t. He has the same amount of enthusiasm for the music of the ‘Harbour Rats’ as he had at the start of his career, when he was playing R’n’B in cover bands.
Today, and age aside, the only change I’ve seen is that he’s married (his third), and I think Yuko provides a new direction for him. They bought a place about a year ago, and I know she wants to slow down his touring schedule, so that he can sustain his career without burning himself out. He still gives each performance 100%, which is some effort when you consider his age today, and how many gigs he performs a year.”
You mentioned that ‘New York State Police’ was a favourite track from your time with the band. Are there any others you like?
“Of the earlier stuff, and in addition to NYSP, I like ‘I Live in A Car’, ‘B.1.C.’, ‘All I Wanna Know’, ‘Young Criminals’, ‘Scum Of The Earth’, ‘I Couldn't Be You’, ‘Dirty Girls’ and ‘500cc’. Of the latter albums, ‘Nazi Cunts’, and a few others. I think most of the songs I recorded with them are good, and I don't think there are any songs I actually dislike. From all the songs I have played on, some are just better than others.”
Do you have musical interests away from the punk scene?
“Absolutely, and I have a broad taste in music. For example, I'm currently listening to John Coltrane’s ‘Live at the Village Vanguard 1961’, the complete recordings from a 4CD boxed set. He had the best drummer in Elvin Jones, and with Eric Dolphy playing as well its great stuff. I don’t suppose the punks would like it mind.”
Finally, I asked Pete if he retained any mementoes from his time with the band?
“Yes, I kept a few things. I still have several sets of the first release of ‘C.I.D’, released in clear, blue, green and orange vinyl, plus some other albums and singles. I also have the gold vinyl copy of ‘Crash Course’, in a frame, which the record company gave to us. Plus I kept some posters, badges and stickers, oh and a pile of photos.”
After reading this interview, I think you’ll agree that Pete has enjoyed a long, diverse and at times lucrative musical career. From recording, touring and travelling, to the various side projects he’s encountered, through to the country lifestyle he enjoys with his family, and the booming teaching career that now occupies his time. Musically, there are certainly no dull moments, no signs of excess, no regrets and nothing to suggest that he failed to achieve what he initially set out to achieve. And for Pete Davies, that was simply to play drums professionally in a band.
Above: Marc - click image to enlarge
Interview first published 13 June 2012
Below: Pete playing with The Straps 21st July 2012 at the 100 Club in London