was the summer of 1980. I was on my way to audition for a band that I wasn’t even sure I wanted to join.
I suspect this was a defensive posture rather than a reality, but sometimes it’s psychologically sound to go into a potentially stressful situation with an attitude of ‘if this works out, fine. If not, well fuck it! I didn’t much like them anyway.’ This, by the way, was also my general attitude to dating women at the time.
I exited at the given tube station and continued on foot to the London pub where, another tangible episode of what had and would become a series of life transforming events, was about to occur. The people I had come to audition for were conspicuously absent. There were a few suits sitting around chatting over pints and a couple of workmen in paint flecked overalls having lunchtime drinks at the bar. As I moved alongside them to order myself up a beer, one of them said ‘who has he comes as then?’ to his companion who immediately laughed in appreciation of this pointless rudeness. I didn’t respond. It was part of the norm back then.
I wasn’t even dressed that outrageously. Black leather jacket, Chelsea boots, punk rock T-shirt with a red scarf knotted, cowboy-fashion, around my neck (very de rigueur among the Mick Jones wannabes at that time), black drainpipes and the obligatory studded leather belt gathered around my pencil thin waist. I suppose the eyeliner and the fingernails that I’d lacquered with black nail polish were a touch exotic for those parts, but compared to the new enhanced selection of peacocks strutting around the streets of London collectively calling themselves New Romantics, I considered myself no more flamboyant than an Amish funeral director.
I was therefore a touch relieved when Charlie Harper and Nicky Garratt finally turned up. Although we hadn’t actually met until that afternoon I’d seen these two in action before, once in the distant flesh while performing on stage with the U.K. Subs at the Lyceum as support act to Generation X, and once on celluloid in the movie 'Punk Can Take It', the B-picture to the film I’d actually paid to see, 'Scum'.
I’d already formed a casual opinion of the band and its members based on these experiences, some good, some less positive. But it’s only when you personally interact with people and share conversation that you get to discover the measure of them and can then rationally consider their compatibility with your own desires.
We talked for a while and my defensive posture started to yield. The more we talked the more it yielded until I started to think ‘I can work with these guys, they’re sound people’. Such thoughts only cranked up the tension and added to my edginess, which got ratcheted up another notch when Charlie said "OK, grab your bass and let's go upstairs to the rehearsal room and see if you have what it takes to be a UK Sub". As I hauled my instrument up to a diminutive room that contained various pieces of road-worn Marshall equipment, and a drum kit adorned with dried spit and beer stains, I had no idea that I would still be verifying that proposition more than thirty years later.
Thirty years-plus. A long haul. But I haven’t played exclusively with the Subs throughout that entire period. It has been an on/off/on kind of affiliation. There has also been a couple of rather interesting detours, which I will revisit and feed you the beef from at the appropriate time. It’s also the case that my musical career began a couple of years before the aforementioned audition, so there will be some choice moments from those pre-Subs capers for your consideration too. But primarily this venture is about my relationship with the U.K. Subversives.
In regard to this enduring liaison I intend to be candid and honest. I know the old adage about ‘there’s your truth, then there’s their truth and somewhere in the middle is the truth’, but I’ve never entirely agreed with that maxim. Sure there is always a degree of subjectivity involved where memory and history are entangled, but as a explicatory example answer to this: consider whether Hitler was a misunderstood genius who only wanted to unify Europe for the good of its peoples and convey civilisation to places where it did not fully exist, or, was he actually a megalomaniac Nazi scumbag, primarily responsible for the death of millions of human beings and an enemy of freedom and decency? If you agreed with the first part of this question and rejected the ‘Nazi scumbag’ option, I suggest your powers of comprehension have become so diminished that you are seriously delusional and/or suffering from a terrible psychotic disorder requiring professional help.
The point is that the weight of evidence leads us to the general truth. In order then to achieve some degree of impartiality in the forthcoming chapters, I will utilise the recollections of past and present band members and secondary witnesses, refer to press articles and tour itineraries and incorporate various other sources of alternative wisdom, rather than rely solely on entries from my diaries and from my personal memory alone. No doubt there will be observations expressed and events depicted that some people will take exception with; and there might well be a few errors in regards to specific dates and particular circumstances, this being a common enough occurrence in the domain of published memoir. But I will do my best to keep inaccuracies to a minimum and try to be fair in my assessments and depictions of others.
Which conveniently brings me on to the subject of the last time I dealt with my participation in the UK Subs' story in print, the 1996 published book 'Destroy'
As well as glaring factual errors (I’m not entirely to blame here, the editor at Britannia Press assured me he would fact-check everything and clean-up mistakes before publishing but obviously didn’t), there were also some unnecessary personal remarks made about particular individuals and bands in 'Destroy' which I regret, along with its perceptible negative tone. I had separated from my first wife during the writing of this book, was fast heading for divorce and had started consuming heroic amounts of booze on a daily basis to cope with the ensuing emotional trauma. This combination of factors unduly influenced my state of mind and provoked the negativity towards a branch of music that had nourished me and from which I still feed. I sincerely hope that the positivity and regard I now hold towards punk rock, and those who keep its defiant spirit alive, will be reflected in my forthcoming narrative.
So there we have it, Diminished Responsibility: My Life as a UK Sub and Other Strange Stories will be available to you in chapter size portions over the coming months here on the ever excellent Time & Matter website. Its mission is to enlighten and entertain. For a while now though, I’ve been struggling with the idea of why I’m still involved with the band after such a long span of time, with all the many miles covered during those years, and the difficult physical grind that touring can sometimes be. This was only resolved for me recently.
Whilst touring in Europe earlier this year, we turned up at a Swiss venue that the Subs routinely play, the Sedal. Here we discovered that TV Smith was opening up for us. I’ve known Tim a very long time and consider both himself and his partner Gaye as very good friends. I also believe he is one of the finest songwriters to emerge from the punk genre. As ever, he played with enthusiasm, skill and energy, alone on stage with only his acoustic guitar for company. It was a typically uplifting performance. After finishing his set, he returned to his merchandise stand to vend some product and I joined him to praise his show.
He was selling some copies of his published tour diaries and I said I would like to buy one. He refused my money and gifted me a copy saying I was in it, apparently in a chapter about a tour he had undertaken with the Subs in the Czech Republic ten years earlier. I thanked him and asked him to sign it for me.
He took up his pen and after he’d scrawled his signature wrote… ‘To Alvin, keep doing it my friend because you’ve GOT to keep doing it!’
I’d finally discovered the answer to the riddle of why I continue to live my life as a UK Sub.
The Black Rickenbacker bass pics by Claudine Gerrard.
The Glasgow/Thunderbird bass shot was taken by Clare.