Wednesday, January 07, 2009
Out of Print Digital Relics: Subway Sect
Subway Sect We Oppose All Rock and Roll
One of the first ever British punk bands, the Subway Sect are sadly underrepresented by their recorded output. Gigging as early as 1976, the band was managed by Clash manager Bernard Rhodes and one suspects his commitment to that band may have kept the Subway Sect off vinyl. The band managed to released a pair of singles in 1978 but also recorded an album's worth of material which has never come to light and is quite possibly lost forever. Subsequently, all members of the band were fired except singer Vic Godard, who formed a new version of the Subway Sect. This incarnation put out the Subway Sect's late debut, What's the Matter, Boy?, in 1980, featuring drastically reworked versions of the band's early material.
It's a shame, as at their finest the Subway Sect reveled in abstraction in way very few Brit-punk bands did at the time, predating the cool detachment of post-punk by a couple of years. When their peers were pogoing to the blueprint of the first Ramones album, one might imagine Godard and co. spinning "Little Johnny Jewel" repeatedly. While they certainly didn't have Television's chops, Subway Sect perfectly capture an important aspect of the punk movement that's all too often overlooked in favor of clichéd notions of rebellion: creative people inspired to use rock music as a medium to express their ideas, instrumental proficiency be damned.
There have been a few attempts to anthologize the band. Rough Trade released A Retrospective (1977-81) in 1985 and in late 90s there was a double CD summarizing all of Godard's musical activities though it seems to have fallen out of print. For you, I present We Oppose All Rock and Roll, a CD reissue of Rough Trade collection from the Overground label. The first six tracks come from the original band: both of their singles and two unreleased cuts, "Parallel Lines" and "Chain Smoking." (If you care about such things, it's worth nothing that the former was included in the Pitchfork 500.) I can't tell you where they come from since the CD booklet has little to no information but I'd assume they're either from the lost album, outtakes from the singles or perhaps BBC sessions. The final six tracks feature later versions of the band. Four are from a 1979 Peel session and retain much of the old group's fire. The remaining two are examples of Godard's pop (post-rock?) aspirations. The otherwise unreleased "Spring is Grey" is middling but "Stop That GIrl," from a 1981 single, is stunner. Backed by the Black Arabs (the band that did the disco versions of Sex Pistols songs for The Great Rock n Roll Swindle), Godard's croons sweetly and sincerely enough to make you a believer.
The first 2000 copies of We Oppose All Rock and Roll came with a bonus 3 track CD of songs from the lost album, which I've included. The fidelity is terrible but judging from what other bits of the album have surfaced, it's likely as good as can be expected. Godard actually reassembled the Sect a couple of years ago to rerecord the lost album in its entirely as 1978 Now. I haven't heard it though I would guess it still isn't the same as hearing the group in their prime. Sometimes one just has to come to terms with the fact that some things are just gone forever.
Download Subway Sect We Oppose All Rock and Roll