Morrissey sang We Hate it When Our Friends Become Famous and it’s a well known fact that we all absolutely bloody hate it when our favourite band hits the big time. Contrarily, we hate it even more when our favourite band never rise above cult status, barely half-filling the 100 Club and never getting the credit, sales, kudos and wealth their genius deserves.
One of the major foundation stones of my museum of music is the NME C-81 cassette. I know I’ve just lost anyone under the age of 40, but I also know that if you are in my ballpark age wise you will have just gone into a mini-swoon with your eyes a little rheumy (great word).
The NME shed cassettes like spring blossom in the mid 1980s but this was their first giveaway for many a year and was treasured by me like a golden goblet stolen from a fairy castle. I will come back to this one day, but I’m telling you this story by way of introduction to Vic Godard and the Subway Sect. His track, Parallel Lines, a razorcut of angular noise, was for me the pearl that shone brightest, brighter even than the splendid Blue Boy (Orange Juice), the frenzied Endless Soul (Josef K), the perky Fanfare in the Garden (Essential Logic) and great lost cuts by the Buzzcocks and The Specials.
I had heard of the Subway Sect, of course I’d heard of them, the legendary band who played on the White Riot tour, who were there right at the beginning of punk, the band who really didn’t give a monkeys, the band of whom those who were there would sagely whisper “they were the ones”. I was fifteen and now had a new favourite group, even though this was the only track I’d heard by them.
What I didn’t know was that this group no longer existed and hadn’t for three years. I was also unaware that this group had barely left a trace before its implosion (a sorry tale that I do not want to examine here); two singles, a few demos and an album that remains legendarily unreleased to this day (the tapes presumed to be in the grasp of manager Bernie Rhodes, but quite possibly lost forever).
The Sect mk II recorded a Peel session in December ’78, but by January ’81 Vic had gone solo and issued an under-rated solo album What’s the Matter Boy and was en route to a flirtation with bow ties, Cole Porter and the like, which would sweep me along with him, but it wasn’t the Subway Sect.
Three months later, on my 16th birthday, I bought one of those singles: Ambition. This was an epiphany; an astonishing and magnificent song that towered above all else I was to hear for the next decade and a half.
I’ve got carried away. This is a rather lengthy introduction to today’s bulletin. The story of singer, songwriter, punk pioneer and postman Vic Godard and the last 33 years could fill a book, but I haven’t got that long (I’m meant to be decorating the spare bedroom). Last night found him and the latest Sect playing a session on Marc Riley’s 6Music show and you have just six earth days left to listen before it goes the way of the legendary first album.
I’ve experienced several problems with the BBC iPlayer, but stick with it. The show kicks off with Vic’s first song, Take Over, and the session continues at the 45 minute mark with Best Album and Life in the Distance. Vic’s tremulous voice will not be to all tastes, but this new batch of songs sound suitably lo-fi, slightly ramshackle and, as Larry David might say, pretty, pretty, pretty good.
Down the years I’ve collected all the demos from that original line-up, the reissues, forged friendships with like-minded souls, met Vic, can count original guitarist Rob Symmons as a close friend (more on his current band The Fallen Leaves anon) and my best pal is now keyboard player in the Sect. The pop god moves in mysterious ways.
The band play tonight in Euston (see poster) and at Oxford’s Wheatsheaf on March 20th. A huge influence on Edwyn Collins and many others, I’d love it if the first album could be found, if fortune could find its way to Vic & Rob’s doors, but a cult they are likely to remain and that’ll have to do.
Below: Ambition a live version from last year and the incendiary first single Nobody’s Scared from 1978. Parallel Lines doesn’t seem to be on youtube – you’ll have to find it for yourself. They might change your life.