After just a handful of rehearsals, Subway Sect debuted at the legendary 100 Club Punk Festival on Monday 20th September 1976. Sex Pistols' manager Malcolm McLaren had suggested that Vic Godard and his mates (a bunch of south-west London soul boys, who hung out at Sex Pistols' gigs) should form a band to help swell the number of acts in a line-up that already included the Sex Pistols, the Clash, the Buzzcocks, Siouxsie and the Banshees and the Vibrators. Subway Sect turned out to be one of the most original and innovative bands to emerge from the festival. Although hampered by the fact that all the members were learning to play their instruments as they went along and were poor musicians even by punk standards, a distinctive sound soon emerged, revealing songs that were influenced more by French pop, Sinatra, Northern Soul, The Velvet Underground and early swing than by any desire to sound like a punk rock act.
Subway Sect developed like no other band from that era. You either loved them or loathed them. They polarised audiences and attracted admiration and horror in equal measures. But out of the chaos emerged someone whom Edwyn Collins later described as 'the best songwriter of his generation' - Vic Godard. Edwyn caught an early Sect gig when they supported The Clash on The White Riot Tour in 1977. 'We thought they were brilliant,' he recalled. 'The Clash were more like a traditional rock group, but Subway Sect made a glorious racket. We found it all very inspiring.'

Their debut single, 'Nobody's Scared', was issued in March 1978 and was well received. Work on their dŽbut album was well under way at Goosberry Studio when Bernie Rhodes, the band's manager, aborted the project with only six of the tracks mixed, and sacked all of the band bar Vic. No one quite knows why. Bernie's stated reason that the musicianship wasn't up to it was hardly vindicated when the second track from those sessions to be released, Ambition, went straight to the top of the indie charts selling 20,000 copies in a week**. It stayed at the top of that chart for nine weeks. As recently as 1997, Ambition was mentioned in Mojo magazine as having just missed out on a place in its Top 100 Singles of All Time. Rumours abound about the financing of this lost album. Record labels at that time were desperately trying to sign up any half decent (many weren't even that) punk band - and it seems inconceivable to many that there weren't labels fighting over The Subway Sect who were one of the most happening bands around at the time, with perhaps the greatest potential of any outside of - and arguably including - The Pistols and The Clash. Certainly no-one in the band ever saw any contracts and the album that was finally recorded, "What's The Matter Boy?", is still grossly unrecouped, so a very large advance was paid but certainly not to Vic who claims he has never even seen a contract and didn't even realise until recently, that there were anything other than publishing royalties in the music world. What happened to advance we will probably never know. Backing musicians The Black Arabs and Terry Chimes (and his brother) were hardly paid a king's ransom (if at all) and the studio allegedly was hired on the cheap as a try-out because it had only just been built.

Vic always regretted the split, recently saying if he could have his time again he would have left Bernie and stayed with the band. It's interesting that he assumed they would have had to go on the dole - the fact that the advance was so large still hasn't really sunk in with Vic. Apparently a common management practice is to shield record label interest from bands or artists to make it look like they have only been signed because of the great efforts of the manger.

Who knows what might have happened the band had stayed together. Certainly, 'What's The Matter Boy?' would have sounded completely different. It may sound cliched, but the sky was probably the limit. 'What's the Matter Boy?' was finally released on MCA/Oddball in April 1980.

Later that year Vic Godard and The Subway Sect appeared at The Music Machine supporting Siouxsie and the Banshees. Typically, Vic had moved on and the new line-up that played that night turned up in tweeds and played Vic's songs with a big Northern Soul, organ based, sound. Once again the audience was polarised. The goth Banshee clones didn't get it. Others, including Postcard's Alan Horne, were wildly enthusiastic.He rushed home to Glasgow to play a tape he had made of the gig to Edwyn Collins, who was with the band Orange Juice at the time. Collins was so impressed by what he heard that he headed for London to find Vic (Vic being shy would hide whenever Edwyn was known to be on his way to the rehearsal studio) and later covered Vic's 'Holiday Hymn'. As usual there was no backing for the new Sect sound, or maybe Rhodes was too busy with The Specials and Dexyās Midnight Runners to sort out a deal.

Perhaps rather too quickly Vic changed direction once again before committing the new sound to tape. So began Vic's swing era. 'I was into jazz, swing, Gershwin, old music,' he said. 'I'd started using more session musicians, and thought, well, if all I've got to do is sing, then there's no reason to stick to rock.' Vic takes up the story in the sleeve notes for '20 Odd Years': "The message of punk - that any fool can do it - inspired the beginning of yet another Subway Sect line-up in the summer of 1980 - only this time the music was to be post-war swing. The Sect had just completed a tour supporting The Buzzcocks and, yet again, the group members had gone their separate ways. The band's guitarist at that time, Johnny Britten, had gone home to Bristol and started his own rockabilly band. When he came back to London, he brought the band with him, but it wasn't very long before he was being offered too much modelling work to have time to sing. Watching the group rehearse I was immensely taken by their 1950s style, and when drummer Sean McLuskey played his kit with brushes, rather than sticks, they could play swing as well as rockabilly. We teamed up, playing swing and wearing silly sparkly suits with bow-ties. Before long we had our first gig at Heaven and, eventually, Sean got us a residency at the Whisky-A-Go-Go in Wardour Street, which became Club Left every Thursday night. Here, any fool could play (and regularly did), backed by Sean McLuskey, Chris Bostock (bass), Rob Marche (guitar) and Dave Collard (keyboards). This swing-style set soon built up a small repertoire of swing classics and the band could play backing for anyone who cared to get up and sing. Next came a nationwide Club Left tour, where Tom Cat, Lady Blue and me were joined by our regular DJ, Johnny Britten. We toured with all sorts of teen-bop, goth and heavy metal bands, such as Bauhaus, John Cale, The Dead Boys, The Damned and Altered Images, most notably being bottled off stage in Liverpool when supporting Bauhaus. We were wedged between them and The Birthday Party on that tour, wearing our tuxedos and smiles in a sea of gothic black leather and mascara. This was the most satisfying rebellion I have ever been a part of. In the summer of 1981, we recorded Songs for Sale. The album disappointed all of us, because we felt that it failed dismally to capture the swinging but punky exuberance of the band. The others soon lost interest in my shenanigans and went on to achieve chart success as the Joboxers, using one of the guest vocalists from Club Left - Dig Wayne. Geoff Travis, at this time, was working with Mike Allway from Cherry Red records to start a new label called Blanco y Negro, financed by a major label, and I got the chance of a lifetime: to record an LP at Olympic Studios with the cream of Londonās jazz musicians. I think I was far too young at the time to handle it successfully and the LP,' T.R.O.U.B.L.E.', was not deemed worthy of release. It was only two years later that it was finally released on Rough Trade, at a time when I'd already called it a day."

Vic basically retired and became a postman for the rest of the eighties. And who could blame him. As we know, his retirement from music was only temporary. Once again Vic takes up the story: "Johnny Thunders was conceived years later, in 1990, while I was reading his obituary by Chris Salowicz in The Independent. As I read it, I strummed along hesitantly on a guitar that my wife had bought me as a Christmas present, and I had the song very quickly. Four years earlier, in 1986, I had joined the GPO - where I met Paul 'The Wizard'ā Baker. Everything I couldn't do, he could, and every time he upgraded his musical equipment he would sell me his cast-offs for a fiver or tenner. In 1990, The Wizard took me to his house in Whitton, where he had a Tascam. There we recorded Johnny Thunders and another 10 tracks on his 4-track. We then decided to make it sound more professional, so we asked Geoff Travis at Rough Trade if we could hire an 8-track for a week, to which he agreed. He also, subsequently, financed other tracks with a view to releasing an album; but unfortunately, before it was finished, he got into financial difficulties. The semi-finished project was left in the hands of its producer, Edwyn Collins, who also had an 8-track - in his bedroom. Thus it was that End of the Surrey People was completed, with no budget, by dint of Edwyn's enthusiasm. Heavenly had stepped in to pay for a couple of tracks after the financial collapse of Rough Trade, but they were then bought out by Sony. So it was left to Edwyn's old collaborator, Alan Horne, to release it on his Postcard label."

"In 1994 I became involved in setting up a new group with Matthew Ashman, who was helping me to understand the workings of a 4-track and how to record demos sufficiently well. He collaborated on the music for Outrageous Things and Place We Used to Live. I left the vocal of Outrageous Things with him one evening and he stayed up all night doing the drums, bass and guitars. He rang me the next day and, in an excited voice, asked me round to Fulham (where he'd been sleeping in his friend Guy's front room) to listen to the results". Mathew told Vic that he thought thathis guitar playing on Outrageous Thing was the best of his career. Vic continues: "Unfortunately, he died soon afterwards and the LP, which he had helped to start, [eventually] took a different course - with more emphasis on the gospel-jazz piano and organ sounds of Pete Saunders (a former member of Dexy's). Pete's playing significantly raised the capabilities of some of my simplest melodies. Allied to that were the subtle skills of Dave Morgan on drums, Clare Kenny on bass, and the multi-talented percussionist, Martin Pines." This album, 'The Long Term Side Effect', was released on Tugboat Records in 1998.

To be continued.......

Copyright Motion Records/Pat Gilbert/Vic Godard/James Dutton

**Alternative Chart

1 (6) AMBITION, Subway Sect, Rough Trade
2 (3) TEENAGE KICKS, Undertones, Sire
3 (2) ALTERNATIVE ULSTER, Stiff Little Fingers, Rough Trade
4 (") EXISTENTIAL, Prag Vec, Spec
5 (9) 6000 CRAZY, Spizz Oil, Rough Trade
6 (1) PUBLIC IMAGE, Public Image Ltd, Virgin
7 (20) GERM÷FREE ADOLESCENTS, X-Ray Spex, EMI

8 (7) MURDER OF LIDDLE TOWERS, Angelic Upstarts, Rough Trade
9 (4) CID, UK Subs, Spartan

10 (5) DAMAGED GOODS, Gang Of Four, Fast
11(") LIFE/ LOVE LIES LIMP, Alternative TV, DFC
12 (11) DON'T CARE, Klark Kent, A&M Green Kryptone Block
13 (17) SUMMERTIME BLUES, Flying Lizzards, Virgin
14 (19) THE PARANOID WARD, Patrick Fitzgerald, Small Wonder
15 (10) RADIO RADIO, Elvis Costello, Radar
16 (12) TAKE ME TO THE RIVER, Talking Heads, Sire
17 (") ACTION TIME VISION, Alternative TV, DFC
18 (18) EXTENDED PLAY, Cabaret Voltaire, Rough Trade
19 (" )YOUNG PARISIANS, Adam & the Ants, Decca
20 (") PRIVATE PLANE, Thomas Leer, Oblique