Vic Godard has been increasingly prolific in recent years to my mind (writes Andy Wood) though I’d have to agree that he has never completely disappeared from view.
I first got into his music as a teenager, initially by hearing the classic single ‘Ambition’ on an NME cassette compilation Pogo Agogo. It was a great collection and it was the likes of Subway Sect, The Slits, Wire and The Fall that caught my imagination as opposed to the tracks by the big-guns such as The Clash or Sex Pistols.
This would have been around 1986 I think and I struggled to find more stuff by Vic Godard and Subway Sect before striking lucky and picking up the recently released T.R.O.U.B.L.E. It was very different from ‘Ambition’ and pretty much a world apart from the kind of music I normally listened to but it somehow stuck around and we became friends.
The songwriting, lyrics and arrangements are amazing, funny and biting and with ‘Holiday Hymn’ already being familiar to me via The Chesterfields I was soon a massive fan. ‘Stop That Girl’ remains one of my all time favourite songs but tracks such as the aforementioned ‘Holiday Hymn’, ‘The Devils In League With You’, ‘Chain Smoking’ and the wry, witty ‘I’m Going To Write A Musical’ it had me hook, line and sinker. Vic would go on to actually co-write a musical, Blackpool, with Irvine Welsh.
I then got hold of the debut What’s The Matter Boy and Songs For Sale, both of which are fabulously different and yet still inimitably Vic Godard. I was a bit of an evangelist for Vic Godard’s music and would regularly play him to anyone I thought might remotely care. I insisted it was Punk Rock, just possibly not Punk Rock as established rules would have it. And that in a nutshell was what I believe Punk to be. The ability to transgress limited experience or musicianship to express creative ideas in magical ways.
It would be 1993 before another album appeared. The End Of The Surrey People appeared on the re-launched Postcard label. It was an apt home for it given the massive influence of Subway Sect on the Scottish post-punk scene. It’s another work of absolute beauty and was followed five years later by Long Term Side Affect. Both of these albums were well worthy of a wider audience, full of the trademark smart, tuneful songs I associate with Vic Godard.
2002’s Sansend was perhaps the Vic Godard album that I initially found ‘difficult’ to get into but it soon grew on me to become another much loved record. Interviews at the time revolved around Vic’s interest in Hip Hop and home recording and Sansend was certainly a more experimental recording but again it’s chocabloc with great songs.
Since then there has been one album of new songs, 2009’s absolutely genius We Come As Aliens. The title was inspired by Subway Sect playing at Rebellion in Blackpool where they apparently felt a little out of place amongst the Punk nostalgists and doctrinaire views of sections of the audience and other bands.
It’s a raw, melodic affair with some brilliant lyrics about the state of the nation. Sharply witty and deeply cutting, songs such as ‘Same Plan’ and ‘Back In The Community’ are beautiful, hook-laden attacks on the post-Thatcherite political consensus that has taken hold in the U.K. since the 1980s but are personal rather than polemical. As a lyricist, Vic Godard is, for me, one of the best writers ever. A true participant-observer with a smart way with words.
1978 Now was, for me, a strange, but interesting look backwards as Vic Godard convened Subway Sect to record the songs that would have appeared on their now legendary aborted first album. These recordings have attracted a lot of speculation, in part, because very little of them survive, having apparently been destroyed or lost. Although several of the songs were later recorded the versions on 1978 Now represent the vision Vic Godard originally had for them. Whatever the history, it is a fine record for any year.
2014’s 1979 Now! features re-workings of a series of songs from Subway Sect’s ‘Northern Soul’ period. Many of these had only been captured on a few live bootlegs of varying quality including a recording by Orange Juice who went on to cover ‘Holiday Hymn’ rather cheekily before Vic Godard got around to doing so. It’s another great addition to the oeuvre and received rave reviews including a proper feature in Mojo which was miles away from those ‘Where Are They Now?’ or ‘We Thought You Were Dead’ pieces that you might previously have found Vic Godard in. That’s if the music press even bothered to pay attention.
Rounding things up nicely and returning many musical favours it was co-produced by Edwyn Collins and released on his AED records. Vic also appears in person in the lovely documentary Big Gold Dream about the Scottish post-punk scene which is well worth seeing.
In addition to being one of my all-time favourite song writers and music makers Vic Godard and Subway Sect are a fantastic live band and when I decided to come out of retirement as a music promoter he was one of the first people I decided to put on. I was quietly terrified (shitting myself might be the more accurate description) that everything would be ruined by meeting him and haunted by visions of things going wrong. However it was a brilliant night.
Despite a small turnout Vic and Subway Sect were absolute gentlemen and played a blinding, extended set to a hugely appreciative and enthusiastic crowd. They played well past their curfew and I was aware of the venue owner standing behind me. However there was absolutely no way I was cutting them short, I was happy to take any consequences as perfect moments like this don’t come around too often. Afterwards I went up to the manager with the intention of apologising but he was beaming and just said, ‘what a brilliant band’. And he was right. And they still are. I could listen to Vic sing and talk all night.
Anyway, I’ve rambled on so much, and there’s so much I can say, but I’ll leave it at this – Vic Godard and Subway Sect may never sell millions of records or become household names but to those in the know they are absolute legends. Now over to Mr. Godard himself.
Hello Vic, how are you?
In the last few years you seem to have been busier than ever, particularly with a lot of live shows. How did that come about and how does it feel?
“Not really busier than ever but certainly since the early eighties. It came about by having a great manager (George my wife) and it’s better than in the old days as I get to choose what I want to do. So I get the opportunity to collaborate and play live with lots of other groups as well as Subway Sect.”
With the recent album 1979 Now! and 2007’s 1978 Now you appeared to be looking back at a sketchily documented past in your music. How did it feel revisiting these songs and periods again after such a large passage of time?
“It’s been a case of putting things out as they should have been done if I’d had any control of things in the late seventies so it’s a better late than never sort of feeling.”
Is there an element of curating your own history in these releases along with the compilations and collections?
“Yes, that’s what its all about.”
You featured in the film Big Gold Dream and took part in some of the events around screenings. How did that come about?
“Grant McPhee, the director, asked me as I have long standing connections with a lot of the people featured – Davy Henderson, Douglas MacIntyre, Russell Burn, Malcolm Ross, Mick Slaven – and so I was pleased to get involved. The Stool Pigeons were formed to play at the Big Gold Dream premiere after party – me, Douglas, Mick, Malcolm and Rusty.”
In addition to that film there is also the new documentary Derailed Senses about your good self. Can you tell me a bit about how that came to be?
How do you feel about the finished film?
“Glad it’s done and dusted.”
In the past you were often portrayed as the ‘forgotten man’ of the Punk era but things seem to be changing and your music has been shown to have had an important influence on a number of other artists and bands. Do you have a sense of this or was it something you really hadn’t thought much about?
“I’d never thought about it before but have always had people telling me about my influence on various groups but had always been sceptical about it. I always thought (and still do) that my biggest legacy was due to ineptitude -which enabled groups that were almost as inept to have the confidence to try things when they might not have otherwise.”
Moving forward, are their any plans for a follow-up to 2010’s We Come As Aliens? I love that album and always look forward to hearing what you will come up with next in terms of new material.
“Yes, I’m working on new material at the moment and have three songs so far that are starting to sound ready, so hopefully I’ll get the opportunity to record next year.”
Do you still work for the Post Office? How do you find the time to keep everything going?
“Yes, I have another eight years before my enforced retirement kicks in. I am part time now though, so I do music and most gigs when I’m on my weeks off work.”
Along with Viv Albertine, you are my favourite conversationalist / raconteur in music. Do you have any plans to write an autobiography in the near future?
“Not imminently but I never rule anything out. At the moment I prefer to add music to the words and turn them into songs if I can.”
After this run of shows what plans do you have next?
“I’m working on a track with Davy Henderson and Douglas McIntyre for a Port Sulphur single, doing some vocals on a song for Peter Harris of Pipers Son and planning to do another gig or two in the New Year with the 1981-2 Subway Sect. We’ve already booked some gigs next year for the current Sect and are discussing doing something next year with The Stool Pigeons.”
Anything else that you would like to add?
“Just to say I’ve always liked coming to Dundee and am looking forward to the gig. The new songs should be well rehearsed by then (in theory!).”
Photo credits – Mark Richards (top), Peter Tainsh (further down)
Vic Godard and Subway Sect are playing several dates before the end of the year.
Friday 13 November – Glasgow, Admiral Bar (for Sounds in the Suburbs)
Saturday 14 November – Edinburgh, The Voodoo Rooms (for Sounds in the Suburbs)
Sunday 15 November – Dundee, The Cool Cat Club at Beat Generator Live!
Thursday 26 November – Manchester, Gullivers
Friday 27 November – Newcastle, The Cumberland Arms
Saturday 28 November – Liverpool, The Shipping Forecast
Saturday 5 November – Eastbourne, Underground Theatre.
For more details and information check out http://www.vicgodard.co.uk/.
And here’s a video for ‘Born To Be A Rebel’ from ‘1979 Now!’: