Subway Sect - Biography
By Oliver Hall
Everyone is a prostitute / singing a song in prison”: Subway Sect, whose members wore secondhand clothes they had dyed gray in the bathtub, was the most miserable of the original English punk bands. Vic Napper of London’s Mortlake suburb assembled the band after seeing the Sex Pistols in 1976, taking his stage name from French director Jean-Luc Godard. Vic Godard remained the only constant member of the band through numerous changes, and by the time he retired the name in the early 1980s, the band was billed as Vic Godard and the Subway Sect, wearing tuxedos, and playing swing music. Godard assembled a new Subway Sect in 2006 to record the songs from the band’s lost first album, and continues to perform with yet a newer version of the band as Vic Godard and Subway Sect.
Subway Sect debuted at the Punk Rock Festival at London’s 100 Club on September 20, 1976, supporting the Sex Pistols. The festival was essentially a promotional gig for the Pistols organized by their manager Malcolm McLaren. Godard told Jon Savage in England’s Dreaming (St. Martin’s 1992), “Malcolm paid for our rehearsal time when we first started, at a place called Manos in Chelsea. He wanted as many groups as he could get [for the festival]. When he first came to see us, he thought we were so awful that there was no way we could do it. So he booked us in there, eight in the morning until seven at night, all week, and paid for it. And we were supposed to be on the festival the next week.”
Subway Sect toured with the Clash in 1977 and with the Buzzcocks in 1978, but the band did not release any recordings during its first two years, perhaps because members kept coming and going. Drummer Mark Laff, who often filled in for Paul Packham, joined Generation X and was replaced by Bob Ward; guitarist Simmons left and was replaced first by Rob Miller, then by John Britten; and Colin Scott took Paul Myers’s place on bass. The first Subway Sect single “Nobody’s Scared” b/w “Don’t Split It” (Braik 1978) was also the first (and only) release on Clash manager Bernie Rhodes’s label. Subway Sect recorded a full album with Clash associate Mickey Foote producing that was to have been released on Braik, but Rhodes fired all of Subway Sect except Godard during mixing. The album never appeared and the tapes subsequently went missing, though the sessions yielded the single “Ambition” b/w “Different Story” (Rough Trade 1978).
Backed by the Black Arabs, former Clash drummer Terry Chimes and his brother, bassist Paul Chimes, Godard recorded What’s The Matter Boy? (MCA 1980), produced by Rhodes and credited to Vic Godard and Subway Sect. Godard then put on a tuxedo and assembled a new Subway Sect that played in a post-WWII swing style: Chris Bostock on bass, Rob Marche on guitar, Sean McLusky on drums and Dave Collard on keyboards. Alex Sadkin produced their album Songs for Sale (London 1982), credited to Vic Godard and the Subway Sect. The four instrumentalists from the Sect’s swing period then formed JoBoxers with singer Dig Wayne and had a UK hit with “Boxerbeat.”
Following the release of the Subway Sect compilation A Retrospective (1977-81) (Rough Trade 1984), Godard embarked on a jazzy solo career with “Holiday Hymn” (Él Benelux 1985) and T.R.O.U.B.L.E. (Rough Trade 1986) before quitting music and taking a job as a postman. Godard returned to music in 1990, the year he started working on The End of the Surrey People (Rough Trade 1993), and he continued to record and perform as a solo artist through the 1990s. Edwyn Collins, the leader of Orange Juice and avowed Subway Sect fanatic, produced Surrey People and had Godard sing backing vocals on his own 1994 hit “A Girl Like You.” The compilation We Oppose All Rock & Roll (Overground 1996) collects most of the extant recordings from Subway Sect’s early years.
Godard assembled a new Subway Sect in 2006 to re-record the songs from the missing 1978 album, with drummer Mark Laff, bassist Trigger and guitarist Leigh Curtis. Paul Myers also appears on Subway Sect’s 1978 Now (Overground 2007). Gary Ainge, the drummer of Felt and Gokart Mozart, joined Vic Godard and Subway Sect in 2008. Trigger and Curtis left the band soon after Ainge joined, and Godard recruited Mark Braby on bass and Kevin Younger on guitar. Godard maintains a Vic Godard and Subway Sect MySpace page at www.myspace.com/vicgodard.