Hello Vic, thanks for talking to the Friars
Aylesbury website. I don't know if you remember your first Friars
appearance when there were lots of people backstage asking "is Vic
there?" after it turned out you and Bernie Rhodes got here late after
your car broke down. Just as you were about to go on stage and the rest
of the band there, it transpired you weren't! A quick change into the
tuxedo and away you went. But you remember the second gig more I think,
with Altered Images.
I remember the Bauhaus one, that's where
there was the conga....they weren't keen on it. I remember The Birthday
Party and Bauhaus never spoke to them either. They never spoke to the
support bands at all!
This conga business...Bauhaus were really
po-faced and thought the audience was taking the piss out of them!
People were just having a good time. We had a couple of Latin American
numbers and that's what started the conga off. When Bauhaus came on,
they just carried on! Bauhaus took it the wrong way!
That I would love to have seen!
But having been back from the start of
the new wave era supporting the Sex Pistols and The Clash, it's
surprising we didn't get you sooner.
It's strange that we didn't play Friars
Aylesbury during that punk era. Didn't The Clash and the Buzzcocks play
Friars around that time?
Yes they did, in 1978.
Ah, that explains it, as we were out on
our own by then. We did the Great Unknowns tour and sent out with a
French band by Bernie Rhodes to see if we could make it on our own.
Which explains how we missed you at that
point. When you were on those tours with The Clash and the like, I know
Joe Strummer was a big fan of the Subway Sect and could see you really
developing couldn't he?
He was certainly very helpful towards us
in very practical ways. He helped us out with guitars and amplifiers. We
were total novices and didn't know what was what or what strings to buy
and that sort of thing.
As I understood it from the time, the
guitarist learned three chords and that was it, you were away. But in
time, it's fair to say, that you felt held back by others lack of
Yes, if we had more than three chords it
was a problem.
So the musical development
of the band got stunted somewhat.
At this time, I was learning to play the
guitar myself and that enabled me to write the music and I was able to
develop this over time once I got the hang of it. It also became obvious
that I couldn't write a song unless I had a group, one of Bernie Rhodes'
big ideas was to have a songwriter for his record label rather than any
How did you meet Bernie
Rhodes, was it through the Clash connections in the early days touring.
It was at the 100 Club gig when we were
asked to play with The Cash whom we already knew as we had been using
his studios for the week before that gig.
So did he take you under his wing?
Not really, the strength of it was that
we were using his studios for free. So we used those rather than use a
place we couldn't afford to pay for. Bernie in return gave us a mop and
bucket to clean up but we left it in the corner. That was a standard
trick for groups that wanted to use place, the mop and bucket!
You worked with Bernie and worked in
France and I understand you were living or working in the same building
as Nico, but you never worked with her?
Yes, we were hanging out. I didn't work
with her though. An interesting collaboration? It would have been, but
she was too busy eating and drinking a lot. She was interesting to talk
Related to Nico, although you came out of
the first wave of punk, you played Friars in 1981 in a tuxedo paying
music that had in place Velvet Underground influences amongst others, it
was a complete sea change in style....
What brought that about style change, was
it any one event or you saying let's bring this forward?
The first move with the tuxedo came about
when we were doing northern soul or Tamla type songs around 1979. I did
one gig doing that. It was probably around late 1980 when I met Johnny
Britten that I started thinking about doing swing type songs. He'd come
up with his band from Bristol and had been doing rockabilly type songs.
It certainly took things forward! So you had the
northern soul and rockabilly influences.....
The biggest success would be when I
started all the jazz stuff and 'Stop That Girl' and a different sound
From your perspective, was it evolution
I'd always been into that soul music and jazz stuff but had never been
able to write songs in that vein in the punk era because of my limited
musical abilities. I always had the tunes but could put that into chords
for the rest of the group so we were able to work it out with a group so
we could play it back in a couple of days time.
The later post punk Subway Sect became
JoBoxers and you took a bit of a back seat from the music business and
became a postman?
I did another album after that with quite
a big jazz group.
That was the album Trouble?
Two big jazz groups...Pete Thomas and
Jumping Jive and Working Week. So I took the jazzy thing even further
with horns and by that time, the music scene was synthesizer based and I
went right off it.
Definitely not your thing! What brought
you back to the music, was it working with Edwyn Collins?
What happened was that I was messing
around with some four tracks at work at the post office. I'd started
writing songs into a tape recorder using a guitar my wife bought me and
a friend suggested putting them down properly onto four track. He
suggested I got a four track, so I did. It was thought the songs were
too good to keep as a hobby and he came up with a ridiculous list of
names to send them to! The third name on the list was Geoff Travis of
Rough Trade. He was really into them but it went pear shaped with him so
I went to another label, Heavenly who got taken over the same year by
Sony so it all went into the long grass with them. Then Edwyn who had
produced it suggested Postcard Records out of desperation, it was last
option really. I wasn't that bothered as I was stuck in the post office,
so what label wasn't important.
Coming round full circle, you are out
gigging again as Subway Sect and you must have a huge pot of songs to
draw on. You are presumably doing some material now from those early
Yes, but the setlist is always changing
as I don't always play with the same group. Which group I play with
determines which songs we do as they know certain ones. With Subway Sect
there are 16 songs maximum When I was playing with the Bitter Springs
for example, we had a repertoire of 29 songs. The group before this up
till about last November had a repertoire of 23. We've got Paul Cook in
who demands that everything is supertight rather than earning it live.
We're working more songs into the set.
You've quite a few gigs lined up for
Yes a few. Last year I had nine different
line ups! This year will hopefully steadier regards the line up. We did
about 30 gigs and about the same this year.
Gigs aside, are you still a postman?
What I think is great is that 36 years
after that punk revolution, your name is still out there today. So many
fell away and are not remembered. A great achievement.
If you don't have the songs that get
remembered, you don't get remembered. Doesn't matter what the gimmick
is, if you haven't got the material. We have songs from different eras.
There were some bands from that time who
were truly awful!
Yes and the changes is style were to get
away from that.
You may remember Gryphon, a neo classical
prog band who morphed into The Banned and had a minor hit with Little
Girl? They've gone back to being Gryphon, but I think they were trying
to ride the wave.
I've heard of both but didn't realise
they were the same!
There are a few true survivors from that
period, obviously yourself, The Clash, Siouxsie. I'm so glad you're
still in the public eye today.
Very best wishes to you from all at
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2012 Mike O'Connor/www.aylesburyfriars.co.uk
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