|COME ON AND GET A CRASHCOURSE!!!
CHARLIE HARPER - UK SUBS
|"Born a rocker die a rocker".
Yeah that's Charlie Harper alright. He was born David
Perez in Elephant & Castle, London in 1944 and has
become synonymous with everything punk rock ever
since. A mature misfit with Hispanic looks and
Cockney/Mexican roots. Chas was then unknowingly
destined to sell his soul to punk rock n roll completely.
This (then) 56 year old frizzy mopped, orang-utan lead
singer has played more toilets, done more sweaty
encores of 'Sranglehold' and clocked up more road
mileage in the back of a van than any of his punk
contemporaries to date! And is arguably the most
gigged punk frontman of the 20th Century! Chas has
never shown any signs of letting up either... "I don't
wanna die in my bed" sings Charlie, who has been
fronting bands since he was 20.
It was back then in the sixties where he first got his now well-known
'dog-tag'. His very first band back in '64 was called the immortal
Charlie Harper Free Press Band which was nicked from an old Muddy
Waters song 'Albert Harpers free Press'. Charlie was coined most
probably from his whizz fascination thus sealing his ID in punk legend
and folklore. He's certainly a lot more in your face at the moment and
has always been accessible by the bar to fans of his lust for life...the
UK Subs. Chas was fucking around in bands and buskin' on the
streets for over a decade prior to the Subs origin. And being an artful
sort sub-sidised his various musical combo's by running a hairdressers
shop in Tooting High Street called 'Daisies'. Even today he is still
prone to cutting the odd barnet for a few extra bob.
|However, safe r'n'b ensembles and a pair of scissors wasn't enough for this 30 year old (15 in the brain) Dorian Gray. He wanted something
new and exciting. In actual fact he was itchin' for it. And that something came along when he stumbled into a seedy gay haunt in London's
Soho one cold winters night at the arse end of '76. On stage was a gang of young nutters blasting out a somewhat loud and
uncompromising set full of in your face energetic numbers. The band in question were called The Damned and the club was the Roxy. This
was precisely what Charlie had been scratching around for, all through the last decade! He was swept away by the power and energy
exudeing off these young disciples who were playing a new musical phenomenon they called the Punk Rock! Here's what exploded in
Charlie's subconcious.... "To me Punk was an excuse for fanatics to have their say. People like me who never had a chance before,
people who have just been laughed at. Blokes like me who who've just been through life being sneered at, fingers pointing 'That's
the local nut-case'. When punk came along it was the best thing that happened to me ....I was accepted. "
|He went straight back to his South London Marauders and formed the prototype Subs. Chas wanted his new baby to be original in name at
least. So after hearing of a Scottish Subs doing the rounds, he simply combined UK to the Subs prefix, thus putting the final touches to his
United Kingdom Subversives. The Subs with Chas at the helm has now been around for the last 22 years can you believe? And as
Charlie puts it he and the Subs will keep on runnin till he bums! By Autumn '77 they had got a new young guitarist called Nick Garratt, who
answered a wrong advert in the music weeklies. Charlie liked his Wilko Johnson look and he was in. Within two weeks standards like
'Telephone Numbers, 'B1C' and 'Tomorrow's Girls' were written. And with the Harper/Garratt songwriting team moulded and in mass
production, they had over night created some great, catchy, angry, fast punk tunes. That were rounded off by Charlie's on the street
unaffected, realistic lyncs. "we're just simpler and more direct"... added a humble Mr Harper to the growing music press attention. These
early pearls of wisdom were/are still belted out in his laid back monotone vocal delivery, with a 'Teenage' zest and Peter Pan stage
presence. A presence that a lot of younger bands will never own. The addictive beats of "soft lights and loud guitars" keep Charlie on that
quest for the ultimate buzz. He knows nothing else but the rock 'n' roll savage of the UK Subs. The Subs are his life. his blood and probably
why they're still pulling in crowds since their hey day in 79/80.
|This article first appeared in UK fanzine The Suffragette #11
published in the Summer of 1999.
|They gained a fanatical UK fanbase, who'd hitch to gigs from all over the country. And Uncle Charlie would look out for em! He knew what the
kids wanted and was doggedly determined to keep his punk roots intact. I remember supporting 'em around '82 down Chelmsford, we only
got a fiver for our set but Chas threw in a lump of draw for our troubles, which he didn't have to! But that's Charlie for ya! Little things like
that go a long way. He had his critics as well and was even classed in some snobby punk circles as stuck in a rut, or way past his sell-by date
many moons ago! But his detractors arnt really doing much themselves these day. He's had his highs and some tragic lowspots, most
notable the wilderness years of the late 80's. But he always bounced back with a new line-up and some refreshing new anthems well into the
90's. Why fix something what ain't broke? He just won't give in. Charlie the eternal teenager don't know the meaning of the word stop! Least
of all when he can get his "kicks for depression, cos he needs his kicks for that obsession!" And that obsession is PUNK.
|His gigging regime is infamous. And he regularly lays waste various band members who dare to join the Charlie Haper music school. Some
urchins twice his junior can't take the pace. These are minor setbacks for uncle Chas, coz he soons turns up with a new line-up within a
week or so or just on a phonecalls notice. There's one thing you learn about Charlie Harper and that is he ain't no quitter, which deserves
your respect. Who else could tour the world in all situations like he has? Coming through very tight spots for example lost visa's, thousand
mile joumeys, armed guards, pennyless, heart trouble, tyres slashed, riots, mis-management, blizzards, gunmen and the usual
misadventures that befalls band travel. That calls for some very special stamina don'tcha think?
|Having now spearheaded a gigging campaign by blitzing the London captital big time. The benefits paid off (and not just from the ones from
Brixton dole office where Chas scribbled either). The Subs had their first vinyl appearance on the 'Farewell to the Roxy' LP followed by their
debut 45 'CID', which a paranoid Charlie describes: "it's about going down Soho where you are always liable to get picked up and
frisked by the law!" His paranoia wasn't totally unfounded however, because in actual fact late one night outside Clapham Common
tubestation after visiting his favourite haunt the 101 club. Plod decided to search this dodgy looking individual and discovered under his
donkey jacket a nasty looking hammer. Chas pleaded it was for self defence purposes (probably an aid to protect his pension book) but was
fined £15 for the honour! Little things like this didn't stop him playing everywhere and anywhere just like today. After signing to Gem records
they made their first Top of the Pops appearance in May '79 with stage favourite 'Stranglehold'. A record that sold over 75,000 copies. They
also got filmed for a short B-movie called 'Punk Can Take it'. This done a nationwide tour of cinema's as a trailer to the highly acclaimed
'Scum' movie. When the five star 'Another Kind Of Blues' hit the fan, life on the road for Charlie and his Subs escalated ten fold.
He was now in his beloved touring domain once more. He would sneak fans into the large venues on the headlining UK tours they were
now playing, while still giving some kid a floorspace for the night. With regular Top 20 positions in the UK singles charts, Chas's ethic's never
faltered he demanded never to pull out of gigs no matter what! A classic example of his 'emotional blackmail' was with the record company.
After he threatened "no plane, no appearance on Top Of The Pops"...they faltered and put on a plane to fly the band to a gig in the Devon
outpost of Exeter. Gem Records had little choice - and he got his way! However when they took off to do the gig straight after filming Top of
the Pops appearance, it was nearly the UK Subs who were left for dead! They endured a 25 minute white knuckle plane ride and nearly
crashed! But do ya think a bit turbulence would knock old Charlie's enthusiasm?...no way! Charlie and the Subs now have the dubious
honour of being the most played punk band ever to grace the studio of Top Of The Pops. As Charlie fondly remembers
"The biggest buzz I got out the Subs career so far was being banned from Top Of The Pops".
|The Spring of 1980 was the bands most successful period. With two Top 40 singles, a Top 20 album plus a European tour with the
Ramones and their first US tour on the horizon, things were looking up. The subsequent 'Endangered Species' sessions recorded in the
wilds of Farham, Surrey were to be a fait accompli. Charlie got bored sitting by the in-house pool and wrote down the obscure track 'Down
On The Farm'. Unbeknown to him this fit of boredom would some 8 years later be an inspiration to LA Rockers Guns 'N' Roses. Axel Rose
and co recorded it on their million seller album 'Spaghetti Incident', bringing Charlie and the Subs renewed and much welcomed
royalties and respect, all be it from the early 90's multi-million pound LA rock circles. Charlie got hitched in 1991, only to undertake a 20
date tour of Europe for his honeymoon (some things never change!) His kids are his biggest fans and here's what he says about being the
role model parent.... "My Kids are great, they say 'Dad your crazy!'"