erasing clouds

Meet the Punk Postman: Interview with Vic Godard

by Anna Battista


"Could you please check if you have any albums by Vic Godard and Subway Sect?"
"Well…let me see…" the kind shop assistant at Rough Trade Shop in Talbot Road, London, patiently scans the what's-in-stock pages on the computer in front of him, "…no, I'm afraid, not, we've sold out what we had," he sadly announces, "but right now we have…" he pauses, building some expectations "…we have TICKETS! Yes, TICKETS for his gig!"
"Is he doing a gig?"
"Yeah! He's playing on 29th November at a place near here!"
"Is he still playing?" an innocent looking guy who was rummaging in the punk section of the shop chirps in, turning towards us.
"YES! And it's going to be fantastic! Amazing!" the shop assistant goes, beatifically rolling his eyes to the heavens, resembling for an instant one of those statues of saints you can still see in old churches in the South of Italy, with waxen complexion, cheeks inflamed by their love for God, eyes forever looking at their Creator in visionary ecstasy. The shop assistant keeps on praising the event for a while. He's definitely reached a new state of bliss, perhaps nirvana, and that only by announcing that, yes, Vic Godard is still doing his thing.

A beginning

"RRRRRRRRrrrasta Girl!" a fake punk with a broad smile, but not too many teeth shouts at me outside Notting Hill subway station. "Hey, Queen," he goes, pointing at my Jamaican hat, "would you like to have any?" he offers me some of his spaghetti steaming from a take away Styrofoam container. "No, thanks," I politely answer, smiling, perhaps he's spotted my hunger. "Then, do you want a smoke?" he goes, raising two fingers holding an invisible joint to his lips and pretending to be smoking. "Er…" I pause, "Not now, really, I'm waiting for somebody, you see…" I show him a rucksack near my feet, "OK, then…" he shrugs his shoulders and remains silent for a second. Then, still smiling, he tells me his name, where to find him in case of desperate "need" and finally rushes to mingle with the rest of the Saturday crowd flowing from the underground steps and going towards Portobello, where Italian and Spanish tourists are clogging up the stall galleries looking for bargains they'll never find. It's true, I'm waiting for somebody, somebody who's late, but who finally arrives in his car, stops outside the tube station and picks me up. "Nice to meet you, Vic," I shake his hand once I'm in his car and, while I'm beaming because I'm finally meeting one of my heroes in flesh and bones, ex-Subway Sect's singer Vic Godard, he drives me far away from the madding crowd.

"I was thinking, have you seen that Julien Temple movie?" he breaks the ice. This is crazy: I just wanted to ask him about The Filth and The Fury, Temple's movie about The Sex Pistols. "That's an amazing movie!" I enthuse while images of the movie quickly flash through my mind, "but I think the director should have mentioned Subway Sect as well," I add. "But he mentions us!" Vic reminds me, "In a way he mentions us. Remember that he underlines the fact that there was so much talent in the audience. That was us, he didn't have to actually name the band, because everybody already knows what he's talking about. Besides, the movie is about The Sex Pistols, so they couldn't show footage of other bands." "Oh well, I suppose I don't care about whom the film is, I wanted to see some footage of the Subway Sect as well!" I cry like a little petulant brat. "But as Subway Sect we were never really filmed," Vic explains, "I think we were only filmed three times in the punk era. There's a German documentary about us, then Don Letts did films of us on tour and there is another video about Subway Sect as well, but there aren't others. That's it."

I'm still skeptical; I just wanted to see Subway Sect included in Temple's film, so I change the topic and tell Vic I recently saw ex-Aztec Camera Roddy Frame playing in Glasgow to an audience of Postcard Records veterans totally in love with him. "I met Roddy Frame through Edwyn Collins because he was a good friend of him and when we were doing the album Long Term Side Effect (Tugboat, 1998), Edwyn suggested to get him playing on one of the tracks, 'Cold London Blues'," Vic reveals, then continues.

"And I met Edwyn in the early '90s. After starting working at the post office, I recorded some songs with Paul 'The Wizard' Baker. He had a four track in his bedroom, that was where we first did demos for 'Johnny Thunders'. I sent the demo to Geoff Travis and he suggested to get Edwyn to produce it, so he sent me around to Edwyn's house. I think it was 1991. That's when I met him. When he covered Subway Sect's 'Holiday Hymn' with Orange Juice in the early '80s I thought it was awful, now I quite like it. I never liked it when I heard it originally. Maybe it was a really bad tape. I remember hearing it in a hotel room, on a cassette. Somebody played it to me on one of those tiny cassettes player, so maybe it was just bad quality tape! But I like the version of the song that is on Orange Juice's Postcard CD." Vic pauses, before remarking "I really like it NOW."

Go back to the beginning. Find a new beginning.

"I'm used to carrying weights," Vic smiles, taking my rucksack with all my stuff and carrying it for me, while I get a hold of my microphone and mini disc to record him as we walk along a London park near the zoo. Vic's so skinny that I'm concerned about him being able to carry my big bag, but he reassures me, indicating the sack hanging from his shoulder, "I'm a postman! I'm used to this." Vic has indeed been working as a postman for the last 16 years. "Are postmen into music in Italy?" he asks. "They don't have a lot of time to do that, I guess they work too much." I reply. "I work from 5 a.m. to 11 a.m., so that's not that bad," Vic explains. "Actually things aren't really that good in Italian post offices: a lot of people work on short term contracts and are fired after only a few months…" I add. "We have a lot of short term people at the post office here as well, at the end of three months they have to go. And Securicor is taking over the post office as well…" he adds, shaking his head.

Vic is actually in good company working at the post office, since other musicians also work there. "The Bitter Springs' Simon Rivers works with me. Of the band who's going to back me up in my next gig, three of us are postmen," Vic confirms, "but Paul 'The Wizard', the keyboardist, finishes working at 7 p.m. and we start at 5 in the morning, so by the time he's finished his working day it's nearly our bed time…" Vic smiles. It is with these postmen and musicians that Vic has recorded his latest album. Entitled Sansend (Motion Records, 2002), the new album is actually penned by Subway Sect featuring Vic Godard since it's a collaborative project with several other musicians.

Recorded with Vic's friend Nick Brown, Sansend also includes, apart from The Bitter Springs' Simon Rivers and Paul 'The Wizard', vocalist Chantelle Lamond and special guest Larry Marshall, who does the vocals on the track "Heavy Heavy Heavy Load". "The new album took a long time to be recorded," Vic explains, "but that's because we only really worked on it on Sunday afternoons. If you were only working about five hours on Sunday afternoons on something, it would take you at least a couple of years to do it. We found a fantastic violin player who lives near me, Phil Martin, who's in the band now. The Bitter Springs didn't play on the album, but their singer, Simon Rivers, did the lead vocals on one of the songs and he wrote it as well. He actually wrote the bits that he sings and I wrote the bits that I do. Though we had different singers and two different violinists, I mainly did the whole record myself, just by playing the tracks into a computer."

"Throughout his career, Vic often played with different musicians while recording albums or playing gigs. I wonder if he ever had problems organising the sessions. "Oh, no," he shrugs, "I never have any difficulty in anything that has got to do with music. When there's music involved, I'm always in a good mood. If I'm in a room where music is produced and I'm involved in the process, that will be really fine by me." Though, as stated, Sansend is released under Subway Sect's name, "It doesn't sound anything like Subway Sect," Vic points out, "…hopefully not!" he exclaims and continues. "The old stuff is different from what we're playing now. The lyrics aren't that similar and the music is quite a bit different. Having said that, a lot of the guitar playing is exactly the same as it was. I haven't changed my style at all, but now everything on Sansend is controlled by the beats, whereas in the punk era we never had this consistently as we had different drummers and it was only when we got Bob Ward in as a drummer, that we became listenable. I used to write songs on the guitar during the punk era, now I'm writing them on a piano, that's the big difference from the punk period."

In a way Vic has also changed the way he records his songs: "I've got a four track, a mini disc four track, so that I can record demos in my front room. I never use Edwyn Collins' studio because it's too far away. I live in Kew and he lives in West Hampstead. It takes me an hour and a half to get there, so about the time I get there, I'm sort of exhausted from the driving! Driving in London has become terrible. In the mid-90s, I could drive to his studio in less than an hour, but now you'd think yourself lucky if you got there in an hour and a half because there are so many more roads and schemes. Where I live there is no underground on Saturdays and Sundays to Kew Gardens and you have to get a bus. And this has been going on for a year by now. Besides, the studio where I was working with Nick Brown has been taken over by other people, but, luckily, he's now got his own studio in his house, near where I live, so that's where we're going to work from now on."

As announced by the devoted shop assistant at the Rough Trade shop, Vic played a gig on 29th November in London at The Tabernacle. "The Bitter Springs backed me up and Scottish poet Jock Scot did a couple of tracks with us as well," Vic lists the line-up, "The band who played with me isn't really on Sansend, except for two of them, and the violinist Phil Martin and Nick Brown the producer were added to The Bitter Springs for the gig. Actually, there was also another band on, The Trojans featuring Gaz Mayall, they had a reggae night in the '80s, but they did their set after us, because there was a party after midnight."

Though Vic is planning new gigs, he doesn't seem to be too worried about rehearsing: "We don't need a lot of time to rehearse. We have quite a rough and ready sort of approach. We could go along and do a gig even as we are, but it would be sloppy. What we're doing now is trying to learn more songs, we want to do as many songs as we can, that's why we're rehearsing, we don't want to just do the old numbers because we already know them. What we're doing now is working on learning the tracks from the new album, though during the gigs we'll also play a few of the old tracks. But we're not really learning anything that we don't know unless it's on Sansend. We're not going to play anything by The Bitter Springs because there's not enough time as there's another band that has got to play. When we are going to do other gigs, we'll have time and The Bitter Springs will be able to play their set with me. They have a new album out, so I'm looking forward to playing their new record with them."

Apparently, there will be quite a few chances for The Bitter Springs to play also their tracks because more gigs with Vic are being scheduled. "We're carrying on playing gigs also in January because the album is coming out again in January," Vic reveals, "We're doing this because we hope that the shops that haven't taken the album when it came out will take it after Christmas. So we're going to keep on trying to do gigs. Actually, we aren't really going to re-release the album, but we're going to try and get the shops who didn't take it to buy it," Vic corrects himself.

"The whole story about the album being rejected by the record shops puzzles me a bit, so I ask Vic to explain me what's going on with music distribution in London: "When the album was released, none of the shops had seen good reviews of it. They simply said 'No, we can't take this'. We actually got good reviews of live stuff and we got great reviews of Sansend in Uncut, Mojo, Q. All three of them did good reviews, but when they did it, no one could get the album in the shops because the shops hadn't taken it! We got a few orders on the Internet and that did help. So now we're hoping that once the shops see the reviews and how good they are, then, some of them will hopefully take a couple of copies. Things are getting better all the time for me, but I'm not the only one who has got a distribution problem. It's not just me, it's any band which is not on a major label. There's not many independent record shops left, everything is owned by the same people, they own TV stations, shops, radio stations, so if you're not actually on their books, they'll say they'll start losing money if they play or buy your record."

Getting airplay also seems to be difficult for Vic. "XFM said Sansend was too avant-garde," Vic sniggers, "But I have one supporter on another radio station: Robert Elms, who works on London Live, which once was called GRM. Robert plays my records regularly, but they're not allowed to play more than three records an hour, so they don't play that much music, the radio programmes are mainly talk. There was a music session on that station until about five years ago. But when they changed their name to London Live, they became more talk-based. The only time I ever got an interview on radio was on that station because Robert's a big fan of mine. So as long as he's got a job there, I can get some airplay! He's always played my records ever since he was on that station. I bet his boss doesn't like him!" Vic concludes, laughing, before asking me, "Is it easy to have an independent record label in Italy?" "No, actually the situation is quite dramatic, because once you release the records you never manage to find anybody keen on distributing you, so you end up selling your MP3s on the Internet, and getting depressed because you never seem to manage to sell the actual product." I quickly explain. "Hmm, it sounds even worse than here…" Vic somberly comments.

Go back to the beginning. Find a new beginning.

Alain-Fournier's novel Le Grand Meaulnes is a story of lost innocence and missed opportunity. The main character, Augustin Meaulnes, spends his whole life trying to recapture the magic moments grasped while visiting a mysterious domain. Enchantment, frustration and discomfiture characterise the novel, which is a hymn for the departed days of youth. Rumours say that Subway Sect took their inspiration from French novels, but Vic only used to mention in interviews Le Grand Meaulnes as his favourite book of all time, and, in a way, Subway Sect's story can somehow be compared to Fournier's novel. The story of the band is a story of loss, a story of what could have been achieved and was never grasped.

Formed in 1976, Subway Sect managed to enter the Olympus of punk rock thanks to that long gone Monday in September of the same year, when they played the first night of that two days stint passed to the history of music as the Punk Festival at The 100 Club in London. Their line up included Vic on vocals, Paul Myers on bass and Rob Symmons on guitar. That Monday, right after Subway Sect, there were two other bands, The Sex Pistols and The Clash. Mark Perry's fanzine Sniffin' Glue hailed Subway Sect as "real punks," writing in a review of their first gig, "The Subway Sect hit the stage first and had all the intellectual wimpeys cringing in horror and yapping about how the band couldn't play etc. … They chew gum on stage and look vacant. The four songs they did were great."

Subway Sect's first single, "Nobody's Scared", came out in March 1978, followed by a second one, "Ambition", in December of the same year. Unfortunately, by that time Bernie Rhodes, Subway Sect's manager and also manager of The Clash, had already sacked the whole band, apart from Vic. At that time Vic was living on the dole with the rest of the group. When Rhodes sacked the band he increased Vic's wage to fifty pounds a week, which, in those years, was quite a sum of money.

Many years have passed from that day which destroyed Subway Sect; would Vic make the same choice and leave the band behind if he could go back in time? "Oh no, definitely not!" he raises his bushy eyebrows and vigorously shakes his head, "If I could go back in time, I would get rid of Bernie Rhodes first thing!" He laughs, "We should have stayed well clear of Bernie and tried to manage ourselves as Subway Sect. Bernie's problem was that he sacked the band!"

"Were they pissed off?" I ask. "Yeah, they were really pissed off. I coped with this by just avoiding seeing them for a couple of years. I think that if we had had a manager that was only the manager of our band and not the manager of another band, things would have been different. At that time we were at a tax loss situation, like when you get too many expenses against what you're earning. When Bernie had to pay taxes and didn't have any money, he just paid us with whatever The Clash earned, it was really a small wage, and put it against the expenses. I don't think we had some good tracks at the time but I think that if Bernie hadn't been involved we would have probably had an incentive to actually improve. We weren't really going anywhere, but with Bernie it was really obvious that we weren't."

Some of the punk-era friends Vic had are invariably lost now in the folds of time. "I did a gig with Siouxie and the Banshees in 1979, that was the last time I saw them. Some members of Subway Sect now come to the gigs, but I've never seen the drummer again, Bob Ward. He used to live in Beckenham in the East End and we used to meet in a rehearsal place in Camden. We got him by putting an ad in the Melody Maker. We auditioned a lot of drummers and he was the one we thought was best, but he wasn't really a friend of us. It would be great to get together again, I don't even know if he's alive or in jail or what he is. But it'd be good to see him because he's the only one that I haven't seen from those times."

"I still see The Sex Pistols' drummer Paul Cook, and, before he died, I was also in touch with Nils Stevenson. About the members of Subway Sect, well, I delivered a letter to one of them, Paul, the bass player, this morning, he was on his way to work when I was on deliver on Downing Street. I also see Rob Symmons, the guitarist, he used to work around the corner from the studio where we were recording, that's why he does backing vocals on the new record and he's going to come to the gig as well. But the rest of the band never learnt how to play the guitar, as they never touched it since 1977, though Paul Myers did a year in The Professionals in 1978. But he never took up the bass after that neither did Rob get into music again."

At the beginning of the '80s, Subway Sect's sound changed and became more jazz and swing oriented, tuxedo and bow tie replaced the grey suits of the punk era. Were the fans pissed off by this change? "Oh well, I didn't really have any fans," Vic candidly admits. It's a statement I refuse to believe, but he insists, "I didn't really when I did that. The people we were playing to at the gigs really loved that stuff. We did one tour when we supported Bauhaus in Liverpool and we really had problems since the audience hated it. But in all the other gigs on that tour people loved it. There were skinheads that used to dance about to our stuff in the early '80s, we never really went down bad when we were doing that stuff. It wasn't as if we were doing punk stuff and then we started doing jazzy things. The thing was that when we were doing punk stuff, they were throwing things at us, bottles and everything and when we were doing the jazz stuff, they really loved it, so I thought 'Wow! They like this!' It didn't seem to me as if they hated it at all, actually they seemed to like it more than anything else we had ever done. One of the tracks, 'Hey Now I'm In Love,' was even chosen by Capital Radio as record of the week at that time. It was the first time our stuff was getting played constantly on the radio in London and I had never had it before, so it was a big success for me!"

At present, most of Vic Godard & Subway Sect's releases are out on James Dutton's Motion Records. Vic's first release on Motion Records was the glorious compilation 20 Odd Years: The Story Of Vic Godard and The Subway Sect (1999) that contained all the classics. The collection is divided in two CDs, the first one more grim and punky, the second more gentle and swingy, incarnating the next impersonation of Subway Sect, when they returned at the beginning of the'80s in their new swingy and jazzy attire. Carefully compiled, the double album unfolds the story of the band and of Godard throughout the songs, 'Nobody's Scared', 'Ambition', 'Enclave', 'Split Up The Money', 'Vertical Integration' 'Johnny Thunders', 'Stop That Girl' and 'T.R.O.U.B.L.E.', just to mention a few of them. "James did a really good job with the re-releases of Subway Sect's records," Vic states, "The sound was so bad in the original records. All that stuff didn't sound like the way we sounded as a band, nowadays with a computer you can actually recreate roughly what it sounded like then. So you can really hear it for the first time as it was."

Through the record label site, Motion Records often asked Vic's fans to provide lost recordings or pics of Subway Sect to include in the re-releases. "It took a long time to put all the material together," Vic remembers, "We had to get different tapes from different places and we were always hoping to get better tapes of the older stuff. We never got a hold of the master copies of a lot of the old tracks," he pauses "To tell you the truth, I don't think they exist at all!"

Motion Records has also been releasing reggae records which are real masterpieces of the genre, from King Tubby to The Skatalites, from Augustus 'Gussie' Clarke to Lee 'Scratch' Perry and to the latest compilation Never Forget Jah (The Early Years '76-'86) by Peter Broggs, "Motion did a good job also for what regards the reggae stuff, the records released by Motion were not available on CDs, they were only available on singles," Vic reminds me, "but if you only have a pile of scratched reggae singles, it might be worthwhile to get a better quality product, such as any of these compilations." Reggae DJ Don Letts, more famous for his films on the punk era, recently released a compilation, Dread Meets Punk Rockers Uptown (Heavenly, 2002), that anthologises the records he used to play at the Roxy Club between 1976 and 1977. "I don't keep in touch with Don Letts, I haven't actually seen him for years," Vic reveals, "The album he released was quite good. But I haven't been listening to a lot of reggae stuff recently. I've only got that record by Sean Paul, 'Gimme The Light', which I love and think is the best reggae record for ages. Actually, it's not even reggae, it's a sort of New York style of reggae, it's more a hip hop record. Have you heard that Busta Rhymes remix of that?" Vic asks me, "That's good as well."

Vic also released records with Scottish record label Creeping Bent. Creeping Bent's band The Secret Goldfish co-wrote with Vic their single "Somewhere In The World" and released a split single with him. Later on, The Leopards and The Nectarine No.9 worked with him together with former Creeping Bent fellows Adventures in Stereo, who actually recorded another version of Vic's "Nobody's Scared", released on the Bentboutique compilation, which also contains two tracks sang by Vic, "Make Me Sad" and the Lou Reed cover "She's My Best Friend". The latest Creeping Bent compilation on which a track by Vic appeared ("Nothing Is Easy") is Nouvelle Vague (Creeping Bent, 2002). "Creeping Bent's Douglas McIntyre had a singles club and rang me up to ask me if I could do a track for the club and I did two of them," Vic tells me how he got in touch with Creeping Bent's managing director. "If I do gigs in Scotland, unless we're doing gigs as part of a tour, it's quite difficult to get a whole band up to Scotland, since it costs a lot and you have to be paid a lot to do that, that's why I use to work with Scottish bands in Scotland, because they're already there and the only person that has got to move is me…it's similar to what Bernie used to do with me…" he mumbles. "But they like working with you!" I exclaim. "Oh yeah, we both like working with each other, I love working with The Leopards!" he admits, "And I did gigs with The Nectarine No.9. I did a great gig with them at the LSE a couple of years ago. It was really good. I've played with them more than once. I first met Jock Scot when he was playing with them. I would definitely love to do a gig in Scotland."

Vic has also another connection with Scotland: he's collaborated with writer Irvine Welsh on a major project, a musical play. "It is entitled Blackpool and was staged in Edinburgh in February and March 2002 at the Queen Margaret University College, directed by Harry Gibson and in collaboration with the third year company of the college," Vic explains. "Working with Irvine was fantastic. I'd do it again anytime, though Irvine's always so busy, so I don't know when it will be possible. It was really good. He emailed me the transcript and I tried to transcribe his words into songs. We're going to do at least one of the Blackpool songs during the forthcoming London gig and an LP will be done out of the musical."

And talking about LPs and CDs, I wonder what's in Vic's record bag today: "I've bought two records tonight, Christina Aguilera's and Naughty By Nature featuring 3LW's 'Feels Good ('Don't Worry Bout A Thing)'. But what I wanted wasn't in the shop: I was looking for the new Jennifer Lopez record, have you heard it? It's fantastic!" "Do you like her stuff?" I ask, totally amazed. "No, not normally," he replies, "but I like the new one, because it's based on old beats. Otherwise I like R&B, hip hop and compilations. I have millions of comps. I have a lot of CDs with different tracks by different people. In the end it's a marketing ploy, but I like albums with different singers, I don't think there are a lot of artists I could listen whole albums of. But I've been listening to Bob Dylan's last few albums, he sounds like a skiffle band, he's simply fantastic!"

Go back to the beginning. Find a new beginning.

"This is Camden Town," Vic announces while driving. "You see, those are the first shops of Camden, that's the Jazz Café," he adds, pointing at the buildings we see along the way. "At the time of Subway Sect, we used to rehearse in Camden Town and we used to crash in a rich suite further down the road." Listening to Vic talking right now is a bit like going around with Guy Debord on one of his missions around London to draw the umpteenth psychogeographical map. London can be a lot of different things to a lot of different people, but right now London is a city of possibilities in which Camden Town suddenly assumes another value, a value given to it by memories.

"You know that design tycoon Sir Terence Conran?" Vic asks, "He used to live downhere, his son was one of The Clash's roadies, so we used to crash out in his house. It was one of these huge houses down here and it was at a walking distance from where we rehearsed in Camden. We used to walk down there and try to get money out of Bernie Rhodes! Unsuccessfully…" "Subway Sect's aim seems to have always been trying to get money out of Bernie Rhodes…" I interrupt. "Oh yes!" Vic confirms, "And Bernie made crash any band that he got over up to London in Terence Conran's flat. At one point he was managing an all female French band call The Lous, who took their name after Lou Reed. We went on tour with them in 1978, I don't know how Bernie got involved with this French girl band, but we did a tour called 'The Great Unknown Tour' with them all around Britain, after The Clash started getting quite big. Well, Bernie made them all sleep in there, they were all crashing on the floor. Also half of The Clash was sleeping there. Terence didn't live there because he was divorced, his wife Shirley Conran, author of the book Superwoman, lived there most of the time. One day Terence Conran came back. We were meant to be using only one part of the house and there were all these people using his favourite room so he slammed the whole lot out and we could never use that again. The Clash even had their office in his house at one point!" Vic keeps on driving and recounting his story, then at one point he stops and indicates a row of beautiful white houses on the right side of the road. "There!" he exclaims, "It was one of these houses, see these white places with the balconies, it was one of them!" "It looks so posh!" I remark. "I know, it's a lovely place," he says. "John Nash designed these houses. As I told you, we didn't really live there, we only used to crash there, if you went to a gig and you missed the last bus, rather than walking all the way to were we lived, we could just go in there till the morning."

Since Vic has mentioned The Clash, it doesn't seem inappropriate to ask him about them. Bands like The Clash are seen as icons by their fans, rather than human beings. How were they perceived by Subway Sect? "We actually used to share the rehearsing room with them, so you couldn't really see them as icons, because we spent with them a lot of time. We saw The Sex Pistols as icons originally, but then when we met them they were just ordinary blokes…" he pauses, then continues, "I mean, to tell you the truth, they didn't behave in an iconic way, so that's what stopped you a bit from thinking about them as icons. But the only reason we started making music was seeing The Sex Pistols, that was the only reason why we started learning how to play instruments."

In Julien Temple's movie, Johnny Rotten speaks in a very human way of Sid Vicious, as he actually remembers how he tried to save him from heroin. In the same way, when The Voidoids' Richard Hell wrote a review of Alex Cox's movie Sid and Nancy, he pointed out, "One could wish that the social structure and its values … could have been implicated some for the depressing fate suffered by Sid and his girl. Because it was fate. Sid's whole identity was self-destructive." "Sid was a really sensitive person trying to play the part of a real thug," Vic remembers. "He taught me the first three chords on the guitar, he taught me how to play 'Chinese Rocks' on the guitar, that was the first time that I could actually strum those chords on the guitar in the rehearsal place one day. I think you might say old Sid started me off as a guitarist!" Vic exclaims. "He once said on Radio One that his favourite bands were Abba, Subway Sect and The Ramones! That was the best thing that had ever happened to us! You didn't have any respect for all the other people who said they liked you, but if Sid said that, then you'd really thought you'd made it!"

"Vic smiles, recollecting. Sid Vicious OD'd in 1979. What happened when Vic heard about his death? "I was into heroin myself at the time," he admits, "so I was a bit insulated from it all. You are when you're on heroin, because all you're thinking is how to get the gear for that day." "How long were you addicted?," I ask. "Too long!", he exclaims and stops talking to think, then continues, "From when I was about 19 to maybe when I was 30 or roughly around that age, maybe 32, I'm not really sure. The best thing about heroin is that it is really good to give you a grasp of how much money is worth. That is the best thing that it did for me, it taught me how to live on nothing at all. When you're on heroin, all your money must go into heroin. If you spend one penny on something other than tin foil or heroin, it seems sacrilegious. So everywhere you go, you have to bunk fares, because you think 'I'm not going to pay a 1.60 pounds fare to do this, I could use the money to buy the gear.' Now, I know how to live: as a postman I'm very poorly paid, so I know now how to live onto next to nothing quite well!"
"How did you get clean?"
"I got on methadone. That is illegal in Italy, isn't it?"
"At present heroin users can get methadone in Italy, but it's not enough."
"What do you mean, they also use?"
"Yes they do."
"So, you don't have heroin on prescription in Italy?
"No, we don't."
"You see, I got clean in a clinic in London, and actually there were more Italians than English in the clinic. There weren't many other people from other countries, so I've always thought that other countries had better laws and maybe in Italy they had more draconian laws."

Vic pulls his car in King's Cross railway station parking lot. "A while back I had to catch this train to Glasgow and I was really stressed out because I couldn't manage to park the car," Vic tells me, "In the end I got the train by the skin of my teeth. You know, it's very expensive to leave your car here. I spent a fortune when I left my car here for 24 hours when I went to play to Scotland." We keep on chatting about this and that, about drug laws and politics in Italy before a car park assistant in a fluorescent jacket taps on the windscreen. "Are you dropping somebody at the station, Sir?" the guy asks Vic. "Yes, she's got to get a train," Vic politely answers. And that means that I have to stop recording our conversations.


Beginnings are tricky things. For the Gospel of John in the beginning there was the Word, for The Slits, in the beginning there was rhythm and for Greil Marcus, author of the seminal book on the alternative history of the 20th century, Lipstick Traces, in the beginning there was "Anarchy In The UK". But beginnings are exciting. The writer Alexander Trocchi never seemed to be happy with one beginning, he would find thousands of new beginnings to tell his stories, he never seemed to be content enough with one beginning. The real problems sometimes are conclusions, because that's the point in which you have to come to an end. That's why music is great, because in songs there is never a conclusion, songs have an outro.


Dark. Light. Dark. Light. Dark…Flashes of sudden light alternate to segments of dark in the tunnels pierced by the train. What if the train or the London underground were time machines, what if their movement through space would set off a displaced movement through time and they would turn into means of transport through a dream like the motorcycle in André Pieyre de Mandiargues's erotic novel The Girl on the Motorcycle? Well, then the train or the underground could freely run through time and might go back to an era of safety pins, rebellion and transgression. They would go back to that night at The 100 Club. The Sex Pistols. The Clash. Anarchy and "Anarchy In The UK". The Slits and Siouxie and The Banshees. DIY and fanzines. Sniffin' Glue and heroin. Majors and independent record labels. The dole. Bernie Rhodes. "Nobody's Scared" and "Ambition". Camden Town. Subway Sect and Vic Godard.

Sometimes a melancholic sense that particular moments of epiphany that we experienced can never be retrieved overwhelms us and makes us think that the best parts of our lives lie behind us, not ahead. But new beginnings are the secret. Right now Subway Sect and Vic Godard's new beginning is Sansend. Tomorrow his new beginning will be a new gig. Then another beginning will follow. Then another and another. And Subway Sect will keep on living and playing.

Issue 12, January 2003 | next article

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Photos by Anna Battista