UK Subs

Door Malcolm Nix

06 juli 2024
Punkrock is an endless struggle.

The umpteenth edition of Breaking Barriers will take place in Het Depot on September 21, 2024. Breaking Barriers was created in 2016 to celebrate forty years of punk, and has since wanted to remind us every year that punk is not dead. In September, fans of the British punk pioneers will really be enjoying the festival. After all, Steve Ignorant will be playing songs from his legendary anarcho-punk band Crass. But equally legendary are UK Subs, whose frontman Charlie Harper just turned 80. Organizer Malcolm Nix asked a few questions to the ever-persevering grandpa punk.

In September, UK Subs are returning to Belgium. Do you have any idea how many times you've played in Belgium before or have you lost count, like the most of us?

My guess would be around 40 concerts, starting with a concert with Ramones in 1980.

UK Subs have always had a solid fanbase in Belgium. Is there a difference between the audience you get over here and other audiences in other countries?

Belgium is an exciting place. It's more chaotic than anywhere else and the beer is good.

Before we move on: congratulations on your 80th birthday! You've been around for a while, as they say. Do you still feel the fire burning like you did in 1976 or do you think you've achieved everything you set out to do?

Punk Rock is an endless struggle. We're surrounded by shit, now more than ever. The fight goes on!

The band have been touring a lot (to put it mildly) the past few decades. What has been your worst experience on the road ever? Are there concerts that went horribly wrong?

In Eastern Europe we have had a few bad storms suddenly coming in. People even died then.

We obviously hope to do better at Het Depot and make sure everyone has a memorable experience all night long. UK Subs will undoubtedly do their bit, but you're not alone on stage, as there are four other bands performing as well, with Steve Ignorant headlining. If I'm not mistaken, UK Subs and Crass toured together in the late 70s. Do you remember those concerts?

We did play a few shows together, before Crass or UK Subs ever toured. Those shows went well. A few of them are mentioned in my book, which will hopefully come out next year.

Do you think this political strand of punk is still relevant? Or do you think people listen less and less to the lyrics and don't care as much about the message as they used to?

Not in the UK Subs community. The young bands have a harder message, but, as you say, the people who should be listening, will never hear it. Floods, war and fire still kill thousands of people.

The political situation has indeed evolved a lot since UK Subs started in 1976, when people couldn't even imagine that Margaret Thatcher or Ronald Reagan would one day become the most important political players in the world. What, in your opinion, is the most important political change we've seen in these 48 years?

Right now we’re facing an enormous challenge. Wars and corrupt governments are moving millions of people out of their homes. The result is a backlash on the right, with a lot of 'little Hitlers' rising up.

Of course, it's not all about taking a political stand. There's also the music. You've completed your mission to release 26 albums, one for every letter of the alphabet. Did people believe you would actually reach that goal when you had only released the first three or four albums?

It didn't matter. We just went on with it. It was all a lot of fun.

If no new UK Subs albums are coming, does this mean you'll be concentrating more on other projects? The past few years, we've seen you do more solo concerts. Is it your intention to focus on this musical approach the next few years?

We have always taken life as it comes. We may yet record one more album, but let's wait until all the reissues have come out this year. My solo gigs will get better and I'm mixing a new solo album right now. We can’t concentrate on one single thing. We work on all kinds of projects.

I once saw an online petition to gather signatures and support for getting you awarded a KBE (in full: Knight Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire). Any thoughts on that?

It was silly, but... Thank you, guys!

What is actually the best accolade or form of acknowledgement a band can get? What's the best way people can show their appreciation, including those people who, for some reason, can't attend the live concerts?

I would say it's coming to see us. We know they have given us the lives we’ve led and we really appreciate that.

Finally, do you have any advice for young kids starting a punk band or alternative band nowadays? Given your massive experience, what do you think is the one mistake that's easily made but should be avoided at all cost?

Don’t quit. Just carry on and follow your dream.

Breaking Barriers with Steve Ignorant, UK Subs, Les Ramoneurs de Menhirs, Reproach and BrainDead, 21/09/2024, Het Depot, Leuven.

Picture: Luc Luyten

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