Friday 26 April 2013

Top 102 Albums⁺ No 16 What's the Matter, Boy?

Top 102 Albums⁺ No 16 
What's the Matter, Boy? - Vic Godard and Subway Sect

Subway Sect's Ambition is one of my all time favourite seven inches of vinyl. The very antihitesis of Thatcherite values the song showed Vic to be the crown prince of ambivalence. It regularly appears on compilations and best singles lists but was to be one of only two singles representing the 'original' Sect until Vic went back and recorded 1978 Now a couple of years back.

The single was to be part of a legendary album that has never been released, as manager Bernie Rhodes (he who 'knows' on The Specials' Gangsters) decided not to release it and sacked the whole band. It is rumoured to have been lost to flood damage and to be unrecoverable. It could have marked the end but instead it was to inspire the first in a series of resurrections by Vic and the fluid ensemble that was/is the Subway Sect.

This was to be one of the key touchstones for the Sound of Young Scotland and Scotland appears to have been the place where the Sect were most appreciated. Mostly being a Vic fan elucidates nothing more than a 'who?' but it's a treat when you meet a fellow fan. The Subway Sect were on the infamous White Riot tour and were probably the least commercially successful of the first wave of punk, and of Bernie Rhodes' (Clash, Dexys, Specials) stable. Well, having a whole album scrapped will do that and this album only just fared better. It's release was delayed and the sound quality on the original was not so great. My copy is a cd re-release from 2000.

It was the release of the stunning Sansend in 2002 that encouraged me to dig beyond the original two singles and his 1982 swing album Songs for Sale. And what a treat that was. Although Sansend was the first album under the Subway Sect name in a while I discovered The End of the Surrey People (on Postcard) and Long Term Side Effect, two great albums that Vic had released under all but the most sensitive radars in the nineties. Collaborators included Edwyn Collins who had recorded an early Sect song, Holiday Hymn with Orange Juice. The closest Vic came to real commercial success was doing backing vocals on A Girl Like You. Although he did release an EP of songs written for a musical called Blackpool with Irvine Welsh which includes the most played song on my iPod, Working Classes which challenges Randy Newman in it's wryness. It ain't on Youtube or Spotify so you'll have to buy it to hear it. You can buy it here. Cheap, from Vic.

Although including songs from the 'punk' Subway Sect this album sounds more like 60's Parisian pop meets The Velvet Underground in a shabby but sharp cabaret club. Well, having borrowed Jean Luc's surname Vic was bound to have his own take on New Wave. He sounds diffident and his voice wavers but it perfectly matches the songs and their deadpan humour. And the whole album has a light touch and leaves me, anyhow, feeling better.

Highlights, well opener Stop that Girl, a hit that should have been. "Stop that girl, she's heading for the one you love." Yes, you could lose your girl to another and see "her in tweeds." A little bit of accordion, a wise man in the corner giving you advice and a girl who's "eyes devour your favourite dish." The music on this is played by The Black Arabs responsible for the disco medley in The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle.

Birth and Death starts "Should I have been born in another age." Incongruous clashes between the ideas of birth and death, questions like "Why did you shoot me? / Why didn't you choose me?", existential grief worn with a comic touch. Step on up mr Stephen Morrissey. You were listening, weren't you?

Stand Back is an artful jibe at someone who shares some habits with Pontius Pilate "if this goes wrong it's not my affair." Watching the Devil is another that sounds to these ears like a single. Full of staccato drumbeats and one finger piano solos. The whole album is full of hooks. This is a great POP album.

Enclave tells of the "idiot of all, everybody's fool", trying to do too much, 'ready for the great downfall." It bounces into your heart with pratfalls and puns. Out of Touch / View seems like an anthem for Vic, and he don't sound too unhappy to dance to his own tune and on Vertical Integration he gets lost in the forest, or the desert. Any how "all my dreams drew around me and complained." Did they feel they were being exploited? Who knows. And who else asks these important questions.

Split up the Money was the actual single and it has a great chorus backed up by a bubbling organ sound just beneath the rockabilly shapings of the guitar. There is glee in this tale of a robbery gone wrong, and we exit on repeated invocations to  "split up the money and run, run, run."

Stool Pigeon is another crime scene with the pigeon looking for a stool, asking "won't you take tea with me, knock me around all over the place and then leave."

Double Negative has a great riff, and Vic lets us know that all he has to say is positive. In between we get the cheering news that the wicked are incompetent (I think).

Ok, Ok, these aren't selected highlights, they're every track and rather than bore you with my (rather random & insomnia fuelled) thoughts on each and every one I encourage you to listen, and listen again. Soon, this will start to put its hooks into you.

Here's a Youtube palylist of a bunch of the songs just for a start. Visit http://www.vicgodard.co.uk for more info and to keep up with Vic who remains active and continues to release music that is well worth checking out.


  1. I remember 'Is Vic There?' but can't recall more.
    I went to every punk show that visited Sheffield/Leeds back then so I must have seem them...

    1. He's still gigging and (in response to my Twitter post) said that he is thinking of recording a new version of this album with his current collaborators. (The Sexual Objects featuring Davy Henderson from The Fire Engines.)
      I'm hoping that he makes it to Ireland at some point....