‘Born to Be a Rebel’
By Andrew Stevens.
Vic Godard & Subway Sect, 1979 NOW!, AED Records, 2014
In Godard’s erstwhile collaborator Irvine Welsh’s Skagboys (2012), amid the 1984 miners’ strike, antihero Renton’s father managed to offhandedly dismiss the entire myth-made era of ‘Bolton [sic.] Casino’ Northern Soul from the seat of his coach to the Battle of Orgreave: “Some night that must be! Cans ay juice!” You’d be hard pressed however to find a more timely occasion to release a Northern Soul-inspired collection of resurrected ‘rarities’ than during this month’s sold-out cinema runs of Elaine Constantine’s Northern Soul, the latest in a series of revivalist films of the era. Where 1979 NOW! departs is the backstory, which renders the whole state of ‘development hell’ as chronic understatement, owing its origins to a bandmate’s clutch of Northern Soul 7” inspired songs played by Godard’s Subway Sect during a Camden Town support slot for Siouxsie and the Banshees in 1980.
As with 2007’s companion piece of ‘lost’ artefact recordings 1978 NOW, the album is the product of an enquiring mind prone to a stop-start adventurism in his approach to recording. Godard recalled in a 2002 3:AM interview that 1982 saw a significant yet mistimed jolt out of the confines of punk into Big Band Swing with the band’s Songs for Sale LP which portended its break-up — the residual Sect members were then able to commercially fashion the tight and rousing anthematic sound of their crate-digging as the JoBoxers, leading to hits on both side of the Atlantic.
Down the line, after a stint mentoring the craft of a new generation of indie pop acts mostly centred around Scotland’s Postcard Records and a subaltern career delivering mail for the Post Office in London, rather than the dancefloor presence of Edwin Starr it is Edwyn Collins who has given Godard’s songs their second wind on this 2014 release, a significant recapturing and re-rendering of this Camden Town Banshees support set-list (Collins himself re-recorded and largely owned ‘Holiday Hymn’ from this album as a Peel Session track for Orange Juice in 1981), both producing and releasing this clearly reverent album on his own AED Records.
Recorded at Collins’ London studios, appropriately in fits and starts between 2012 and its year of release, the album itself is bookended by an organ-driven ‘Intro’ and ‘Outro’, which although presaging the stomp-laden groove to come, with its spiky licks informed by the dancefloor-orientated sound of 1979 and before, also recalls the slightly later Medway Town instrumentalism of The Prisoners. Fans more acquainted with Godard’s career will already be familiarised through well-established other versions with the up-tempo fan favourite ‘Holiday Hymn’ which follows, though this time round it’s almost nakedly Jam-borrowed Motown and less low-key introspection (curiously reproduced here with largely the same line-up e.g. long-time associate and Sex Pistol Paul Cook, as well as Collins himself).
The stock themes of the era which Godard and Collins (let’s be clear, this is a joint enterprise) are casting their affectionate gaze are abundant on the record, as you can imagine with titles like ‘Happy Go Lucky Girl’, albeit delivered in Godard’s slightly mournful nasal West London tones rather than any affected attempt at any tragicly laboured blue-eyed soulful delivery. ‘The Water Was Bad’ employs a toe-tapping fat bass and piano riff (“You signed a contract with your own hand / Now your life is laid in front of you as planned”), before the licks of the subdued Supremes tribute ‘The Devil’s In League With You’, then the on/off time signature ‘Caught In Midstream’ could, if you tried a little, pass for a soul-infused Stiff Records heyday A-side rather than its intended obscure flip-side vinyl effect. It all follows in a similar vein, the runaway sax on ‘You Bring Out the Demon with Me’ (“I’ve got no middle / There’s just two sides of me”) is followed by ‘You Made Me’ which chimes with the album’s less jaunty regret-tinged notions (“I didn’t want to swim in your ocean”).
‘Born to Be a Rebel’, tellingly given his past work with members, recalls Young Soul Rebels era Dexys wrestling with Decadent demons (“My brain marries the best and worst of humankind”), yet still manages to ring true against the tenor of the rest of the album and its horn-driven resurgent approach. The falsetto ‘Get That Girl’ then attempts one penultimate swoop at the triumphant revivalism of its era (“Under a copper case / Full of old 78s / The way you work breaks / Is like hunting through crates for the 70s tapes / When I’m lost in this sound”). Yet, and perhaps unkindly, like the sudden and possibly unwelcome arrival of club lights and a polite reminder from the DJ booth, the by now not unfamiliar ‘1979 Now Outro’ arrives with the same immediacy as the album began, as if to inform us of the limitations of our 30 minute time window on this crucial record.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Andrew Stevens is Music Editor of 3:AM and lives in London, where he works as a researcher.
First published in 3:AM Magazine: Saturday, October 25th, 2014.