In today’s music world, legends are becoming harder to find. In 2015, I was fortunate to work with one.
Dubbed by Henry Rollins as his “punk rock surrogate dad,” Charlie Harper and his band UK Subs have continued their rebellious ambition since 1976. After their Lancaster show, I was able to interview Harper for my online magazine at the time. Here’s an excerpt of his best bits.
Jesse Davidson: How did you make the transition from owning a hair salon to becoming a full-time singer?
Charlie Harper: I just gave it to the other stylist (Pauline) and went on the “Farewell to the Roxy” tour. It was just a rented room at the back of a boutique. I never did look back and I was so happy!
JD: Did running a hair salon provide you with any business knowledge that has helped you in music?
CH: The short answer is no. I started out getting signed for the Roxy sessions for a case of beer.
JD: To me, punk music at it’s best, is a community of people that really put everything they have into keeping it alive. Are you able to get a glimpse of this on tour?
CH: That is the very reason that we are still able to tour. There are enough people that care. It is a whole lot more than just the music, it is a global community.
JD: Can you share with us any bizarre or funny touring stories from gigging in America?
CH: I just did a interview for a daily here (the Sunday Star) and they wanted all the dirt. The things we think are funny, really aren’t funny at all. Like throwing someone out the van for drinking and throwing up. Then they would stick their thumb out and get a ride in a Trans Am and beat us to the show.
JD: In The Guardian in February 2015, you said when punk came along, you were accepted. In what ways were you more accepted than being involved in other forms of music, previously?
CH: The whole punk ethos is the stripped down, no thrills, accessible art and music. No snobbery and no experts. There was a old cliché which said, “The street is not the gallery and the gallery is not the street.” We need to turn that on its head. “The street is the gallery and the gallery is the street.” Until punk came along, I was always a square peg in a round hole.
JD: Many people today feel that music, in general, has become stagnant and want something like the punk movement of the late ’70s to shake things up. What are your thoughts on this?
CH: In ’76, we looked around and found that we were surrounded by rubbish. The only way out was to make our own music. As the man said to Marlon Brando, “What are you rebelling about?” Marlon answered, “What have you got?”
JD: Is there anything musically you haven’t done yet, either with the UK Subs or solo, that you want to try in the near future?
CH: Very good question. I’m not into adding a symphonic orchestra, but I’ve always said that one day I will tour with a keyboard to play all our songs that include one. One day I would like to play guitar in a group. That’s if I’m not totally deft by that time.
JD: Do you have any advice for young musicians looking to start their own bands?
CH: I really do have enough advice to fill a book. First, a band is a shared endeavor, but it almost always comes down to one or two members conducting things. The main thing is to stick at it and don’t think that you will make the big time. Like all things in life, its what you put into it. Work hard and you will be rewarded, I promise.