Back in 1978, long-time U.K. Subs guitarist Nicky Garratt remarked to a writer that frontman Charlie Harper was old enough to be part of Beethoven's backing band. Fast-forward almost 25 years, and at 58, Harper could easily be the cool grandpa who's still more punk than his children's children -- and with as much, if not more, hair. Rehearsing in Harper's hair salon the first few years after forming in 1977, beat-up equipment stacked next to hair products, the Subs built up a following around their South London hometown, earning exposure through Brit press like Melody Maker
and New Music Express
and making numerous telly appearances on Top of the Pops
. Opening for the Ramones and the Police, the Subs went on to record seven consecutive top thirty hits in England from 1979 to 1981, including "Stranglehold" and "Tomorrow's Girls."
In time things came apart, and a constantly rotating lineup made things worse. (Having a drunk drummer arrested for riding in the luggage carousel at an airport didn't help.) The U.K. Subs officially parted ways in 1984, although Harper kept the band together in one form or another and it has regrouped twice -- sans the carouseling drummer, who is likely sitting next to that Samsonite thought lost years ago. The band recorded Universal this year in the studio of Pat Collier, original bassist of Seventies English punk wave veterans -- and show openers -- the Vibrators, whose "Baby Baby" hit single is among the genre's more noted sappy punk love songs.