If you stuck with punk after media hipsters declared it dead in the late 70s, or discovered the genre in later years, then you’ve probably seen documentaries in which po-faced first-wave punks dismiss anything post-1978.
For those of us who respond to such elitism with the kind of mouthful Steve Jones gave Bill Grundy, there have been generations of bands who’ve distilled punk’s original creative, rebellious spirit into decades of exhilarating music, a spirit that’s fuelled the U.K. Subs through 45 years of under-appreciated highs and chaotic lows.
Since vocalist Charlie Harper, a veteran of London’s 60s R&B Scene, formed the band in 1976, they’ve released 26 alphabetically titled albums, been covered by Guns N’ Roses, and chalked up a lengthy list of band members.
Harper is the only constant, although key members/songwriters Nicky Garratt (guitar) and Alvin Gibbs (bass, back since 2003) have returned intermittently. Despite the turbulence, they have produced a raft of enduring songs, and maintained a cohesive sound.
Anthology is the first Subs compilation to span their entire career, uniquely illustrating the fact that the band’s passion burned brightly long after the initial chart-bothering hot streak from 1979 until 1981.
Many highlights included here date from after major labels and mainstream press lost interest, and the quality control remains high, side-stepping nosedives like Mad Cow Fever (1991) and including worthy nuggets from singles, EPs and compilations, alongside invigorating album tracks.
Their early material maps out the breadth of their sound: CID mines Harper’s R&B roots, Stranglehold and Teenage wrap a shout-along pop sensibility in brash delivery, while Crash Course and Warhead ease off the speed to add menace.
Mid-to-late-80s delights include the hammering riffs and raucous choruses of Anti Warfare, This Gun Says, and Motivator. Personnel chaos notwithstanding, the 90s yielded belters like Jodie Foster, Here Comes Alex and Riot.
Relative stability has seen the Subs blaze through the new millennium with renewed fire and defiance with cuts like Reclaim The Streets and The Beast. Anthology demonstrates that the UK Subs have a legacy of stirring, influential material.