Unpopular advent 2021 – day 8

Subway Sect – ‘Since The 80s’ from Moments Like These

I’ve written in the recent past somewhere about how I do not have a record player anymore. This is only partly true of course because there is one sitting under a pile of bubble-wrap and Batman comics up in the attic. It is certainly staying there though, for if there is to be a battle for space between it and my little table-top printing press (and there is) the press wins out every time. I will admit too that there is also something appealing about being anti-fashion in a way. And yes, I’m wearing flares and not dressing down all the time. Honest I am.

In the same piece about the Paul Quinn boxset and The Second Coming of Postcard Records I also admit that in spite of the lack of a record player I do still buy the occasional piece of vinyl. Mostly for the purposes of supporting small labels and artists, although sometimes it is also about aesthetics, which cannot be undervalued. I mean, the best way to enjoy Frances Castle’s glorious illustrations for her Clay Pipe label is certainly to have them in a 12″ format, and there is something very satisfying about those Castles In Space subscription library releases. If there were to be a prize for the most beautifully packaged record of 2021 however it would almost certainly have to be laid at the feet of the fabulous Text Und Tone / Colloquium of Unpopular Culture outfit out of New York City for their treatment of Subway Sect’s ‘Moments Like These’. The record is sleeved in a design that follows the Text Und Tone house style of Risograph printing and is based on a photograph of Godard by Travis Elborough, whose ‘Through The Looking Glasses’ book was one of my great reading pleasures of the year. The Risographed booklet accompanying the album is a real treat too, collecting as it does new pieces by Stephen McRobbie (aka Stephen Pastel) and Steven Daly (former drummer with Orange Juice) alongside Kevin Pearce’s classic text on Godard from his 1993 book ‘Something Beginning With ‘O”. Each of the three pieces brings something special to the bigger picture, and I admit the juxtaposition of Pearce and Pastel makes me smile, for didn’t Pastel disparagingly refer to Pearce once as a New Puritan? A long time ago it would have been and a lot of water has flowed beneath a multitude of bridges since. I like the idea that it is Vic Godard and Subway Sect connecting them in 2021 though, even if just notionally in the context of printed words on paper.

Daly’s short essay is wonderful too, and neatly connects the dots from inside the Orange Juice and Postcard perspective, the label for whom Godard has been referred to as patron saint. The link is strengthened further with the inclusion in the packaging of a flexidisc containing the recording of ‘Holiday Hymn’ that Alan Horne made on his portable cassette player in Camden back in 1980. It’s the same recording from which the OJ’s learnt the song to which they famously lent their own inimitable flavour. Sweet circularity.

As for the actual ‘Moments In Time’ album itself, well, at the risk of again repeating a well-worn trope, it sounds very much like a new Vic Godard album, and there is nothing wrong with that. Reunited with players from the Club Left era Subway Sect (older readers may remember them as three quarters of JoBoxers), Godard is also reacquainted with original Sect member Johnny Briton and, perhaps most famously, Mick Jones. Lurking in the background alongside the likes of Terry Edwards and Pete Williams you will also find Simon Rivers of Last Party/Bitter Springs infamy, and really this is apt for Rivers and Godard alike have for decades been leaders of the unsung documentarians of the edges of England where life may be tough at times but is shot through too with dark humour and a steely tenderness. That soft yet hard thing again, perhaps.

‘Moments Like These’ is a record that circles around those notions of memory, regret, resilience, compassion, devout love and the fierce loyalties of fiery friendships. It is like a soundtrack to a creative process that can’t help itself; a time capsule of half-remembered reminiscence and re-constructed diaries. It may make its references to the misty near half-century old lairy beast of ‘punk’ but it is naturally no lumpen morass of stereotypes and rose-tinted spectacles. Neither Jones nor Godard have been ones for standing still or revelling in the past, unless you count their recycling of pre-Rock threads into something oddly recognisable yet strangely unique. ‘Moments Like These’ does sound like Subway Sect rummaging around in the dustbins of that early Rock’n’Roll promise and neatly sidestepping all the mistakes Rock made to arrive at something that sounds timelessly raw yet oddly, wonderfully, contemporary. It’s encapsulated perfectly on album opener ‘Since The ’80s’where a sonic ‘Heroin’ reference ushers in a song that is simultaneously celebratory and self-flagellatory; bruisingly honest and amusingly cynical; laser-sharp and confusing in the same breath. Is the song about Godard himself? Old friends and bandmates? Partners, lovers, reflections in mirrors? All or none of these, perhaps. Regardless, it is a song that astutely captures something of that essence of getting on and getting older, of looking back and looking in mirrors and failing to recognise or even particularly like what is seen. Not that there’s anything to be done about any of it, particularly, and as such there is also more of that sweet circularity in the album closer’s ‘Time Shoulda Made A Man O’ Me’ as that time loops back and laughs at itself and us, The Sect getting into their Swing groove again as Godard dons his tuxedo and thanks us all for coming out on such a wet night. He’d liked to have seen a few more of us, but he’ll be back next year. He knows its the/a story of his life, and that’s just fine “as long as the bees keep buzzin’ by” and he sees “robin in his tree”.

Just don’t ask for any encores, please.

5 thoughts on “Unpopular advent 2021 – day 8

  1. Well Alistair, this one came as a bit of a surprise thanks mostly to your delightful text ( btw I reckon the narrative for each track makes this possibly the best so far Advent series – see what time to ponder brings oh retired one! – not that you actually have retired, just regrouped).Because of the writing I didn’t see the words ‘Subway Sect’ and pass quickly on to tomorrow. And , because of my musical prejudices , I would have missed/dissed/overlooked this fine track.So, a surprise annd for this much thanks.
    In addition my attention was drawn to your sartorial response to Nick Drake’s instruction to ‘see your trousers don’t taper’*.thus ensuring a hint of the dilittante in East Devon.
    Great stuff and some magnificent musical choices so far.
    * name that song time!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks Rob, glad you are enjoying the entries. I’ve certainly been enjoying having the time to write them and its been good establishing a writing habit. Going to listen to ‘Chime Of The City Clock’ again now… it’s been too long!


  3. Dear Alistair, So pleased you enjoyed Vic’s wonderful album (a real honour to be able contribute to it) and also my book, thanks for the review, regards Travis Elborough


    1. Thanks Travis, as you say, a real honour to have even a tiny part in it. I was so surprised to see my own name in the ‘thanks’ list as I had completely forgotten what on earth I had done to warrant such a thing! And such a great record too. Looking forward to whatever you are working on next, too.

      Liked by 1 person

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