I was just that little bit young for punk and so missed the raw excitement, energy and unpredictability that punk gigs offered during the well documented “Year Zero”.
In the mid eighties The Jesus and Mary Chain were trying to recreate that essence of punk to the teenage generation that just missed out – my lot.
There is a school of thought that the most accomplished writing should be capped with “The Arresting Opening”. Vic has this ingrained – it’s part of his DNA. Many’s the song where right from the off the lyric takes you into three minutes of literary wonder – and sometimes leaves one dashing to the dictionary on the discovery of a new word in the English language. Couple this with an uncanny ear for catchy melodies and the ability to write solidly along a myriad of genres – jazz, soul, punk, pop – you realise it’s no wonder that Orange Juice covered “Holiday Hymn” after hearing a bootleg tape – that it’s self explanatory that the Mary Chain put “Ambition” on their second single – that in the present – Martin Bramah’s Blue Orchids have covered one of Vic’s most recent songs – “Music Of A Werewolf” – and why Vic’s compositions have proved to be the benchmark for so many writers to aspire to – only for them to acknowledge that the master is always one step ahead.
Every one of these artistes is a fan of intelligently crafted accessible songwriting. Every one of these performers tips their hat to Vic Godard. This is their tribute – and well deserved. ‘
‘In the summer of ’76 Subway Sect were auditioned by Malcolm McLaren at Manos Rehearsal Studios in the Fulham Road. We only had four songs to play, one of which was Nobody’s Scared. I’d written the words in the library at Ealing Tech where I was avoiding work for as long as I could. I was plundering the words from a book about the French New Wave Cinema. There was a chapter called ‘Focus on Godard’ and I took the ideas for the song from it. It was a very simple song set to three chords, a fourth was added for the chorus and the solo was the same as the verse but played more abrasively.
It was later recorded as part of a Peel Session and the following year appeared as a single on a new record label called Braik owned by Bernard Rhodes who became our manager after the first gig. The record was highly unusual and we all hated it then, although I’ve grown to love it with the advance of time. The rhythm guitar ‘solo’ sounded like radio interference and although I overdubbed a lead guitar solo it was played over the top of the second verse. The last note of my solo was deemed controversial by the BBC Boffins but Mickey Foote (our sound man) was there and sided with me, so it made it on to the record.
The other song written for the audition was Out of Touch which was based on a Modern Lovers song. I was learning the guitar after trading in my bass and playing along to the Velvet Underground, Jimmy Reed and the Pretty Things. I got the tune from listening to the harmonics coming off the electric guitar on the open chords. Our guitarist Rob had a trebly sound and resonances made themselves clear to me.
Ambition was one of a batch of songs written after our second gig –a total debacle-at the I.C.A. Unfortunately we all had different set-lists and I was left unsure who to sing along with. We decided to call it a day, but were calmed down by Shane MacGowan and Joe Strummer. We decided to give it another go at the R.C.A on fireworks night 1976. We had a few new songs and two stood out, Can This Be True? and River Nile.
River Nile was the first version of Ambition and when I said River Nile the group went into the chorus .This was a chorus that ended up in another song called Idea–Pull.
We only played it a few times but Ambition was being worked on throughout the ‘White Riot Tour’ and finally became recognizable on our ‘Great Unknowns Tour ‘ with French group, The Lou’s. The song we recorded at Gooseberry Studios in Gerrard Street was messed about with by Bernie Rhodes, Mickey Foote and James Dutton while I was on the ‘Love Bites Tour’ with the Buzzcocks and released without my knowledge or permission. As it turned out I wasn’t keen on the original so was happy with the outcome, especially as it sold so well.
After our first London gigs as Clash support act we were asked to go on tour with them and told to get a set list ready lasting thirty minutes. This meant me writing more songs so I started with a batch including Chain-Smoking. A paean to the Richard Hell song Love Comes in Spurts, it featured me on lead guitar for the first time using an old semi-acoustic painted grey and stuffed full of foam. The lyrics came from my old school lessons about Sartre and Camus.
The song Empty Shell was influenced musically by listening to the David Bowie Low LP which blew a lot of our ideas aside when it came out. Again the version we played live as a group in early ’78 bore scant resemblance to the one that finally appeared on the What’s The Matter Boy LP. It was much rougher and had a mad descending guitar figure in between each alternate verse. There was also a weird chord I liked before the bridge –a D with a C shape. Lyrics were again taken from a story we studied at Shene School-this time it was Colomba by Prosper Merimee.
Make me Sad was written at the same time. I was influenced by a batch of Northern Soul records I had. They were on loan to Paul Myers the Sect bassist whose friend Jacko was a regular coach tripper to all points north. He used to bring back singles and being either an evangelist for the sound (or plain idiot!) he’d lend them to Myers who’d lend them to me. I started to write in that style and Make me Sad was one of the early attempts.
The group having been sacked by Bernie, I was directed to become the label songsmith and my first task was to write enough songs for the Black Arabs to play a support slot on the forthcoming Dexy’s Midnight Runners tour. I’d already been working with their singer Henry on the song Stop That Girl and we went on to record it, as well as the LP What’s the Matter Boy, with the rest of the Black Arabs. Stop that Girl was written under the spell of Theophile Gautier’s masterpiece Mademoiselle de Maupin. The first time my inspiration hadn’t come from school!
Two of the others written for the tour were Happy Go lucky Girl and Holiday Hymn. Then in 1980 the Subway Sect did a gig supporting Siouxsie & The Banshees at the Music Machine and played both songs. The gig was taped by Alan Horne and soon Orange Juice had done a great version-changing the verse timing and improving on the original even though they got the chords wrong!
Johnny Britton the Sect guitarist from ’78 was doing well as a model but found the time to record a single with Happy-Go-Lucky Girls on the b-side. It was the only single released by Braik Records except Nobody’s Scared.
My reading was still seeping into the writing and Nerval’s ‘Sylvie’ is the story I was into at the time I wrote Holiday Hymn. Both songs were heavily indebted to Boney M who had ‘Nightflight to Venus’ out at that time. It was constantly played in my room for the rest of the year.
Some time during 1979 I had started listening to and trying to write old fashioned songs.
I was gifted a group by Johnny Britton: his rockabilly group from Bristol were without a singer as he was too busy and I was a song writer with no group. I started playing songs with them in a fairly M.O.R style at first but Dave Collard the pianist was into Miles Davis and could play the trumpet like him while playing piano with the other hand. He was also adept at arranging along with Chris Bostock the bass player who also played a mean acoustic and had a sweet voice to boot. Their incredible work ethic was like nothing I’d ever experienced and was a shock to the system but during that period I really got my head down and worked on the music and lyrics albeit aided by narcotics. We did more gigs than I’d done before and regularly needed new songs as we did a regular club on a weekly basis (Club Left).
When Club Left outgrew the Whiskey-A-Go-Go we moved it briefly to Ronnie Scott’s and it was here that we played T.R.O.U.B.L.E for the first time. It was written for a female singer-no one in particular but someone who you’d see on stage in an Ida Lupino film. I was thrilled to be able to sing it on the record with a real live swing band.
In the early nineties I was introduced to Matthew Ashman and collaborated with him on some 4 Track demos of my current songs, one of which was Outrageous Things, although he used to call it ‘Thanks’. Sadly he died soon after but I included the song plus London Blues on the Long Term Side Effect LP recorded with Edwyn Collins at West Heath Yard, as was The Place We Used to Live which was released years later as a single by Creeping Bent.
Music of a Werewolf was originally a 4 Track demo of me trying to play the Munsters theme and failing miserably, but it had a great swing to it – the intro Redact and Pour part was its chorus, but it was played on the organ rather than sung. It attempted to describe the wasteful nature of my songwriting experience as well as the mystical side with a bit of the mechanics thrown in for good measure. It’s a favourite for me to play live without a guitar as it has a lurching danceable beat. I especially enjoyed singing it live at the Lexington recently with the Blue Orchids.
Vic Godard – January 2018 more.
Cover art by Andrew Shaw
Vic Godard photo by Alan Horne
Executive Producer – Joe Mckechnie
100% of profits from sales will be donated to the Amnesty International United Kingdom Section. www.amnesty.org.uk