Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

The Subway Sect
Nobody's Scared/Don't Split It

Released 1978 on Braik
Reviewed by Richard, 30/03/2000ce

The great lost British 70s punk band, the Subway Sect passed into legend on the White Riot tour in 1977. (See "Head-On" for a detailed and fascinating description of this cultural phenomenon.) We'd be here till the cows come home if I were to list all the groups that were (in)directly inspired by them. So I won't. Suffice to say their legacy remains potent and brooding today, a visceral power undiminished by what has taken place since. (Of course this single is now long since deleted; there are various compilations, but to get to hear both sides you'll need to pick up a copy of the "We Oppose All Rock'n'Roll" CD, y'hear.) The sleeve shows the four Sect members down in the subway in all their Oxfam chic finery, grey grey grey, "any colour's bad". A clue?

The sound of the Subway Sect on this, their recording debut, defies description. I'll do my best. Thundering tom-toms, moaning monosyllabic bass and a guitar that sounds neither acoustic or electric, just vicious, slashing sheets of sound catapulted out of the cavernous mix like lava from a volcano. A brief taste of this daemonic cacophony constitutes an introduction of some kind to the A-side. A quick look at the sleeve reveals its title: "Nobody’s Scared". The singing begins, only, like J.D. Cope said, the singer doesn't so much sing as _intone_. Delivered with only slim passing heed to niceties of tune and time, more in the manner of a megalomaniac poet than a vocalist, what he has to say is not for the faint-hearted: "The language we use, is it what we want/Does it not project the false/Subject-to-object journeys mean/That a word loses course". Then a stinging guitar propels sound all the more intensively, no let up, to the chorus, double-tracked vocals "shout publicity handouts". A psychopathic enervative guitar, like an eczema sufferer scratching at their affliction, divides verse from chorus until the final coda, over which the singer mouthes the song title twice. The last echo dies away like the end of a colossal storm, and the song is over. There is nothing left for you to do now but turn it over; after all, you’re as ready as you’ll ever be.

The B-side uses two chords to the A-side's four. The words are rather less easy to fathom; the title is "Don't Split It". "If you don't know tomorrow/Then tomorrow's never gonna know you" is the key decipherable here as the group plays like tomorrow never knows with the same irreligious zeal as on "Nobody's Scared", the same unearthly sound and sense of purpose. Towards the middle of the piece (there are no discernible verses and choruses), cheap organ drones and stabs alongside percussive piano straight out of the John Cale school ally with spitting cobras of guitars and the ether is possessed by some unearthly force. A hiatus of unspeakable force and the pounding drums restart the maelstrom. If anything the effect is even more shattering than before and even more intense than on the other side. As the tension reaches untenable levels, the vocalist returns, in no doubt as to his feelings:"Don't want to sing rock'n'roll/Don’t want to play rock'n'roll", he moans, as if coerced. As one final act of defiance against a world gone mad, he fashions a mouth organ outro reminiscent of Roky Erickson on the 13th Floor Elevators' "You're Gonna Miss Me" though the tempest of noise as the faders come down. Suddenly there is silence.

Your world is no longer the same.

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