Monday, September 6, 2010

Illuminations With Vic Godard

Vic Godard is the kind of person the term 'cult hero' was invented for. His band Subway Sect debuted in 1976 at the 100 Club Punk Festival alongside the Clash, Pistols and Banshees, and since then he has had by far the most unpredictable and wide-ranging career of any of his punk contemporaries - and arguably the most interesting.

The name was a dead giveaway. While those around him were nailing their aspirations to the mast by dubbing themselves Rotten, Vicious or, gosh, even a Strummer, the 18-year-old Victor Napper's new moniker was a nod to the legendary French New Wave filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard. The band's lyrics, extraordinarily literate from day one, reflect the circumstances in which the members first bonded: not in an art college lunch break or over a couple of lines of speed at the Roxy, but acting out Moliere plays in Godard's bedroom.

The time it took Subway Sect to make two of the classic punk singles, Nobody's Scared and Ambition, was also the time it took for Godard to outgrow the genre altogether. By 1978 the original band was no more, and 1980's debut album 'What's the Matter Boy?' cloaked Godard's richly melodic and intelligent songs in a singular pot-pourri that straddled northern soul, early rock'n'roll and even folk rock, inspiring everyone who heard it - amongst them Felt, Primal Scream and the Postcard Records stable, with Orange Juice's Edwyn Collins describing Godard as "the finest songwriter of his generation".

By 1982's 'Songs for Sale' and the follow-up 'T.R.O.U.B.L.E.', Godard had abandoned rock altogether, instead styling himself as a swinging, Tony Bennett-style crooner. The sound and style of the records was influenced by Cole Porter, and as a writer in that genre Godard was arguably his equal. And then he was gone - increasingly adrift in, and disillusioned by, the glossy, grasping '80s, Vic Godard simply walked away from it all. Taking a job as a postman (which he still holds to this day), he dropped off the radar and didn't perform or record again till 1992.

Coaxed out of retirement by Rough Trade's Geoff Travis, Godard's 1993 comeback album 'The End of the Surrey People' was produced by Edwyn Collins and showed that he had lost nothing, and gained plenty, in the intervening years. The soulful yet biting indie-rock formula of that record was developed on 1998's 'Long Term Side Effect' and a brace of collaborations with, amongst others, The Bitter Springs, Long Decline and Irvine Welsh.

Godard's last couple of releases have found him as contradictory as ever: 2003's 'Sansend' was a stew of breakbeats and blues that many hailed as his best ever work, and last year's '1978 Now' was, of all things, a reconstruction of the great lost album from the start of his career: a record at last of Subway Sect's unrecorded punk-era repertoire that was dropped, perhaps a little too hastily, 30 years before. Since then he's been touring with a mix of classics and unheard new material destined for an imminent new studio record. ‘We Come as Aliens’ will be released on Overground Records in October 2010.

Download: Blackpool

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