As you’ll come to see, today’s piece owes an immense debt to the good folk over at the ever-informative and entertaining For Malcontents blog which I came across doing my research on today’s songs which I’ve picked up from the Big Gold Dreams box-set. It’s very much of interest as it features what must have been the first ever professional recording to involve Derek Forbes.
The Subs were a very short-lived Glasgow quartet, comprising Callum Cuthbertson (vocals), Kevin Key (guitars), Derek Forbes (bass) and Ali MacKenzie (drums). They were seemingly the winners of a 1977 talent competition organised jointly by Stiff Records and Chiswick Records that led to them releasing a single, on yellow vinyl, on 1 Off Records, an offshoot of Stiff:-
Their story was told, in May 2014, over at For Malcontents:-
Originally known as The Subhumans, the band made rapid headway after forming in the white heat of the punk revolution. They recorded a demo which impressed London’s best independent label, Stiff, who invited the lads down south, where they took part in a Stiff audition night at the Royal College of Art. Stiff must have liked what they saw as they quickly signed the Glaswegians for a one-off single (on their 1-Off imprint) which was recorded at Pathway Studios in the capital and produced by Larry Wallis, an early member of Motörhead and also a Stiff recording artist at the time.
Live favourite Gimme Your Heart was selected as the A side and the single’s centre came adorned with a typical Stiff slogan ‘The shape of things that win’.
Reviews were generally good with fanzine Next Big Thing, calling the 45 the ‘best Scots vinyl offering since Good Sculptures’, while NME picked up on the ‘Neanderthal Man drumming from Ali Mackenzie’ and Cuthbertson’s ‘suitably disgruntled’ vocals, which I think were both meant as compliments.
‘The Subs created quite a ripple at the Rochester Castle in what was one of the group’s first London gigs,’ Nick Tester wrote in April ’78 in Sounds, a magazine that was obviously rooting for the band: ‘The Subs are in fact like a stainless steel carving knife, rawness combined with a clean edged melody which utterly carves up any opposition in these supposed Power Pop times. Enough hooks to hang your C&A bondage pants out to dry.’
Despite recording one of the finest Scottish singles of the era, even by the blink and they’ll be gone standards of the day, The Subs were destined to enjoy only a very brief shelf life and sadly Gimme Your Heart would be their one and only release.
Drummer Ali Mackenzie left the band and they roped in Brian McGee of Simple Minds to replace him for a support slot they’d nabbed for a Graham Parker and The Rumour gig at Strathclyde Uni. The show was deemed a success but before long bassist Derek Forbes decided to join McGee in Simple Minds and guitarist Kevin Key took up the invitation to expand the ranks of The Jolt into a four piece.
Ali Mackenzie notably set up independent label Cuba Libre, which released records by James King and The Lonewolves, The Cuban Heels (who he later joined) and The Shakin’ Pyramids, whose 1981 album Skin’ Em Up he also produced.
As for Cuthbertson, well, he later carved out a career as an actor with a string of appearances in theatre, TV and film, appearing most recently in BBC Scotland sitcom Gary Tank Commander and the 2013 romcom Not Another Happy Ending, where he played the pub quiz fanatic father of Jane Lockhart (Karen Gillan).
I’ve gone digging and come up with the b-side of the single:-
mp3 : The Subs – Party Clothes
Both sides of the 45 still sound quite excellent.