He’s the legendary bassist with the U.K.Subs and has toured with Iggy Pop on his infamous Instinct tour. It’s taken him forty years to get round to it but finally Alvin Gibbs has written a solo album, and it’s a Who’s Who of punk royalty. Mark Bestford had a chat with him from his house in the French countryside.
You’re still tidying up some of the songs, do you have an idea of the release date yet?
“Actually I just got an email from Mark from Time and Matter Records saying it looks as though it’s going to be January, rather than December. We were aiming for December but there’s a real backlog of vinyl records that need manufacturing and of course people who want a large number of records manufactured get to the top of the list and companies like Time and Matter with significantly smaller amounts of vinyl that need manufacturing are pushed down to the bottom of the list. So we’re looking at January at the moment. Still hopeful for December but I think realistically it’s going to be January for the release.”
Not too bad I suppose.
“Well yeah, it would have been nice to have it out prior to Christmas for the obvious reasons, but I don’t know, I mean it’ll be available to pre-order in December probably, or even a bit earlier than that, so people can pre-order it as a Christmas gift or whatever if they’re so inclined. But January’s not too bad because I don’t think a lot of records get released in January, so it might be good to have it out in January. Also with the schedule of the U.K. Subs coming out in January might work because I’ll have a bit of time before the European tour and I can probably organise with Time and Matter a launch gig in London. I mean we’ve got a couple of considerations, one of them’s the 100 Club and the other one is the Hope and Anchor. Timmy DeRella from the DeRellas does a night there and he contacted me and said ‘why don’t you do your launch party here’ so we’re just sort of considering that. It also gives you more time to rehearse up a band and whatever for the launch party and be more considered about it all.”
Hopefully that’ll be a weekend party, getting into London from Oxford is a bit difficult mid-week.
“It’ll be a Saturday I imagine.”
I’ll bring the camera down and have some fun.
“It’ll be a fun night. I’ve got a core band which is Jamie from the Subs on drums, I’ve got Tony Perfect from Long Tall Shorty playing rhythm guitar and then I’m going to try and invite Brian James down, James Stevenson, whoever’s available. Leigh Heggarty from The Ruts, people who played on the album. Steve Crittall from The Godfathers, and they’ll jump up and do a couple songs, the songs they contributed to on the album, so it should be a good night.”
That sounds like it could be a lot of fun.
You’ve got a lot of diversity on the album where it comes to musicians, how easy was it to get everyone scheduled in, especially given that you yourself are in France and not the UK?
“It was difficult. I mean there was a couple of sessions where I couldn’t be present. I was either away with the Subs or I was back in France. I’d just come back from touring and I had to spend some time here in France and I just couldn’t make it over there. I would basically do it remotely, so Steve Crittall who also co-produced the record and engineered it, we made the album at his home studio in Soho in London. I would prep him about who would come along, at what time and basically say look, what I’d like them to do is this, and then I would contact, for instance, Leigh Heggarty who I wasn’t there for his session and say ‘look, what I’d like you do do Leigh is play this, this and this, and play on these two tracks and blah blah blah’, and then we would do it that way. Also with Mick Rossi that’s how we did it because Mick Rossi was over playing Rebellion with Slaughter & the Dogs. I’d already phoned him in Los Angeles, where he lives, and asked him if he’d do it and he said yeah I’d love to do it, but he had some time after Rebellion to do it, but I had to come back to France, so that was another one of those sessions where basically we did it through giving instructions about the track I wanted him to play on and that sort of thing. But there were other ones where I was present and that was a lot easier obviously because you’re there in the room, you can immediately say ‘I think maybe you need a bit more aggression on that guitar part’ or ‘maybe you can try something else’. So yes, it wasn’t easy, it wasn’t an easy process, but we got there and I’m really, really happy with all the contributions that were made, you know. They really made the tracks infinitely better having these really talented people all contributing.”
Were there any people you wanted to get on the album but weren’t able to?
“Yeah, Steve Jones, the Sex Pistols guitar player. I was thinking of contacting him, but I know he’s quite busy, he’s got the Jonesy Jukebox thing and I thought about it. I’ve worked with Steve when I was playing with Iggy Pop, he did some shows with us. He was on the album we were promoting at the time called Instinct, so I got to know him quite well. I was with him in Los Angeles at the time too, and I thought about contacting him too and I’d love to have had him play on it, but it is just too complicated with Steve because he’s really busy and if I flew him over to play on the record he would want to go first class and stay at the Savoy or something. It would have been like ten times the budget of the album to bring Steve over to play on it. So then I thought maybe we could send him something to play on but then in the end I just thought it’s going to get too complicated so let’s try and simplify this. But it would have been great to have him play on the track. But there are other people I suppose it would have been nice if they could have contributed, but I’ve got, who have I got? I’ve got Barrington from the Saints, guitar player with the Saints on there. I’ve got Mick Rossi, I’ve got Brian James, I’ve got James Stevenson, I’ve got Timo Caltio who played with me in Cheap N Nasty and was Johnny Thunder’s guitar player for a while. I’ve got Leigh Heggarty from The Ruts, Steve from the Godfathers. I’ve got a pretty good cast of guitar players on the album as it is. You can always say wouldn’t it be good if I could have got this person or another person for this or whatever but I’m very happy with the cast that I’ve got for The Disobedient Servants as they’re known for this record.”
So everyone you approached, they’re on the album then?
“Yeah, I mean it was lovely. I went up to Leigh, we happened to be at The Ruts, they happened to be doing a gig with us, a Rebellion thing in Holland in Amsterdam and I just walked into the dressing room, I know Leigh anyway and I said ‘Leigh, listen, I want you to play on my solo album’ and he said ‘yeah, I’d love to, that’s great you know’. And James Stevenson, he’s quite busy but I sent a Facebook message and he was like ‘yeah I’d love to’. Everyone was very enthusiastic, and nobody said ‘well I don’t really know’, everyone was like ‘yeah, yeah, love to do it’ so I was very pleased. I was made up that people were so enthusiastically happy to play on this solo record of mine.”
You’ve been in the industry now about forty years…
“Yes, a good forty years, that’s for sure. I first started playing with The Users back in the day, and then I played with Brian James, got my first European touring experience with him supporting The Police, and various other bands around Europe. And then joined the Subs and then went onto and worked with Iggy Pop in Los Angeles. And then Cheap N Nasty and then back to the Subs, so yeah, it’s been a good forty years of being in the business as you say. It has its ups and downs, but it’s certainly had a lot more ups than downs. It’s been amazing you know. I actually surprise myself when I look back and think my god, how did I get away with that. Forty years of being a professional musician pretty much.”
Forty years of being in bands and effectively being a bass guitar for hire at times as well. Why did it take so long for a solo album to come out?
“Yeah I know, people have said that to me and well, really, I mean for a long time it had been mooted. People had said ‘you should do a solo album because we really like your songs that you write for the Subs, the ones you sing on the albums’, the Subs albums, because usually I sing, I sing since Endangered Species, I sing at least like one track on a Subs album. So I thought about it and I thought, you know, it smacks of vanity and it’s like I don’t know and I’m so busy and it’s a lot of work. You’ve got to write, as I have for this album, twelve songs. And they’ve got to be strong song you know, you can’t just, it’s got to be good you know. And so I put it off, and I put it off, and I put it off, and then every year we play in Poland, the U.K. Subs were the first punk band to play behind the Iron Curtain in Poland in 1983 and we’ve got a big following there, and that’s always part of our European tour, is two or three dates in Poland. And the guy, the promoter that always puts us on there, Kristof. I’d become very good friends with him and he always insists that instead of travelling with the band that I ride to the show with him in his car, so we can talk about business and he tells me about the difficult people he’s brought over. I’m not going to mention any names but some big stars and how difficult they are and blah, blah, blah. And every time we have these journeys together he goes ‘you’ve got to do a solo album, you know, people in Poland love your tracks. The amount of people who come up to me and we really love Alvin’s song writing’ and I would always argue with him. But he did it earlier this year and I just thought do you think it’d do alright and he said ‘yeah, absolutely, it’ll be great you know. It’ll do very well, people love it’. So I thought okay, and then I spoke to Time and Matter records and they were like ‘yep, we wanna do it, we’ll do it. We’ll put it on our label, it’ll be great’. So that’s how it got rolling. And I just thought I turn sixty this year and I thought it’s now or never really. Time’s rolling on, if I’m going to do something like that, this is the time to do it, let’s not prevaricate and go maybe in a year or two because you know. The Subs are busy as ever and I was well, let’s just make it work, I’ll do it and see what comes out. But I’m really, really pleased that I did it. I am. It’s another one of those things where you kind of pinch yourself and go wow, you know. I did it and I succeeded in that. And I do think it sounds really good. I’m very pleased with the way it’s turned out.”
The single that’s coming out on Halloween, Ghost Train and Clumsy Fingers, they’re very classic sounding, but different sounding songs. Is the rest of the album in a similar sort of vein?
“There’s quite a diverse sort of bunch of tracks really. There is a unity to them in that they’re all, I think they all sound retro kind of punk rock in a way. But for instance, I’ve got a song that I’m very proud of called Heaven and the Angels, which is very sort of Nick Cave-ish, it’s very dark and gothic, and I’m really, really pleased with the way that turned out. And then I’ve got a track that Mick Rossi played on which is almost, it’s almost like a New York Dolls, almost a Rolling Stones meets New York Dolls kind of track. Very up, catchy chorus and whatever. So yeah, it’s an interesting mix of material, I think people will be surprised. It’s not just linear, it’s not just one type of thing, there’s a mixture. What’s interesting is that all these influences over the years, all these musical influences that I’ve absorbed over the years have come out in this album. So there’s a bit of glam rock in there, there’s a bit of Stonesy kind of rock. There’s a bit of New York Dolls, Ramones, you know, there’s all this kind of stuff that’s just sort of ended up in the material. A bit of Iggy Pop sounding stuff. That’s what I like about it, it’s interesting. There’s a lot of different things in there, which for me is very pleasing.
So did you have any highlights from the recording?
“Highlights as in?”
People you worked with.
“Oh, yeah, well highlights were basically getting these great guitar players playing on these tracks and then sitting back and appreciating their quality as players. Barrington for instance from the Saints, I had this song called I’m Not Crying Now and it was a good song, we sent it to him to have a listen to and see if he would be interested in playing it and he said he’d love to come to the studio and do it. And he just completely transformed it. He transformed it from a good song into something that’s really quite special now. Just through the brilliance of his guitar playing. Parts that I wouldn’t even dream, you know, dream of putting in that song, but he came up with, that have just really moved it to a premiership level song now. Before it was a kind of, just an okay album track, but now it’s sounding something really, really special. So that was definitely a highlight and having Mick Rossi play on Deep As Our Skin, which is the sort of New York Dolls, Stonesy track, that was another highlight because I’ve always loved Micks guitar playing and he really did a fantastic job on that. And my old mate Brian James as well you know, bless him, it was nice to have him be on the album as well, seeing as he was one of the first people that really took me under his wing and showed me the ropes on the road and all that kind of stuff, you know. So it was great to have him involved. So yeah, there were a lot of highlights really. I mean Steve Crittall, who was my co-producer, he was amazing, he was great. His guitar contributions were fantastic too. And also it was great to have him to bounce off, and throw ideas at him, and then he would throw ideas at me. It was a really fulfilling and enjoyable experience.”
Going forward, are we going to be seeing anything else from Alvin in the future? Another solo album? Another book?
“In fact just this evening I’ve put a post up on Facebook saying that a new memoir episode will be ready to be perused on Friday on the U.K. Subs Time and Matter website. And I’ve been doing these memoirs now for a couple of years, and putting them up as instalments, episodes, starting with my childhood, listening to the Beatles, the Stones and growing up with that wonderful music that was around in the sixties when I was growing up. And then the arrival of glam rock, and then punk rock. And so my plan is to turn that into a book, and that I’m hoping to get. I’ve been doing it so long that it’s like it needs to be volume one and volume two almost you know. Otherwise it would be the size of War and Peace or something. So my idea is to put volume one out next year and that’ll be from my childhood up until I move to America, just before I start playing with Iggy Pop. And then volume two will be from Iggy Pop through to the present day. So that’s one project. As for doing another record I actually would love to do another record at some point, but I think I’m certainly going to give myself a year off next year from doing a solo thing, and then just see how this does and maybe do some shows around this album first. Maybe even do a little tour and then see how it all goes, see how it’s received, see if there’s a definite audience out there. I think the single’s done well, we’ve nearly sold all of the singles on pre-order, so that’s really heartening.”
I’ve got mine ordered.
“Oh good man, good man, that’s good. It’s a nice package actually, because Gaye Black, Gaye advert as was, the bass player with the Adverts, she did the artwork and of course it’s got Brian James on Clumsy Fingers and Leigh Heggarty on Ghost Train. And it’s going to be on orangy vinyl, which I suppose is appropriate for Halloween, pumpkin kind of coloured vinyl. That’s doing okay, so I’m feeling good about it, I think it will be a success and I think people will really like the album. And all the feedback on the single so far has been very good, because it’s been played on radio and podcasts and things like that and everyone who’s heard it has come back and said it sounds great. It’s exciting, it’s nice to have something at this late stage in my career to have something new to quicken me and excite me. Not that I don’t get that from the Subs, I love the Subs, I love playing with the Subs. We’ve just done an EP which will be released in November. I love doing all that, but it’s kind of fun when you’re in control and it’s your own thing, and you can make the decisions really. There’s something liberating about that too.”
Interview and photos by Mark Bestford