Vic Godard – 30 Odd Years
Gnu Inc, 2 x CD, out now
Review by Martyn Smith
By the time I discovered the wonderful world of Vic Godard, the man himself had given up on music altogether.
My introduction was via the album T.R.O.U.B.L.E., recorded with the cream of London’s new jazz musicians years earlier and released without press or fanfare in 1986. By then, Godard had thrown in his lot with the Royal Mail and didn’t even own a guitar anymore.
For a young music fan, ankle deep in the independent label scene and working backwards to join up the dots, this record presented a puzzle. There was a very cool picture of Godard on the front, collar turned up, crossing the Thames in a natty Russian hat and I was aware that Edwyn Collins considered this man the patron saint of Postcard Records. The record though, sounded more like something from my parents record collection; Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Nat King Cole. I was hooked and needed to know more.
I later discovered I wasn’t the only person to be bewitched and bewildered by Godard’s musical ‘career’. In fact, it was the norm. Davy Henderson recently spoke about going to London’s Wag Club in the early 80’s expecting to hear Godard playing ‘Ambition’ and instead seeing his hero in a tuxedo. “He was a jazzer, man ! He was Kenny Ball.”
The new Vic Godard and Subway Sect 2CD retrospective, 30 Odd Years, is aptly titled. An exercise in eclecticism, the new listener might be forgiven for wondering how songs like ‘Don’t Split It’ and ‘Stamp of a Vamp’, recorded only a few years apart, could have possibly been created by the same man.The original Subway Sect, Godard’s schoolboy chums from suburban south west London, kick off the collection. Dressed in demob grey with their literary allusions and trebly Fenders held high, it was this sound that inspired a generation of Scottish musicians when they played Edinburgh on the White Riot Tour with The Clash and The Slits. ‘Nobody’s Scared’ still ranks with the best of the early punk singles.The rest of CD1 perfectly illustrates how tricky it has been to keep up with Godard’s many incarnations. Many songs, many styles, many stories.For instance there are tracks from Subway Sect’s much loved Peel sessions, Different Story and Parallel Lines. Here the rough edges of their sound are disappearing and more confident songwriting emerging. Soon after, Subway Sect’s infamous manager Bernie Rhodes convinced Godard he was the talent in the band and sacked the rest of them. Things were never the same again.
During the next few years Godard worked with a succession of backing bands as Rhodes schemed away sporadically in the background. This period spawned the wonderful accordian-driven ‘Stop That Girl’, famously inspired by a tabloid story about a lesbian love tryst, as well as ‘Empty Shell’ and ‘Make Me Sad’, brittle melodies with wintry lyrics.The occasional music press interview from the time only added to the mystery that surrounded Godard’s work. He was vague about his future direction and seemed happy earning money washing up in a burger bar in East Sheen, betting on the horses and playing golf.
CD1 also features some of Godard’s best jazz numbers. Some of these songs date from a period when he starred at Club Left, a Soho club revue that influenced groups like Working Week and early Everything But the Girl.
The T.R.O.U.B.L.E. album was meant to take Godard’s jazz adventures to another level and is represented here by the title track and also ‘Ice on a Volcano’. T.R.O.U.B.L.E. was scheduled to be an early release on Geoff Travis’s Blanco Y Negro label. The world class Olympic Studios was booked and a fantastic group of musicians assembled, but the project stalled amid confusion and rumours about spiralling recording costs and drug problems. By the time it was released, the jazz sounds seemed out of time and without context.
And that was that…for a while. Bruised by his experiences and with plenty of other interests, Godard joined the post office and disappeared from view. Meanwhile, the legend grew.
For the obvious reasons, Godard has always been championed by music business mavericks and when Alan Horne’s resuscitated Postcard Records in the early 90’s it was the ideal home for the songwriter who had started making music again on a four-track at home.
The result was the splendid End of the Surrey People produced by Edwyn Collins, who became a friend and collaborator. The Northern Soul infused single ‘Won’t Turn Back’, ‘Malicious Love’ and ‘Same Mistakes’ all feature.Making up for lost time, a reinvigorated Godard began to play live again on a regular basis as well as releasing music that was just as inventive and eclectic as anything he had done in the 80’s. The highlights make up CD2 of this collection.Godard’s love of hip-hop was translated into the experimental album Sansend. ‘Americana on Fire’ and ‘Back in the Void’ from this record sit happily next to the musical hall swish of ‘Blackpool’, the title song of a project with Irvine Welsh.In fact, in his more recent reincarnation, Godard has become a serial collaborator, most recently with Davy Henderson’s Sexual Objects. Their stomping live version of ‘Johnny Thunders’ is here too.
Through 30 Odd Years, Vic Godard, a restless, relentless musical enigma, has kept everyone guessing. This collection provides a lot of the answers to why we keep coming back for more.