History in the Making: Bassist Alvin Gibbs Discusses his latest EP with The Disobedient Servants

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Completed before the global Covid-19 pandemic – the most historically significant event in a generation – Alvin Gibbs and the Disobedient Servant’s aptly titled History EP is a solid effort, displaying both growth and reliability in the trio’s second outing.

History serves up four new songs, each distinct in style as the band members themselves.

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Bad About You, written and by guitarist Leigh Heggarty who also performs lead vocal duties, is perfect for radio. A catchy song that stays in the listener’s head after hearing it a few times. The title track is bluesy, chocked full of bass runs and lyrics reflecting the time Gibbs spent studying for a degree in the song’s subject.

The second half of the tetrad is rawer than the first. If Only – penned by drummer Jamie Oliver- and Pavlovian (Gibbs) are both examples of punk at its finest with fist-pumping rhythms guaranteed to please audiences looking to pogo when the band hits the road again.

On stage is where this band shines brightest. Despite having very little rehearsal time, last year’s shows supporting their first album, Your Disobedient Servant was noted by many in attendance as among the tightest they’d ever seen for a newly formed outfit. Gibbs has assembled his crew wisely, drawing from both the UK Subs and Ruts DC, currently two of the hardest-working touring bands in punk.

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With all live events on hold, Gibbs has not slowed down. Along with writing new songs for future Servants’ records, he is putting the finishing touches on his latest book Diminished Responsibility: My Time as a UK Sub and Other Strange Stories due in early July.

Mr. Gibbs kindly answered questions about his latest EP via email from his home in the south of France. No doubt with a glass of regional red wine within arm’s reach.

You’ve played on and off in other bands for your whole career. What made you decide in 2018 this was the time to finally put out a solo effort?

It had been suggested to me on numerous occasions by the likes of Charlie Harper (I don’t think he was trying to get rid of me from the Subs!) and others who have enjoyed my compositions and occasional modest vocal performances on various albums, but I always thought it smacked a little of indulgence and vanity. Then, whilst on a drive to Warsaw with the Subs’ Polish promoter Krzsztof Lach, he finally convinced me that it would be nothing of the sort and that a decent amount of folk would welcome a solo album from me – that was the other consideration, would it be commercially viable, would enough people actually purchase the record to cover recording cost, etc? Also, I had just reached the age of sixty so it became a case of now or never, and I opted for now and, as it happens, the first run of the album sold out in two weeks.

Was there anything you were looking to achieve or expand on (either lyrically or musically) between the first album and History?  

Keeping up the quality control both lyrically and musically was important of course. The solo album turned out to be so much better than I thought it would, therefore I was determined that this release would be a worthy follow-up and not a disappointment to either myself or those who acquired it. Having brilliant musicians like Leigh Heggarty from Ruts DC and my UK Subs’ rhythm section cohort, Jamie Oliver, play on this record certainly guaranteed a level of excellence that would have been sorely lacking without their involvement. I hope we’ve managed to again lyrically and musically provoke and entertain.

You’ve been in a lot of bands over the years. Are you enjoying being a leader for a change? What kind of leader are you?

I guess you could say I’m a benign dictator, certainly not a tyrant! No, seriously, although I’m aware I hold a tacit position of leadership in the Disobedient Servants I’m very open to suggestions and input from those I collaborate with and I actively encourage Leigh and Jamie and whoever else to might be involved in recording or playing live with us at the time, to challenge any ideas I might offer up whether they be musical or, more broadly, strategies or promotions for the advancement of the band. I learnt some of this from my time playing bass guitar with Iggy Pop. Although Iggy was obviously the undisputed leader, you could go to him with a new arrangement idea for a song or suggest some new material be added to the set from his large back catalogue and he would enthusiastically hear you out and, in most cases, adopt your suggestions. He realised the motivation in nearly all instances was to improve our performances, which in turn would reflect well on him. I’m the same. The best way to command a band’s respect and loyalty is to involve them as much as you can in the decision making without unduly compromising your own personal vision for the sound, look and performance-side of, what after all is ultimately a collective endeavor.

I’d like to dig a bit deeper into the title track History. In it, you weave a Bayeux Tapestry-like story that is simultaneously broad and very personal. You reference Nero and Vlad the Impaler and also your own personal life. Describe the genesis of the song.

I’m a self-declared history nerd. I’ve always been passionate about the subject and a few years ago obtained a BA Honours Degree in history from the Open University. When I tell people about my love of this topic a fair few start mumbling about how wearisome and irrelevant the subject is to them. That’s because they view history merely as old events, battles, wars, dates to be remembered at school such as 1066 or 1666, men in wigs, kings and queens. What they don’t realise is history is all encompassing, and personal too – yes, it is about those things listed above, but it’s also about the occasion your grandparents met, the day you divorced you husband or wife, the night you heard the song that changed your life, the technological advancements through the years that led to the accomplishment of that smartphone that resides in your pocket or the body scanning machine at your local hospital. In fact, far from being immaterial to our lives, history is actually all we have. The present is fleeting (even as I write these words, they are fast becoming a part of recent history), the future has not yet occurred, so we are ultimately left with that vast ocean called the past from which we’ve all emerged and that created the people we are today. My lyrical motivation for the song was an attempt to elucidate this.

If punk had its own Bayeux Tapestry starting in the mid ‘70s, continuing on to today, how do you see yourself within it?

Wow, that’s a tough question. I think I would have started out as one of those Saxon warriors in the shield wall but having lost the battle and survived (I’m nothing if not a survivor), would have been open to the Norman influence and tried to amalgamate it’s culture with my own rather than be a bitter survivors who constantly succumbs to nostalgia and endlessly moans about the loss of Saxon purity and the death and defeat of king Harold.

As a journeyman musician you have witnessed history and adapted to many changes over the years to within the recording industry. What’s the biggest change you’ve seen since you started? 

By far the biggest has been the technological and business transformations, one serving to alter the other. When I first began playing as a rock musician in the 1970s every band aspired to join a record label in order to pay for and release albums and singles. Due to the technological revolution pretty much anyone can now make a record in their bedroom and have an instant audience via internet platforms such as YouTube and Facebook. There is no need for a middleman anymore. These tech advances have allowed bands and musicians to go DIY in the recording of albums and in the promotion of them. Plus, virtually everyone owns a smartphone these days, and if you have a smartphone you also have a camera, allowing for a wealth of photographic material for bands to call upon from social media sites to use for promotional and record design purposes. Technology has transformed the music business for both the good and, occasionally, for the worse.

If you could interact with your younger self. The kid listening to T-Rex in his bedroom, what advice would you give him?

Just keep doing what you’re doing kid. You’re on the right path.

What are the future plans for the band both short and long term?

We are presently in the midst of a worldwide pandemic with countries prohibiting the movement and the gathering of people, so the prospects of doing anything regarding live work with the band for the short term are not looking too good. In the long term, I firstly want to fulfill the dates we’ve had to cancel in May and June, hopefully rescheduling them for the end of the year or, failing that, early in 2021. Secondly, I think we should record a new album around that time too. To this end I’ve been using the lockdown situation here in France productively to write new material for this forthcoming album and work on a fresh set with some new songs for when, mercifully, we can again play show as your Disobedient Servants.

History and Diminished Responsibility: My Time as a UK Sub and Other Strange Stories are both available now for pre-order at http://timematterrecordings.bigcartel.com

His first book, Some Weird Sin – On Tour with Iggy Pop candidly chronicles Gibbs’ adventures on Iggy’s 1988 Instinct tour and is widely available in paperwork at all the usual online booksellers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Square Punk

Let’s consider the square not merely as a geometric figure but by its use as a colloquial term meaning “a boring person.” The term originated in 1950s America and has endured.

The term “thinking outside the box” is directly related. Everything inside the box is predictable, everything outside exists as an unknown quantity.

The broader implication of these phrases within the context of the punk movement and its music is that a person whose life and art fit neatly into a box is not a life lived. The art exists in as boring a manner as the very lines who make up the square. Straight. Predictable. Joining at perfect angles. There are benefits to the square. Its boundaries represent safety, security and are easy to navigate. There are no twists or turns requiring actual mental acuity.

Punks regard the box as restrictive. A perimeter around a creative heart yearning to scale the wall to freedom. The community has always prided itself in not being “square” despite evidence to the contrary. The music itself adheres to a strict set of rules, a common time signature and recurring repetitive themes. A response to the borderless overproduced guitar solos that came before it.

Ironically, many of those who believe their punk lifestyles to be “outside the box” are merely confined to a different box. The box of visual cues is simple, well-defined and has rigid perimeters. The attire consists of a standard set of black t-shirts, multi-coloured mohawks, leather jackets and Doc Martens.

It is important to note that perfect squares do not exist in nature. They are a mathematical construct. The fact that humans gravitate towards building their lives within them is perhaps our downfall as a species. It divides us into groups always looking out from our boxes with mistrust or animosity. Maybe it’s a by-product of an education system that focuses on tests rather than on developing critical thinking skills. School does not train us see life’s canvas from above in three dimensions. The biggest box of all.

The best bands reside somewhere in between the area of the box and a borderless infinity. A square askew. A rhombus. A diamond that catches light and reflects it back onto the world brilliantly. These are the artists who experience the greatest successes in life. The ones who exist creatively within a set of clearly defined perimeters. They know how to manipulate the plane to create something new within the old.

These types of people don’t just make the best musicians. They also make the best painters, the best office workers, computer programmers and teachers. After all, you have to establish the rules before you can break them. To understand which ones to break and how to break them in a manner that yields the desired results.

The best results carry mass. Sound that not only carries the gravitational field but creates it in its own right. I’m fine with that formula. The shelf that holds my collection of vinyl is square, anyway.

The Death Of Generation X

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If one Google’s Generation X, one of the first things that comes up is an article in the Telegraph titled ‘’Whatever Happened to Generation X?’’ Born roughly between 1961 and 1981 and sandwiched between the much larger baby boomer and millennial generations, our invisibility can be attributed to a generally mellow ‘’live and let live’’ attitude. Are we truly forgotten? With yesterday’s announcement of the suicide of Chris Cornell, it occurred to me just how influential we have been and how many of the good things we created and/or embraced, have been lost over the past 18 months.

It’s been a tough time for Generation X and with Cornell’s death on top of everything else that came before it, I first felt that we are on the precipice of losing our identity. Then, I realized that this is a part of our identity and it’s not our fault. The main event that kicked off the current run of crappy events was the death of Prince in 2016 from an opioid overdose. Opioid addiction is a problem that has reached epidemic proportions. It was created by the greedy pharmaceutical industry. Run by baby-boomers whose sole intent is profit, it operates with complete disregard for the suffering caused by the mass distribution of their addictive products. Additionally, many turn to street drugs when their Doctors cut them off (after having received their kickbacks from the manufacturers for the initial overprescribed doses they gave patients, of course.)

When he died, we lost something big. Although Prince was not the first artist to break racial and gender identity image barriers, he was the first to do by crossing musical genres in a successful way commercially. What other black artist in history could pull off a yellow ass-less jumpsuit and high heels and still be the most masculine guy in the room? What other musician before or since could compose, produce, mix and play all his own music? (Maybe Dave Grohl) What other artist fought for artists’ rights and changed the way we think about record companies and the concept of copyright and ownership of sound? There was only Prince.

Although a boomer himself, he was embraced commercially by Gen X and I remember vividly, older people in the mid ‘80s not understanding him at that time. We understood him. Our open-mindedness contributed to his success. We didn’t care about his curious sexuality and accepted his positive racial message ‘’white, black, Puerto Rican. Everybody just a-freakin’.’’

This was made abundantly clear when our generation’s President, Barack Obama was elected over the boomer favourite Hillary Clinton in 2008 and under his watch, gay marriage was made legal. For a short time, it seemed as if we could let go of our disenfranchisement with society and we almost became hopeful. Almost.

Collectively, we spent the ensuing years watching the older generation try to tear down and reverse the wheels of progress that we put in motion. By the time Obama’s second term in office was over, there was a full-scale boomer revolution whose fires were fuelled by those who preferred to throw society into regression rather than continue the forward momentum we started. Shocking to anyone under the age of 60, Obama was replaced by a bullshitting trust-fund baby reality TV star con-man whose alliances lay with a foreign enemy. Since then, we’ve seen an erosion in voting rights, healthcare policies, immigrant’s rights, women’s rights and pretty much everyone who isn’t healthy, wealthy, male and white is now fucked. Once again, we were robbed of our accomplishments by a bunch of old establishment types that just never understood the things that seemed perfectly logical to us.

Then Chris Cornell died. His suicide is currently being reportedly as being connected to an adverse psychological reaction to a medication he was on. Strike two for the pharmaceutical industry.

As one of the founding members of the seminal Grunge movement that began in the early ‘90s as a reaction to the crappy state of the economy and late ‘80s hair-band rock music, Cornell’s bands Soundgarden and Audioslave contributed greatly to the revitalization of the hard rock landscape and gave us some of the best albums ever made.

Their lyrics spoke to Generation X. Then, as now, we were pissed off. Many of us raised ourselves because our parents worked constantly. Then, after seeing their successes, we were told ‘’Sorry, not for you kids!’’ and graduated into a world of boom/bust cycles created by decades of Thatcher/Regan/Bush economic policies that made the boomers rich but ensured that Gen-X would be the first generation since WWII to not do better than our parents. The songs were dark, honest and raw. No bullshitters allowed. Once again, the message was liberal. ‘’Times are gone for honest men.’’

Now, along with Scott Weiland, who died from a drug overdose and Kurt Cobain, who also committed suicide, we have lost three of the most influential members of the musical movement that defined our youth.

Unfortunately, this is our legacy, as well. Anxiety, depression, addiction and suicide are common among Gen-X but rather than admit complicity, it is frequently dismissed as being self-indulgent by the hypocritical boomers, whose social and economic policies have helped to create this shit show we now live in.

My heart goes out to Chris Cornell’s kids, who will now have it even worse than we did. Their Dad isn’t at work. Their Dad is dead. My only hope is that they, and the countless others like them will grow up to start their own musical movements, reflective of and a catalyst for the change that they too crave. They have the numbers that we didn’t and as the boomers die out, and Generation X gets older, we won’t be as resistant to change. They seem more optimistic than us but are equally as angry for the socioeconomic and political situation they have been left with. I know there are good bands out there with something to say. I just hope that there enough of us Gen-Xers left to see them when they come around on tour.