There are some days when the best course of action is to head straight to the pub. It’s raining in Soho, the kind of deep-down-in-your-bones rain that feels endless and existential. “What is the sun?” “Will I ever be dry again?” Normally this would prove a minor inconvenience - London in winter - but on this dreary Saturday we have company: Chubby and the Gang aka Britain’s most exciting punk band aka a group that we want to show a good time. We hopefully and helplessly peak our heads into the Coach and Horses, that famous old literary boozer, on the lookout for a free table. No dice. Not even half a dice.
“Your body’s what… 90% water, right?” says the band’s frontman, the actually-not-chubby-at-all Charlie ‘Chubby’ Manning Walker, long-haired and broad-shouldered, a glint in his eye and clearly unperturbed by the fat droplets falling onto Greek Street as we head deeper into our search for a corner seat and a packet of pork scratchings. “This is great!” adds guitarist Ethan Stahl. “A proper London day. I think it suits the sort of band we are.”
Made up of five members, the aforementioned Manning Walker and Stahl, alongside bassist Maegan Brooks Mills, guitarist Tom Hardwick and drummer Joe McMahon, Chubby and the Gang only released their first single in 2019, but their sound, a frantic, frenetic and vernacular howl - punk, pub and hardcore with soul - has been honed over years and countless basement shows. Manning Walker, the son of punks, has been in bands since the age of 15, while the rest of the gang have all cut their teeth as part of London’s latest DIY wave, in bands like Violent Reaction, Abolition and Big Cheese. Their 2020 debut, Speed Kills, quickly caught the attention of critics. The Guardian called Chubby the "new king of British punk.” “Direct, demonstrative, restless, reckless, and wry,” added Rolling Stone. “Their debut comes alive with liberating energy,” exclaimed Pitchfork. “Chubby and the Gang Rule, Ok.” announced the album's swaggering opener.
We’re walking through Seven Dials now. There’s a pub that Joe and Ethan have been to a few times before. “It’s just around… here?” The Cross Keys appears and it’s… packed. FA Cup weekend, the windows are steamed, the bar is heaving, the rain keeps on pelting and we’re beginning to think that maybe a Pret might have some space? “Where to next then!” Back into Soho it is. “I love it around here,” says Manning Walker as we dip into Brewer Street, past the teenagers with skateboards; the couples inhaling oysters at window-facing tables inside L'Escargot and the last remaining peep shows of old Soho. “I remember cutting up town when I was a kid. It’s not the same, but there’s still something, isn’t there?” Central.”
Salvation arrives on the corner of Carlisle Street: The Toucan, a pub that hosted a young Hendrix back in the day. Dark, wood-panelled, low-ceilinged, dusty cabinets and peeling walls spilling out with Guinness and pub ephemera and, most importantly, aside from a slightly bewildered looking young couple, empty. Guinness and Jack Daniels and Diet Coke, pork scratchings and a corner booth. The band hammering through anecdotes and inside jokes, tales of rowdy gigs, shady characters and catch phrases from late night cop chase TV shows, the Rolling Stones play on tinny speakers. "Proper music!” Tom says with a laugh. “I’m starving!’ says Charlie.
Last summer the band released their second album, The Mutts Nuts, to more critical acclaim. No sophomore slump here. Broadening their sound and storytelling. Rowdy music with threads of melancholy. In ‘Take Me Home To London’, Manning Walker sings, “The air whistles through the valley like it’s singing the blues. You thought I never loved you, please know I always would. I wanna go home, only if I could. The way the train tracks waltz through this lonely town, and just to sit here and watch the sun come tumbling down.” There are gigs at the Roundhouse and a European tour coming up. “The Roundhouse!" shouts Ethan.
The sun has long tumbled down as we tumble out of The Toucan and into Bar Bruno in time for a late lunch. Black coffee and a basement table, plates stacked with chips, beans and chicken escalope. Friends of the band begin to gather. There’s talk of a big night out. “We might as well make the most of it,” says Manning Walker with that glint as we part ways on Savile Row. The rain has stopped and the street lights glow yellow as the gang turn and saunter back towards the cobbles and neon, on the hunt for a late night and a good time.