FORMER 'SPITFIRE BOY' PETE GRIFFITHS CHATS TO MEL
Peter Griffiths, hails from Prescot near the mining town of St Helens on Merseyside, in 1976 he befriended a few guys who later formed the first punk band in Liverpool and called themselves The Spitfire Boys, they became the first Liverpool punk band to release a single ("British Refugee" c/w "Mein Kampf").
Pete played bass guitar in the band which featured Paul Rutherford (later of Frankie Goes to
Later Pete sang vocals for The Nova Mob which featured Julian Cope on Bass, Pete Wylie on guitar and Budgie on drums. The Nova Mob disbanded in May 1978.
On stage at Eric's: Paul Rutherford Singer and Peter Griffiths on Bass
Peter lived with Paul Rutherford, Pete Wylie and Julian Cope, he has more than a few mentions in Julian Copes Autobiography ‘head on’. In July 2006 the band had "British Refugee" re-released on a Korova Records compilation album, entitled North by Northwest, which was compiled by Paul Morley.
It’s widely rumoured Pete turned his back on the entire music scene, citing the growing trend in drug abuse, and general disillusionment. I know he lives in
'Eric’s' is being featured heavily recently both in print, Theatre and Concerts across
Mel - Hi Pete, We’ve spoken a few times, both in person like eons ago, and more recently on-line but I’m so glad you agreed to this little interview chat, how’s your day been so far?
Pete - All good, Mel, all good.
Mel – Great to hear that your such a positive upbeat person. Let's kick off with the rumours of your departure from Liverpool in the late 70's. As the rumours go you gave up on the scene due to the growing trend in drug abuse, and general disillusionment, if so when was this and what made you realise this?
Pete - True. It was in late1979. I went through a drugs thing five years previously and I was flabbergasted to see my friends going down that road. Having said that, I did a lot of speed and if anyone offered a joint I never said no.
The disillusionment was with all the struggling bands trying to make it, whatever that is. There was a lot of bullshit being shat and spoken. When do you know you've made it? What do you do next? If you do get there you either have to keep it up or drop it. Do you do a Kurt? I don't believe for one second that I had any musical talent although I did have a musical instinct. I just got bored with it all and decided to scarper and try something different and new.
Mel – What’s the truth in the suggestion that you personally sold your own 25 copies of the 'British Refugee' single for beer money?
Pete - That's absolutely true. On the dole you never had the money to buy enough drink, or food for that matter. Albie Donnelly, the saxophonist from
There were times when we were starving. When I lived with Paul Rutherford and Holly Johnson we were reduced to eating Rice Krispies and jam on one occasion.
Mel – Oh I remember the days of the dole queue, I also have it recorded in my diary that you were cadging money off me (not that I had any) lol. What are you doing now creatively speaking?
Pete - I just paint, throw a few words around now and then. I was supposed to write Pete Burns biography but hey, that was long ago.
Mel – Oh really so what happened, did you ever read his Biography? What do you paint? What inspires you?
Pete - I'm going to get some pics of my paintings posted on Myspace so you can judge for yourself but it's a kind of shamanistic thing. Inspiration comes from some place external through me to the canvas or board or whatever I'm using. This is why I never sign any of my paintings. How dare I sign a painting when the origination was never mine? When I try to sign a work I just freeze up. I can't do it. I do however; own them because I did them. Is that a little contradictory? There was a colour we called Eric's Red., the club was covered in it. We nicked a tin and did our bedsits and flats in the same colour as Eric's. Maybe I should do some Eric's inspired stuff?
Mel – Hey now there’s a good idea! Do you still play bass? any other instruments?
Pete - I bought a bass guitar a couple of years ago inspired by RATM but realised after a few minutes of noise making that I'd made a big mistake. I returned it to the shop and bought an electric guitar for my son. The only thing I play now is a bodhrán (pronounced bow-rawn). That's the hand held drum you see at Irish traditional music sessions.
Mel – That’s a new one on me! So what music are you listening to?
Pete - I can't get enough of Sígur Rós, also Sonic Youth, Lou Reed. I went through a Metallica phase but thank g-odd that's over.
Mel – Pete you’re a married man with several children, yet openly a gay man how did this transpire? Do you think there was a divide between the straight and gay members of the Spitfire boys?
Pete - When I left
Mel – hahaha I'll have to edit that slightly above Pete!! Are you in touch with anyone from those Eric’s days? If so who
Pete - I chat to Paul Rutherford occasionally but I've lost touch with so many people. I saw Pete Burns on TV.
Mel – Yea if you look hard enough all the old gang are either on MySpace or Facebook. You also co wrote British Refugee, a great single, do you mind if I re print the lyrics here?
He came from
Just lost his family in a gelignite fart.
The neighbours sympathetic but sadness all we got
He knew that they wouldn't try to stop the rot
What can a man do about the madness of his government?
Why in 8 years has nothing ever been solved
He landed in
First he talked to people ha ha laughed in his face
There's no soldier here to search through your gear
Now he's working 9 to 5 for thirty pounds a week
He often thinks of home but he's all alone
He came from
Just lost his family in a gelignite fart.
Pete - No problem. A guy called Mark Chibber claims he wrote that song. Its funny how almost every song has more than one person claiming to have written it. I also wrote My Sweet Lord and Edwin Collins, Never Met A Girl Like You Before, but I don't get any royalties.
Thanks for the cutting below from : BOMBSITE FANZINE (Griff with the Sodomy T shirt)
Mel – hehehehe REALLY! Your first gig with The Spitfire boys was supporting The Heartbreakers, Buzzcocks and
Pete - I remember that night very well; I met Johnny Thunders and Jerry Nolan of the New York Dolls. I was too embarrassed to buy the Dolls first album because of the drag queen cover so I nicked it. Slaughter and the Dogs were also on the bill that night doing that schoolteacher cloak covered in talcum powder entrance. Fortunately, he went on to better things. We had to sack our singer after that gig, mainly because he wrote a song about Mary Whitehouse using shite-house as a rhyme. That was just too creative.
Later, I saw Paul Rutherford in Lime Street station leaning against a wall and looking like a rent boy, I said to Dave Littler, "Let's have him as our singer," even though we had never heard him sing. He just looked right and so he was. I always preferred Paul's singing voice to Holly’s.
Mel – That’s one gig I wish I’d gone to, so close to. Do you have any comments to make about those ‘arty types’ which you hung out and lived with during the 70’s?
Pete - I love everyone I ever met that helped to make me who I am, unreservedly. "To send light into the darkness of men's hearts, such is the duty of the artist." Robert A Schumann, composer.
Mel – Your band name was ‘Zero’ where did this come from?
Pete - I couldn't think of a name so I just said, Oh just call me nothing, I can't think of anything, nothing, like Zero." For a while I was Pete Foetus but that was before I was born.
Mel – Did you ever think about writing your side of the tale about living with Julian Cope? As he wrote fluently about you in his book ‘Head on’. Did you read the book and if so what did you think of it?
Pete - I loved his book and what he wrote about me was quite factual so you have to imagine the rest of it is. I never actually lived with him but he was round at the flat frequently. One time I was laid on the couch with Julian quite overtly kneading my butt cheeks with both hands and expressing his amazement at how taut and firm my ass was. It was like he couldn't get enough. It was fun if a bit rough and a real gay moment even though there were two girls in the room.
Mel – I don’t recall that in Julian’s book, maybe I should go back and re read it? lol - Going back to Eric’s – what do your remember fondly about the club? I know you often DJ’d what was your play list like?
Pete - I remember the food that I could never afford to buy because to get to the DJ station you had to walk through the kitchen. Letting a fire extinguisher off on Pete Burns brand new pointy patent leather shoes, thereby ruining them.
Sex taking place in the Ladies toilets, intense conversations with Margie Clarke in the Ladies toilets.
Always trying to get into the dressing room after a gig no matter who the band was. The guy who almost died when his bass guitar electrocuted him.
My playlist, as well as all the obvious ones, also included Captain Beefheart, Metal Urbain from France, Kraftwerk. It was not exclusively punk. I got fired, accused of stealing Roger Eagles Trout Mask Replica album although I didn't, someone had borrowed it, but I never got my job back because I had crossed the line by playing an Ian Dury four-letter rant during the intermission of the premier of that female wrestling play, Tansy or something.
Mel – Good memories there Pete, I don’t remember the sex in the toilets. Where was I?? What do you think about the resurgence of the Eric’s theme in Liverpool, capital culture etc there’s been a Musical ‘Eric’s’ and ‘A little bit of Eric’s’ gig with Julian Cope and Pete Burns recently also.
Pete - I believe you can never go back, but if people are interested in the past that's fine.
Mel – Do you ever get back Prescot to visit the folks?
Pete - I get back as often as I can but not as often as I should.
Mel – Well when you do drop in at my place. I wonder would you go back and do anything differently knowing what you know now? Did you ever want to be ‘famous’ and be a ‘pop star’ like the way many of those characters went.
Pete - I'd learn to play the bass guitar. In the late 70's it was just something to do between sex and eating and drinking. Fame or pop stardom held no appeal for me. I'm happy for the guys who got what they wanted out of music. Hindsight is a wonderful thing.
Mel – In the musical ‘Eric’s’ which I saw recently at The Everyman Theatre and receiving rave reviews, it portrayed Julian as quite camp and OTT, very posh, is this how you remember him? What struck you about him when you first met?
Pete - Julian was posh. I liked him and we had many long discussions about everything. I'd never call him camp but that's just my opinion. We met in 1977 but I can't recall exactly the moment. The times were very exciting and like riding a roller coaster that people jumped on and off without slowing down or ever reaching the stop.
Mel – Here's your chance to tell us some of your memories of those people from the punk days, think of Wylie, Cope, Burns, McCullough – it would be great if you had a few little unknown stories to end with. Do you remember Pete Wylie hanging a toilet seat around his neck?
Pete - I don't remember the toilet seat but I do remember his lobster, a huge plastic thing he took it everywhere with him in a plastic bag, don't know if it had a name. Pete Wylie and his pet plastic lobster and ebullient good humour though he did have a dark side that affected everyone that came into contact with him, thank g-odd he was mostly upbeat.Paul Rutherford used to carry a house brick in a plastic bag for protection. Looking back on those days it's amazing to think that you'd go out on a Saturday night for a pint (ha-ha) and bump into people who although household names they aren’t, they have at least made a mark, like Pete Burns with his immaculate quiff and perfect make up and lovely wife, Lynn (can I recommend his interview with Podge and Rodge? it's on YouTube); Ian Mac with his fetish for obscure actors like Norman Fell and Neville Brand. What happened to his third nipple? When he took his shirt off on TOTP some years later it was gone. Did he get it surgically removed? Why? Julian Cope with his jeans tucked into his jackboots, yearning to be acknowledged by the established
Pete - I don't remember the toilet seat but I do remember his lobster, a huge plastic thing he took it everywhere with him in a plastic bag, don't know if it had a name. Pete Wylie and his pet plastic lobster and ebullient good humour though he did have a dark side that affected everyone that came into contact with him, thank g-odd he was mostly upbeat.Paul Rutherford used to carry a house brick in a plastic bag for protection.
Looking back on those days it's amazing to think that you'd go out on a Saturday night for a pint (ha-ha) and bump into people who although household names they aren’t, they have at least made a mark, like Pete Burns with his immaculate quiff and perfect make up and lovely wife, Lynn (can I recommend his interview with Podge and Rodge? it's on YouTube); Ian Mac with his fetish for obscure actors like Norman Fell and Neville Brand. What happened to his third nipple? When he took his shirt off on TOTP some years later it was gone. Did he get it surgically removed? Why? Julian Cope with his jeans tucked into his jackboots, yearning to be acknowledged by the established
Julian Cope with his jeans tucked into his jackboots, yearning to be acknowledged by the established
Did you know how Budgie got his name? Pete, Paul, Holly and I were just dossing one night when Pete said how much he liked budgerigars, well Paul and Holly tore into him saying, we fucking hate budgies and so on.
Pete was taking them all too literally replying, how can you hate a budgie, they are cute! Paul and Holly just taunted and teased him and before the night was out the name was stuck on him, Budgie was born.
Ian Broudie and his penchant for "ladies of the night" or was that just a vicious rumour? Bill Drummond, the cash burner, David Balfe the smurf, one night Jayne Casey beat him up, those OMD lads were there now and again and numerous other guys who made ripples in the music industry but even then there was a trend among the established crowd to look down on or ignore any newcomers, I felt that was unfair, but look at the colourfulness that was in it at the time, they were great days and I regret nothing. BUT to turn all that into a musical, well, I dunno, Wizard of Oz it aint.
Mel - Finally what does the future hold in store for Pete?
Pete - As to my future, I’m hoping to fall in love, again, have an exhibition, make
Thank you Pete, enjoyed that very much, another slice of Liverpool history - I hope we can be mates for a long time to come.
Interview by Mel 1/10/08
Pete on MySpace: www.myspace.com/griffpete