The Only Ones were a legendary late 70's band known worldwide for their massive song ‘Another Girl, Another Planet', they also had several album releases, and became very influential in later years, they split up in 1981. Last year they reformed with the original line up 25 years later. The band is currently preparing to tour both the UK and Spain; also have a re released live DVD 'Faster Than Lightning'.I’m pleased to present John Perry the guitarist. John has such a wealth of experiences let's find out more.
Mel: When did you first become interested in music and which artists inspired you as you were growing up? Can you remember the first record you bought?
JP: When I was 5 or 6. My cousin had one of those record players with a stack of 45's on the spindle. I liked the Buddy Holly singles on the Coral label, Elvis on RCA. I sat on the floor, transfixed, with my ear pressed right up against the speaker, which various aunts & uncles regarded as odd, not normal.1st single I bought woulda been Dion on the Top Rank label - ’Runaround Sue'. 1st Album ’A Quick One' by The Who. You bought singles; albums were something you were given at Christmas.
Mel: One curious questions I'd like to ask...a silly one...why are your guitars all women i.e. 'Say hello to Valerie, say hello to Vivienne'...which is on one of your MySpace photos.
JP: TS Eliot's 2 wives - Valerie & Vivienne - (Send them all my salary from the waters of Oblivion).
Mel – What’s the story behind this postcard sent to you by the late Johnny Thunders, you played with him right? It reads 'To my favorite guitar man. Love, Happy Birthday JT"
JP: Yes, I did most of John’s studio records after ‘So Alone’, 4 or 5 I think.
The Lightnin' Hopkins postcard? It's a birthday card from Johnny. We were in the studio with Patti doing 'Copycats' summer '85 and John gave me that card with its lovely inscription.
Mel: Which was the first group you joined and where was your first gig as a performer?
JP: I formed a 3 piece (bass and drums) and our first gigs were in the summer of '67. (Met somebody at a recent Only Ones gig who'd been at the first one - a school dance in Hotwells, Bristol June '67.)
We were supposed to play two 1 hour sets, though we didn't have enough songs to play one hour, let alone any dance material. We filled the second set by stretching one of the few songs that was dance-able to 30 minutes. 'Desdemona' by John's Children. Perfect 'endless' number cos every chorus has a stop and a semitone change-up. The regular key change makes it feel less repetitious. The record changes up twice, we kept going for so long we went right 'round round the clock', twelve key changes, so we ended up back in the key we began in. An early form of the 12 Step Program. Everyone seemed happy. They danced & we got paid.
The original two-change version is here - http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=VGtgacHMIec
Mel - Let’s talk about other bands you’ve played with, recently I believe you played with Pauline from Penetration? And others such as Robert Palmer, Sisters of Mercy, Marianne Faithfull, Robert Hunter, Michael Nyman, Screaming Lord Sutch, Evan Dando, Freddie Stevenson and Johnny Thunders.
JP: Sutch - I remember recording a duet, Lord Sutch and JayneCounty doing 'Monster Mash' ... and/or 'Rockin In The Crypt' maybe? .... Something like that...... lots of heavy Ghoul on Ghoul action, anyway. He was fun and Jayne is a lovely person.
Robert Palmer - that was Kellie drumming and Palmer on bass and vocals. (He wrote all his songs on bass, which is evident if you play the obvious hits). After-hours jams at Island Records, when the Speakeasy closed we'd amble down to St. Peters Sq. and carry on. This jam turned into a finished single, written on the spot, Island were gonna release it, but I think Blackwell felt it clashed with the 'smooth' image and American Roots production values they were cultivating for Robert -- Alan Toussaint ,The Meters et al. This track sounded more like something Free might have done and, despite pressure from the ground floor at Island, the record got shelved.
Sisters - I played guitars on the 'Vision Thing' album.
Pauline joined us onstage in Newcastle.
M. Nyman. Soundtrack for Peter Greenaway's 'The Cook, The Thief, His Wife etc. We were supposed to appear in the film, as a lounge trio playing in the restaurant, but David Cunningham blew the entire music budget recording a 120-piece school choir so we got written out of the script.
Freddie Stevenson, an amazingly prolific Scottish singer/writer I played with for 18 months just before The Only Ones reformed. Produced his first record 'Body On The Line' in Stockholm - a great band with Brady Blade on drums. And there's a second album done in Nashville with David Z who did 'Kiss' with Prince. David produced that album tho he's not credited.
Evan Dando. That's an album done at Camp St. in CambridgeMass.) last summer. The old Fort Apache where The Pixies and lots of Boston bands recorded. GREAT studio. Easiest record I've ever worked on, with a brilliant young engineer from Memphis, and Anthony Saffrey from Cornershop overseeing, everything went down on the first or second take. Never been in a studio where EVERYTHING you plugged in sounded brilliant. You would really have had to work to get a bad sound. The album's due out in 2009. I don't normally play my own records - or albums I've played on - but Evan's record has been in the car stereo since I got back from Boston. Great album. (
Mel: I’m really interested to know how & when you got together with The Only Ones.
JP: Bloke I'd known from Bristol knew the Perrett's, knew Peter was looking for a band & put us in touch, late 1975. We went into a studio and made some demos. Then Peter and I started looking around for permanent musicians.
We didn't audition anyone, or go out searching, just played 5 days a week at the same Kings Rd. rehearsal room, Manno's, and people drifted thru. The right ones stayed. (You should have seen some of the Horrors that turned up!) It's a random way to work but it suited us well.
Kellie came in around Easter 76 and Alan appeared in August, once Alan was in the line up felt complete.
Mel - How do you feel about being known as one hit wonders for 'Another Girl Another Planet' amongst the mainstream, yet it's known you widely influenced such bands as Nirvana, Babyshambles, The Libertines and Blur?
JP: – Resigned - It's inevitable that One Song will dominate mainstream awareness - what ya gonna do? I guess we could 'buy in' a NEW Top 10 hit (if there is a Top 10 these days) Can you arrange that please? You'll need a brown paper bag containing £500. Fixing the chart isn't a complex business -- just look at the people who did it. Nowadays they're mostly advisers to New Labour.
In '78, with typical foresight, we signed to the ONE UK label that DIDN'T hype singles into the Top 20. Planet reached the dizzying heights of 92 I think, or thereabouts.
Anyway, a "bigger" hit wouldn’t change Planet's status. Once these Shibboleths are up & running they take on lives of their own. You kiss them goodbye & watch them make their own way in the world.
Grateful. - We could so easily have been No Hit Wonders. Tout vient à point à qui sait attendre...
Mel – Well it’s certainly an all time favourite record of mine, and the one which Peter Doherty apparently wishes he’d written. Are there any bands you'd recommend who haven't gone down that road and have earned your respect and interest?
JP: uhhhhhhh…… could you say that again?
Mel - Do you feel any resentment towards the media that they didn't give the band credit for the superb originality?
JP: - Hell NO! The print media were with us all the way. You only have to look at old copies of NME, Sounds, Melody Maker (and The Guardian &c.). If REVIEWS were the arbiter we'd be RIGHT up there – maybe have U2 supporting us again. (They opened for us at the Arcadia Ballroom in Cork in late ’78.)
Mel –Can you tell us which out of your entire musical career has been the highlight for you?
JP: Recording our new album as you can see, work on the album is frantic.
Photo: Supplied by John
Mel – Whilst not wanting to harp onto a negative aspect I’d like to beg the question of why you never achieved the world wide success you so rightly deserved?
JP: You’re asking ME? I’m the last person who’d know. You don’t get an objective view from the engine room.
Mel – Hindsight is a wonderful thing but looking back at your career, Only Ones and beyond is there anything you would do differently knowing what you know now?
JP: Not really. Perhaps if we’d accepted Island Records offer and signed to them, it might have been different. When we reached an impasse in late 1980, we split up. At that point, Blackwell might have said “go away and avoid each other for a year, THEN come back and record”. Chris was the one person in the UK industry who thought in spans longer than 6 weeks. Had we gone with Island we’d have been one of his ‘personal signings” like Winwood and Marley – people he allowed time to develop.
Photo: MOJO Award 2007- John Perry to the far right
Mel - I believe you were presented with an award for MOJO in 2007 'Best Cult Band Award'.
JP:- I believe it was an award for The Most Revolutionary New Act of 1848. You were presented with an attractive black statuette in the form of a letter W (or possibly an M, depending on the angle from which you look at things) manufactured from the finest modern plastics. I think Peter took it home - quite right - but Mojo were kind enough to offer other group members the option of buying additional copies of this desirable item for a mere £200 (plus VAT). I think I may have passed up my chance to own a copy of this depraved objet d'art. I enjoyed the evening. The food was good, and it was delightful to meet Robbie Krieger and chat about his exquisite bottleneck solo on 'Moonlight Drive'. Good too, to catch a last glimpse of (a very fit-looking) Ike Turner just weeks before he died. C'est la vie. Maria was sitting alongside Sharon Osbourne, whom she knew from the earliest days of Ozzy's rebirth/remodel, and they chattered away all night. It was a nice evening. Amy Winehouse threw up on my shoes (Ebay, if only I'd been thinking faster, but I thought she was the hat check girl) and I enjoyed an unusual chat with Kevin Rowland, who I remembered (as a teenager) being paid a fiver to help with the load out from an Only Ones gig at Birmingham Barbarellas. Peter, unaware that any words were required, made a very witty off the cuff acceptance speech.
Mel – Yes I caught a small clip of that on youtube, but all in all a good night then! If anyone else wants to see it you can catch it here - http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=LN_x2aS70e0
Peter looks very frail but loved his one liner. - "I'd rather be famous than a cult. I think it pays better, but it's better than being dead".
JP: Most things are.
Mel - So January see's you all together again, older and wiser? Tell us a little about the upcoming tour. How did this come about?
JP: - Older certainly. Why are we touring? To play to people, it's what we do. Before all else we're a Live Band.
Mel - Really looking forward to finally seeing you perform live in Manchester next year, never having experienced an Only Ones gig before. What can we expect and how would you describe your music?
JP: Nasty loud and brutish. Rather like Life.
Mel - On your MySpace page you make a statement about the record company label guys opinions of the band “We were never cartoon rock'n'roll 'rowdies'’ so how would you have described yourself at that time?
JP: Civilised English Musicians prone to occasional mishaps, especially in America.
Mel - Who's proposed you reformed again for this tour and can we anticipate any new material to be played live?
JP: I didn’t know we’d split! We reformed in Spring 2007 and have been touring ever since. Sweden, Norway, Holland, Spain, Japan &c. We’ve also done one-off UK festivals thru 2007/8 -- this is just the first concert tour since summer 2007.
Mel - We saw you on ‘Later with Jools Holland in April this year, do you think this appearance regenerated new fans for The Only Ones?
JP: I would hope so, be a shame if it turned people off in their thousands!
Later with Jools Holland April 1st 2007 ‘Black Operations’
Mel - So, where do you think you'll get your inspiration for your next album? There will be a new album, right? What about reissues?
JP: Peter's written more than enough new songs for an album. We've been working up arrangements since the summer. Recording started in December.
And SONY are releasing newly remastered versions of the 3 CBS records on 2nd February 2009, complete with bonus tracks - new material they've found in the vault. The remasters sound great, much, much clearer and louder.
Mel: Can we expect to hear some of the new songs in January at your gigs? Could you give us some track names (bearing in mind this will be going out in Jan edition John?)
JP: Yeh there's a lot of new songs being recorded, hard to predict which will be in the set? ‘Transfixed’,’ Magic Tablet’, ‘Love At All Costs’, ‘Human Race’, ‘You Gave Birth’, ‘That one in 6/8’ - 4 or 5 others who's Titles escape me ...
Mel – I’ll be at the Manchester gig at the CarlingAcademy but for our readers here are the rest of the dates for 2009.
23 Jan 2009, York Duchess,
24 Jan 2009, Manchester Academy
25 Jan 2009, Sheffield Academy
31 Jan 2009, Southampton The Brook
01 Feb 2009, Cambridge The Junction
06 Feb 2009, Shepherds Bush Empire
19 Feb 2009, Madrid El Sol
20 Feb 2009, Burgos Estudio 27,
21 Feb 2009, Bilbao Kafe Antzokia
JP: See you in Manchester
Mel: Oh for sure really looking forward to it and it’s the first gig of the year to be reviewed by me for Mudkiss. Many thanks John x
The Only Ones website: www.theonlyones.biz
John Perry MySpace: www.myspace.com/johnmperry
Peter Perett MySpace: www.myspace.com/peterperrett
The Only Ones (1978)
Even Serpents Shine (1979)
Special View (1979)
Baby's Got a Gun (1980)
Books by John Perry:
Meaty Beaty, Big & Bouncy: - The Who's Singles - Schirmer 1997
Exile On Main Street - Schirmer 2001
Electric Ladyland: - Continuum 2004
All photos used by Kind permission of John Perry
Photo of John: - David ArnoffComposite photos: Bryony Jones and Dan Griffiths for Peter's photo
Interview by Mel 05.1.09