“Live it’s just for the moment and the buzz you get. I’d forgotten how much of a buzz I got. In the intervening years I tended to look back thinking of all the hard work. I did a gig recently at the Camden Underworld and I just came on and played one song (the Heart Throbs backed him on Another Girl Another Planet) and I couldn’t sleep for two days afterwards. It was such a buzz. Much better than any drug I’ve taken. It’s just ridiculous that I’ve allowed drugs to stop me feeling that way. Which is why I ultimately stopped making music. I was so numbed by drugs I wasn’t feeling it.”
That was Peter Perrett in 1992. It took another three years until he released something, an ep under the band name The One, and four years until the triumphant return on album, Woke Up Sticky, as Peter Perrett and The One, which at the time I had down as the year’s best album (although in retrospect, Tigermilk has probably won out).
Then, of course, eleven years of nothing. A mobile phone advert recently gifted him £40,000 which he blew on smack in a few months (I was actually told £400,000, but surely that can’t be true, so I took a 0 off. You know how these things can get exaggerated).
On Saturday night, The Only Ones played a set of searing intensity inspired by The Who’s punch, Ray Davies’ lyrical bite, Keith “Keef!” Richards’ mangled guitar and Lou Reed’s druggy drawl.
Now, I yield to no one in my distaste for reformed bands parading faded tricks for a pension top-up on the oldies circuit, but there are a few reformations that channel the spirit of the original band and capture the very energy that fired them in the first place.
This gig was one of those times. Hampered by drugs, acrimony and CBS pressurising them to have a hit record, The Only Ones died a premature death. I was very happy to see them play a life-affirming set, to hear Another Girl Another Planet – the greatest single ever? Well, of course it is – live, to have men of a certain vintage turn round, fix me with wide, disbelieving grins and nod in affirmation as if to say, “It’s fucking brilliant. You know that, I know that and everybody here knows that.”
The reason why The Only Ones failed to achieve superstardom first time round is that even though they had punk’s energy and bile, they weren’t really punk. Or, as Johnny Thunders put it to Perrett: “If you fitted in more then you could make it easy.”
Perrett, looking back on The Only Ones’ initial incarnation at some distance of time, said: “I’ve never liked conforming to anything. We were just into music. The most important thing is what’s in people’s minds. It doesn’t really matter what the people behind me looked like at all, they were playing exciting music. Music’s all about emotions, not what people look like.”
While it is safe to say The Only Ones weren’t punk, they came close to fitting the bill largely because of Perrett’s image, drug-intake and nihilism (“I always flirt with death, I look ill but I don’t care about it.” Put that in your hash pipe and smoke it, Sid Vicious).
However, the rest of the band only got into punk venues in the late 70s because they were on the bill. I suppose I shouldn’t have been too surprised a couple of years ago when a mate came back from playing cricket in one of the minor North London leagues to reveal excitedly that John Perry, Only Ones guitarist, had been umpiring. Perrett’s two sons also play in that league, fact fans.
There was one new song played on Saturday night. It didn’t strike me immediately, but it’s too early and it was the wrong environment to judge it properly . Listen instead to Woke Up Sticky.
Some favourite Perrett facts:
● He wouldn’t sing during a Peel session until a roadie had been sent on a 20-mile trip to his house to pick up his shades.
●He had to be smuggled out of America, seven dates into a 20-date support tour with The Who, after deliberately running over a six-foot Chinese car park attendant who had been hassling him.
●A young Johnny Marr got kicked out of The Only Ones’ dressing room more than once.
●He could do algebra at the age of 5 because his dad, who left school at 12, “thought education was really important”.
●He wasn’t allowed into maths lessons during his last year at boarding school because he started a fire on his desk.