The Songwriting Genius of Peter Perrett… Part Five
The Songwriting Genius of Peter Perrett …. and the majesty of the Only Ones. Part Five
“There are only so many Peter Perrett articles I can take” said a so-called friend … but the response from the faithful to Parts One, Two, Three and Four has made it all worthwhile. Thanks to everyone who has contributed, read and appreciated them.
With only a few days left until How the West Was Won is released: the reviews so far have been excellent; Peter being interviewed in various glossies, and a really excellent online interview on KEXP ; here’s the final installment before I too lavish mouth-watering praise on the new LP.
James Perrett on Shivers (interviewed in 2007 )
Ten years ago when I reviewed the reissue of Peter Perrett and the One -Woke Up Sticky… Plus for Record Collector Magazine – after the Five-Star Review – which remains online here – I submitted an interview with Peters eldest son Jamie – who I had spoken to a few times via MySpace because at that time he seemed to do all his fathers ‘social media’. The interview was never published. James (then Jamie) wanted to update it, ‘I could write something far better now..’ but I guess he has been busy… so I hope doesn’t mind me publishing this, the centrepiece of which is about one of Peters finest songs; Shivers.
JAMIE PERRETT Q & A
How old were you when Woke Up Sticky came out?
I was 12/13 in year 8 of secondary school, I remember when the album came out, going to gigs with my brother we were both like hobbits struggling to catch site of our dad on stage with these old punks trying not to fall over us. Whilst other kids were going to weddings and school discos we were going to gigs and meeting people like Chrissie Hynde. It was kinda strange. When ‘Woke Up Sticky’ was being recorded my dad would often come back with monitor mixes and update us on the progress of the album! He was very excited.
Was Peter (Senior) pleased with the finished album? What did you think of it? – as good in your opinion as the three Only Ones albums?
At the time I think he was, definitely with the song aspect of it (the choice of songs). There are some great tracks on there. Tracks like ‘The Shame Of Being You’ ‘Woke Up Sticky’ ‘Shivers’ and the hidden track ‘My Sweet Angel’ would fit on any Only Ones album. For me, It’s difficult to compare these albums. They are completely different bands in different times and my dad wasn’t writing about the same kinda stuff. But overall (production, musicianship) I think the first two Only Ones albums are better. But I’d play this album over Babys Got A Gun for sure.
Which was your favourite song?
Lyrically I’d say ‘Woke Up Sticky’ “More speed, less haste, I repeat myself til I’m blue in the face, I came down in a meteoric shower, the speed of sound turns decades into hours, Out of place, out of time I return interior re-designed, They got me up against the wall, maybe it’s best not to wake up at all”
But the track that sticks in my memory would be ‘Shivers’. Having heard the original (twice-as-fast- rockier) version, It makes you appreciate the finished album version even more. In terms of arrangement it’s the simplest on the album, with the drums maintaining a steady beat throughout, the song, doesn’t need any complicated fills, or guitar licks or keyboard swirls, the vocals and the lyrics keep your attention. On some songs it sounds like the vocals are struggling to be heard over the band, but in this song my dad ‘s voice is at it’s languid best. I love the latin feel of the song and Jay Price’s harmonic minor scale solo at the end was one of the first things I wanted to learn to play on the guitar.
But it’s the lyrics to the last verse that meant the most to me.
“When your life has lost all meaning,
And your so-called friends don’t have the time,
And then a stranger gives you something to believe in,
These are the things that send shivers down my spine”
This verse was written around Christmas when our electricity packed up and we didn’t have enough money to fix it. We didn’t have any heaters or any light and it was a couple of days before Christmas day
All of our ” so called friends” and family didn’t want to know, but our next door neighbour gave us the keys to her flat for us to spend Christmas in. It was one of the nicest things anyone’s done for us. And it definitely struck a chord with my dad.
How has the The Only Ones reunion affected ‘the family’?
It’s surely a good thing aint it? My parents are definitely more active, my dad is planning to release a fitness DVD of his Buddhist exercises after the autumn tour, so that should bring some money in!
One thing I’ve noticed is they both seem very happy. It’s great to see him perform again, doing what he loves with an amazing band, Plus it gets him out of the house.
I met your dad on the One tour and he told me you were a mad keen guitarist and Hendrix fan but thought almost all great guitarists had the initials JP, (John Perry, Jay Price, Jimmy Page…) Jamie Perrett?
Ha ha, I dont think you can mention me in the same breath. When I first started playing guitar I got pretty good, me and my brother used to jam with John Perry quite a lot and he’s a fantastic teacher/mentor we both owe him a lot. But it got to the point when I couldn’t say all that I wanted to say on the guitar so I started writing songs. I remember when I was 15 John saying to me you have to make a choice, I decided to be a songwriter and therefore my guitar playing suffered a bit
How hard is it following in your dads footsteps (songwriter-wise!)
Oh dear, well it’s harder for me than any one else in the band as everything I do will draw comparisons, the way i sing, the lyrics I write, the phrasing, the way I move onstage, the way I walk, these kinda things are quite irritating, especially when people shout out requests at your gigs! A while back me and Peter (Junior) were thinking of changing our surnames to avoid this kind of thing. But then we thought it’s not like we’re the sons of John Lennon, we weren’t born with silver spoons in our mouth, just read the biography!
James Perrett plays on Peters ‘How The West Was Won’ album and with Strangefruit together with his brother and wife.
Ged Babey on Bells That Chime
Seeing as no-one has mentioned any of the England’s Glory songs, I felt it necessary to include this, simply because it’s a personal favourite but also because it has a simplicity and a depth -which became a kinda trademark of Peters songwriting – yet it is arguably nonsense and ‘the worst thing Perrett ever wrote’.
Dismissed as a terrible piece of ‘utterly forgettable’ whimsy on the sleevenotes to the Legendary Lost album by, ironically, the drummer on it Jon Newey, it finally came out on CD on The First and Last, Perhaps Newey doesn’t rate it as his own playing doesn’t seem that enthusiastic or possibly he was heavily stoned at the session.
Yep, you could say it’s a ‘Velvet Underground rip-off’ with an I’m Sticking With You feel about it. And yes, the lyrics are pretty nonsensical – but at the same time both hilarious and ‘cool’ – a litany of outsider heroes and rebel imagery… which throws up a few questions. Who is ‘the ageing prince of rock’ referred to? Is the Mule that lost their head the famous Muffin? Given Peters ‘trade’ at the time, probably not.
All of the “Dolls that swing all night for me” and the “naive-little-girl/give you a whirl” stuff (particularly set alongside ‘Predictably Blonde’) are so thoroughly Seventies, sexist and seedy sounding now… but ‘those were different times’ and PP was young and horny. It is a side of the man which we overlook though. A Feminist critique of Peters work, would be… Interesting. That said -in Bells That Chime -he seems happy to embrace his feminine side offering to “..be Jayne Mansfield for you”.
Bells That Chime is a song that captures the whole ethos of sex, drugs and rock’n’roll poetry which characterized the post-punk early 80’s for many when a love of Lou Reed/Jim Morrison was compulsory as we followed bands like Wasted Youth … who yeah, Peter produced.
I believe in trains that flash by fast
Words that shatter glass
The ageing prince of rock
The prisoner, not the dock
I believe in bells that chime for eternity
Dolls that swing all night for me
Trees that sway delightfully
And men who walk across the sea
I believe in kings that crash in time
Fools that cross the line
Mules that lose their head
The bizarre and the unread
I believe in bells that chime for eternity
Dolls that swing all night for me
Outlaws throwing knives
Ah, come on you husbands and wives
Sod John Cooper Clarke, that should be on the poetry syllabus at schools in my opinion.
Whilst Perrett inspires (us) fanatical followers of his work, it’s not like the po-faced intensity of being a Dylan-ologist as Peters work is shot through with his dark humour and sense of fun. Why Don’t You Kill Yourself is very dark humour indeed but Bells That Chime is just glorious, imagination-given-flight fun and shows that even his most casual songs are still the work of a genius.
Ged Babey writes for Louder Than War and compiles obsessive pieces on his ‘heroes’
Conclusions? Peter Perrett is England’s most unique, gifted songwriter. An outsider hero. Why? Because everything he writes and sings is from the heart and it’s all based on the decadent and grim realities of the life only he has lead – ‘like Turner from Performance’ – is how Nina Antonia his biographer once described it: only it wasn’t fiction. It’s an epic story … all true … and it’s far from over…
Pre-order ‘How The West Was Won’ from here.
The Perrett/Only Ones Lyrics Blog is highly recommended and is here.
Nina Antonia’s stunning Perrett biography available from here.
Compiled and commentary by Ged Babey
– with gratitude & thanks to each and every contributor and the original uploaders of the You-Tube clips.
Part One is here
Part Two is here
Part Three is here
Part Four is here