the Songwriting Genius of Peter Perrett … Part Two
With his first ever solo album, ‘How the West Was Won’ due for release on Domino Recordings at the end of June, long-time Perrett fan, Ged Babey, rounds up fellow writers, musicians & fans to discuss the Greatness and Perfection of the Only Ones singer’s finest work… taking one song each as an example.
Is he one of England’s Greatest Songwriters? I think so, as do his devotees. And that’s what I’m trying to prove here: with a little help from some friends. It is difficult to stay ‘on task’ as there are so many exceptional songs and so much emotional content which people relate (to) in different ways. Bringing together a choir made up of multifarious voices and viewpoints to sing Peter and the Only Ones praises has brought its own rewards and a tangible sense of community. There is a genuine buzz about the forthcoming album which is nothing to do with any artificial hype. Borrowing from one of the contributors words below, there is a ‘sardonic intelligence’ to the lyrics and an ’emotional core’ to the songs… So, without further ado…
Andi Dalton on ‘It’s The Truth’
When asked to pick a ‘favourite’ Only Ones song I sometimes forget just how much I love ‘It’s The Truth’ from the first album. The shortest track, this song is often overlooked yet it’s a perfect encapsulation of Peter Perrett’s brilliance as a song writer; showing his ability to create compositions that sound effortless and natural, as though they were always there in the cosmos waiting to be discovered.
‘It’s The Truth’ is a finely crafted poem. The ease of the blank verse, the childlike quality of Perrett’s loose rhyming couplets (‘wrong/ on’, ’mixed/ fixed’) create a sense of innocence in a messed up love song – to someone, to narcotics, to both. His off kilter elliptical phrasing (‘It’s the last time… I’m ever going to’) makes it sound conversational, personal. Peter Perrett’s voice is a narcoleptic, sardonic drawl that seeps into your blood and wraps around your soul, drawing you through the repeated refrains so that you reach the end too soon. The backing vocals at first pull away in slight disharmony then imperceptibly merge with Perrett’s to reflect a shift from anxiety to acceptance and strength before splitting again as ‘my memory is fading away.’
Musically, ‘It’s The Truth’ mirrors the movement of emotion in the delivery of the lyrics. The song starts, stripped bare, coming straight in with only vocals and a low, fluttering Spanish guitar that feels anxious and uncertain. This changes as the bass and drums come in, driving the song forward with the exquisite sound of the guitar rising above. The unique drum sound emphasises the line ‘what this thing means to me’ before closing on an instrumental that acts like a hook, making you want to put the needle back to the start of the track.
Listening to The Only Ones has somehow always felt like an intensely private affair, just me, the music and memories. To me, ‘It’s The Truth’ brings remembrance of late nights; rain pouring past an open window, dimmed lighting, roll ups and empty bottles. It’s Sunday morning, still awake comedown, watery sunrise, bruised touch of self-doubt, remorse and regret. It’s first love sold out. But it is also fleetingly, a feeling of hope.
Andi Dalton was flautist in Tottenham AK47’s, has always been an Only Ones fan, and is one of my oldest and dearest friends. x
Tim Rundall on ‘Is This How Much You Care?'(unreleased)
I first heard the Only Ones early on, with the release of Lovers Of Today, which I bought and played endlessly, but my travels took me out of the country for the next year or so, and when I returned I got involved in other areas of music so didn’t really follow up on that initial interest, and sadly didn’t get to see them play live during their first incarnation.
At some point in the early to mid ‘80s I was sitting around in someones house smoking dope and chatting when the music in the background grabbed my attention – it was the much maligned ‘Baby’s Got A Gun’ album, which I immediately loved and still do. I can understand why the band might not like it so much, with the loss of control over how they sounded and it’s comparatively lush production (at odds with the more characteristic first two albums) but I was smitten. I think the songs and playing are uniformly fabulous, and it and ‘Remains’ (plus the BBC sessions) are actually my favourite Only Ones records.
The humour of the lyrics is often overlooked, but there is a sardonic intelligence about them which is typical of the darkly amusing world view common to many junkies – a club I was a member of for too long myself, not that I regret the experience; just the time it took up. But there is also an emotional core to the songs, which is always mirrored by Alan and Kellie’s supportive playing, and emphasised brilliantly in melodic flashes of pain and glory by John Perry’s fantastic guitar – rarely have a lead guitarist and a lyricist/singer acted as such great foils for each other, with sympathy and skill.
Fast forward to 2009, when tragically my 27 year old daughter Alice died in a car crash. In the intervening years I came to realise that JP and I had a number of mutual friends (mostly people in or around the Pink Fairies family – I myself was briefly a member of The Deviants around this time too), and as a result I had started listening to the O.O’s again. Through John I heard, and had made a copy of, an acoustic studio demo for a new Perrett song “Is This How Much You Care?” which really captivated me. On the morning I received the dreadful ‘phone call I was obviously in shock, but to make the world stand still and give me time to gather the strands of myself together somehow, I put that song on the stereo in my cottage kitchen and played it. Again and again and again and again. I don’t know why, as the lyrics were not especially relevant to my situation, but the emotional core of that song, the sound of it, the atmosphere of it – it’s soul – reached so deep inside me on that day, and over the next week or so. That song saved me, it really did. Not so much ‘comforting’ as just being there, like a supporting friend who can say all the right things without ever opening their mouths. It gave me strength.
It was profound, and it touched me so deeply – it still does, and I get great comfort from it still. Strange to find joy in the midst of such numbing pain. I doubt it will ever see a release now, but I know Peter almost played it when I saw him at the Garage last year – I do wish he had, but I still have the demo recording and I treasure it. For that reason alone (and there are plenty more) I think of Peter, and the band, as one of the most truly brilliant artists. I’m surprised Dylan wasn’t the one I turned to, but even he couldn’t reach the place they did with that song. Thank you Peter, thank you Only Ones
Tim Rundall (Slim Tim Slide) – guitarist with Thee Uncontrollables, writer, and hedonist.
“Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.” Aleister Crowley
In my youth (and now…) I was a massive fan of The Only Ones & saw them many times in concert & I can testify they were definitely one of the greatest live bands around…. They had an innate musicality & a range of songs that other groups at that time simply could not touch. The Only Ones were dynamic, thrilling, romantic, damaged – the only British group during the late ’70’s & early ’80’s that could seriously be compared to the drug ravaged majesty of The Velvet Underground. With Peter Perrett they had a witty, classic English song-writer & photogenic frontman & a genuine guitar hero in the capable hands of John Perry. Alan Mair on bass & Mike Kellie (RIP X) on drums kept everything rooted, brilliantly pushing the flow of the songs forward or holding them back whenever required.
Chiming guitars, rolling drums & Raphael Ravenscroft’s stately saxophone usher in this utterly gorgeous number that kicks off The Only Ones’ self titled ’78 debut album. ” I used to have the notion I could swim the length of the ocean if I knew you were waiting for me…” Peter Perrett’s world weary vocals draw you in immediately. “I’ll escape from my chains & I’ll reach out for you/Baby I’m in love with you…”
‘The Whole Of The Law’ packs a real, emotional punch that’s hard to describe in words – but if you’ve ever been in or out of love you’ll know exactly what’s going on here. Deceptively fragile, like all the great songs it exists in its own universe & for its all too brief two minutes & 37 seconds makes our world that little bit brighter. It’s almost the perfect start to a record & neatly heralds in the sonic joys of ‘Another Girl, Another Planet’ that follows.
Lou Reed? Eat your fucking heart out!!
Peter Albert Neil Perrett, may your pen never run dry & I wish you many, many more years of creative excellence to come – we salute you!!
Peter Coyne is singer/songwriter with one of the UK’s finest bands, The Godfathers.
Cynthia Ross on The Beast
I met the The Only Ones and became friends with Peter, Zena and John Perry through my best friend Johnny Thunders when they first came to New York City in 1978. The ‘B’ Girls (my band) had the privilege of sharing a bill with them. John’s solo record, ‘So Alone’ stands as a beautiful testament to the musical relationship, respect and friendship that Johnny had with Peter and his band. Peter’s writing definitely influenced John’s for this record that features Peter, John Perry and Mike Kellie on several tracks.
I especially miss Mike Kellie, who I met when I was 14 and have stayed in touch with all these years. I spoke to Kellie on the phone last year when I was in London and told him how much he meant to me as a friend and mentor of sorts. We had made plans to meet, but Kellie said he wasn’t getting around or going out that much. I had no idea he was ill.
Walk into any “dive bar” in the gentrified New York City of today and every twenty something DJ has ‘Another Girl Another Planet’ on their playlist along with The Ramones, The Clash, Johnny Thunders Heartbreakers, The New York Dolls and an assortment of Brit ‘Power Pop’ and ‘Punk’. For those of us who wore out several copies of The Only Ones self produced debut album, the songs that stick in our DNA are the darker tales told in the writer’s authentic voice such as ‘The Beast’.
From the haunting intro and opening lines, “Run from the beast …” we know that Peter is writing this thinly disguised metaphor for heroin addiction from experience. He’s not a bystander. He is ringing the warning bell from inside the prison, forcing us to listen and to feel the minor key, melancholy pain chasing us, even as we believe we are invincible. ‘The Beast’ was written before the onset of the AIDS/HIV epidemic that took many of our close friends, yet Peter’s references to “the epidemic” and “the modern vampire spreading disease” foreshadow what was to come and add another layer of truth and vulnerability to the song. The chaotic outro, fueled by John Perry’s guitar and Mike Kellie’s magnificent drumming, takes us to the bleak outlook for the future. “There’s no cure.” The words have meaning, then and now. The lyrics and music are inter-woven as integral parts.
In Peter Perrett’s April ‘78 interview with Pete Makowski for Sounds; Peter says, “I like melody lines that you can remember and I like words that take you somewhere else so you can never return to where you were when you first heard them.” Mission accomplished.
Cynthia Ross is a founding member, bass player and songwriter for The ‘B’ Girls , currently in NEW YORK JUNK, ElectraJets and in the midst of writing a memoir/autobiography.
Nothing from Baby’s Got A Gun or Remains yet! Only one from Even Serpents Shine. And nothing from the Englands Glory and the One periods. Maybe that will change next week when I bring you more from the likes of Andy Blade, Gus Ironside, Lou Reid and others, including hopefully James Perrett, Peters eldest son and the guitarist on the forthcoming album. Until then, lets just hear this one more time…
Pre-order ‘How The West Was Won’ from here.
All words, except where specified, Ged Babey.
Many thanks to everyone who has contributed to this piece, the previous one and the next one.
Thanks also to Paul Nelson for technical help with the Is This How Much You Care clip, which is taken from RevJocks original upload here.