Peter Perrett is in an upbeat mood today. One of rock’s great survivors recently returned from a short trip to Japan with his reformed band The Only Ones where, he’s happy to report, “everybody had a really good time – there’s a lot of energy in the band with two young members”.
The 62-year-old singer is looking forward to some Yorkshire hospitality when he plays a rare solo gig at Hebden Bridge Trades Club in January. He was attracted to the idea that the club had hosted the godmother of punk Patti Smith; the fact that it was founded by trades unionists appealed even more. “I’m as Communist as you can get,” he says. “Having a trades union background makes it even better.”
The Only Ones got back together in 2007 – more than two and a half decades after they’d split up amid a haze of acrimony and drug-taking.
Perrett recalls being “taken by surprise” when guitarist John Perry, drummer Mike Kellie and bassist Alan Mair came to his south London home to broach the idea of a reunion. “I was still on drugs. For the first year back together I was not that healthy,” he says. “In 2007 I was in a terrible physical condition. When you get to age 55 or 60 you get loads of physical things going wrong.”
Years of abusing heroin and crack cocaine had taken their toll, inhibiting his ability to sing. “Your lungs, ears nose and throat are very important to singing,” he says. “You can play guitar even if you are half dead – which John does very well – if you’re singing you need a lot of lung power.”
Hence the band took their time while Perrett got himself clean and stopped smoking. “I have not smoked a cigarette for three-and-a-half years just to get myself in better shape so I can actually sing better,” he says.
The memories of yesteryear still burn brightly. While some music critics remain baffled that The Only Ones weren’t more successful in the late 70s – when their eponymous debut album and its successors Even Serpents Shine and Baby’s Got a Gun grazed the top 40 – Perrett takes issue with idea that that led to their downfall.
“When we broke up we were at the height of our careers,” he says. “We used to sell 30,000 albums for the first six months [after their release] for every album.
“It was not a lack of success that broke us up; we stopped getting on with each other. It was about egos and people being jealous of other people, thinking they can do things themselves.”
The most serious damage to the band’s unity seems to have been done on a “particularly fraught” American tour in 1980, where they played a handful of dates with The Who. “I was wanted by the police for attempted murder [when he was caught up in a drive-by shooting] – they extradited me from New York to California. John’s girlfriend was in prison. Everything that could go wrong did. America is full of crazy people – English bands especially seem to attract lots of crazy people.”
An experimental drugs user until that point (“I was clean for 95 per cent of the gigs we did”), Perrett blames his subsequent addiction on the trauma of the band’s break-up.
The Only Ones’ story was always packed with incident. In the mid-70s Perrett and his wife Xena became friends of Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood after frequenting Westwood’s shop Let It Rock. They attended the Sex Pistols’ early gigs and “connected” to punk and its desire to sweep away the musical old guard but, being a few years older than its main protagonists, The Only Ones were “not going to bow to peer pressure to spike our hair up”.
Perrett’s desire to be on the same label as his hero Bob Dylan led The Only Ones to sign to CBS. Such was The Only Ones’ stock in 1976, Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards expressed an interest in producing their first record after hearing a demo tape. Perrett remembers Richards twice turning up at recording sessions. “The song he loved was called Prisoners – he asked me to teach him the chords,” Perrett remembers. But the singer’s indifference and Richards’ drug bust in Toronto scuppered the union.
The song for which The Only Ones are best remembered is Another Girl, Another Planet, which enjoyed a new lease of life when it was used to advertise a popular mobile phone network. Perrett is adamant its lyric is about his struggles with commitment and not, as some believe, about drugs. “At the time I thought I was such a loving person I had too much love inside me for one person. That’s what you tell yourself when you’re 24. Luckily I grew up by the time I was in my thirties.”
By the time Perrett plays in Yorkshire he hopes to have recorded several tracks for a new Only Ones record.
He has “about 23 songs” he’d like to record but has settled on rehearsing “10 or 12”. “I’m not going to be ambitious and do them all in one go,” he says. “I’ll do them in batches of four or five songs.”
He intends to air a few in Yorkshire. “It’s fun playing songs to young people who have never heard them before,” he says.
Peter Perrett plays at Hebden Bridge Trades Club on January 29. http://thetradesclub.com/events/peter-perrett