The Only Ones: heavy drugs, bad decisions, wrong record label, a hit that never was, too competent as musicians – there’s a lot of stories to tell about The Only Ones.
In 1977 I had quit my job in Liverpool and was living in Manchester, initially crashing on Dare’s floor in the student residences at Oak House, just below the Owen’s Park tower block in Fallowfield. I had a job cleaning at a cafe and working as a night porter at The Lansdowne Hotel on Wilmslow Rd. Opposite Oak House there were some shops, a newsagent, a food store and a record shop. It was there that I bought the picture sleeve 7-inch single of The Only Ones first release, Lovers Of Today backed with Peter And The Pets on Vengeance Records, brand new, the week it came out – I still have it. That was the beginning of my love affair with their music.
In 1978 they released their first album and the classic single Another Girl, Another Planet (that CBS Records somehow failed to get into the charts). By then I had a bedsit in Ladybarn Lane, right next to the student resident halls. I’d shed the cleaning job and was just working as a night porter – I worked all night and slept all day till the next shift started again. In my time at the hotel lots of bands stayed there. The Adverts, 999, The O Band and The Only Ones. I remember talking to Zena Kakoulli, Peter Perrett’s wife, Alan Mair the bass player and producer and Mike Kellie the drummer who had played with lots of famous people in the seventies – it always had parentheses after his name (ex Spooky Tooth). I opened the bar for them made them sandwiches, I guess I was 19 years old.
Soon after this encounter I was on a bus to France with one of my co-workers (Lesley) to to do the grape picking in the South of France. That of course is another story but at some point I found myself back in London crashing on Dare’s floor again in North Acton until a room became free in the house. I got a job working in the office at Wall’s Ice Cream on the North Circular. During this period I went to see as many a bands as I could afford (we also had our own band, The True 100’s). One band I saw was the early Eurythmics, another the original Psychedelic Furs and yet another was The Only Ones. By this stage they were onto their second album, Even Serpents Shine and whilst the first album had Another Girl, Another Planet and other greats songs: The Beast, The Whole Of The Law, Breaking Down and No Peace For The Wicked, I fell in love with their second album. I remember thinking that I liked everything about it, not just the music: the lyrics, Perrett’s voice, Perry’s guitar, the cover, the title, the name of the band, the clothes – and then I saw them live at The Lyceum in London. So there was a period there that they were my absolute favourite band, I was 21 years old.
The album opens with From Here To Eternity.
“I see a woman with death in her eyes
But I don’t have the time to pray
For her salvation or for her soul
She walks her chosen way
But in the darkness, and in the light
I have found some hope
Of me getting out, from this underground
I can’t wait to get back home, back home
Such a tender age to sell her soul
For dreams that don’t come true
She’s like a woman whose whole life is dissolved
She’s the living proof
That all that glitters is not gold
And even serpents shine
Ah…she got bitten then, she’ll get bitten again
While I’m sitting here watching the tide come in
You made me feel responsible
For the state you’ve got yourself in
Oh I know it’s impossible for you
To ever be the same person again
I got us into this, I’ve gotta get us out now
It’s you and me all the way
From here to eternity
It’s you and me all the way”
It’s like a junkie love pact and the broken promises that can’t be kept – Perret himself had gone from junkie to a major drug dealer. All his songs are littered with tales of addiction and love metaphors but also blatant songs about the love affair with the drugs dominate the records and with his South London drug drawl he sounded like Lou Reed if he was ill. What’s fascinating is that throughout all this darkness and despair are heartbreaking melodies and quality songwriting excited by a band that were adept on their instruments. Mike Kellie had a long pedigree, he’d played with Joe Cocker, Peter Frampton, Traffic and many more. Alan Mair had been in the The Beatstalkers, a massively successful freakbeat band in Scotland known as “The Scottish Beatles” and John Perry was in The Ratbites From Hell with future guitarist for The Records Huw Gower. Kellie and Mair were old school, steady as a rock and Perry and Perrett were creative guitarists (and from Perry, a great tone and guitar solos galore) but in essence it was Perrett’s songwriting that made the difference.
Flaming Torch continues with the hopelessness of junkies who just cannot help themselves, constantly placing themselves in impossible situations:
“Now I know what you want
But I don’t know how to give it
I think our life together has been cursed
I don’t know which one of us is worse
Is it the one who lies or the one who hurts”
“It’s a crime, it’s a crime
I’m always in the wrong place in the wrong time”
You’ve Got To Pay follows and it’s about the decline of relationships, but rather than blame himself or even the other person, Perret blames love itself, picking out the love condition as the culprit to the failings, blaming the machine rather than the operator.
No Solution is an uptempo rush with a memorable drum beat and pleading catchy melody. It’s like a Who song. The Only Ones toured with The Who on an abortive US tour that had they not scarpered would have landed them in a nasty US jail – Perrett is still unable to go back to America to this day.
In betweens has seventies bass, seagull guitars and a yearning melody. It’s a sleazy tale and Perrett has the knack of simply telling it how it is, straight to the point with a seedy artfulness. Oh yeah and great old fashioned solos that the Punks simply hated.
“Sordid clandestine love
It burns your heart out
Try to fix up an hour
In the back seat”
Finally a lighthearted moment with Out There In The Night – wait for it, written about Perrett’s cat, never has a more sympathetic and lovingly crafted song been written about a pet. Koulla Kakoulli, Zena’s sister on backing vocals, who incidentally is Harry Kakoulli, the original Squeeze bass player’s sister) Glenn Tilbrook, Squeeze singer and guitarist was an early member of Perrett’s band).
Curtains For You is like an English Blue Oyster Cult, mid tempo with some great rhythm guitar and more proper guitar solos. This is not a Punk band, it’s a band from the Punk era and although it’s not a rock band in the truest sense either, it’s the mixture of the members skills that makes The Only Ones utterly unique – influenced, but sounding exactly like themselves.
Programme is like a Punk song except for the dual harmony solos of course.
Someone Who Cares is an Only Ones classic, Kellie’s creative drumming, fantastic sing along melody, poignant words and it fits perfectly into the junkie chronology of the album – those broken promises reveal themselves in resignation.
“Shattered dreams have left you scarred beyond repair”.
Miles From Nowhere has so many musical parts from all the members – they are simply bursting with ideas, Perrett’s song brimming over with interesting drum parts, melodic bass and guitar sections. Perrett gave them a skeleton and they covered it in flesh and attractive features. The song’s opening line is stuck fast between the demons and the gods – addiction and creativity.
“You find it tempting to give up the ghost”
And then the chorus:
“I want to die in the same place I was born, miles from nowhere
I used to reach for the stars but now I’ve reformed”
Last track, Instrumental is a clever mainly instrumental piece:
Baby you’re just
The Only Ones were doomed to spectacular failure and as recently as 2007 after Vodaphone used Another Girl, Another Planet in an advertising campaign, giving that brilliant single another chance to be the hit it always deserved to be – it failed to crack the charts. I went to see them play in Manchester (where else) when they reformed and they were great live, the magic had not left them. Still, when they walked on stage and started the song, the bass didn’t work, Perrett looked like an old frail witch (I don’t mean to be rude) with thin arms, just in a bad physical state. But his voice was great, he sang well, the band was fantastic and my mate Boydy and I sang all the words all through the gig.
There has been talk of a new album since the reformation but nothing has appeared and you get the feeling that it’s all too hard. But their records are timeless gems that I will never tire of. I’ll leave you with the fitting opening line of their most famous song:
“I always flirt with death
I look ill but i don’t care about it”