As the leader of the Only Ones, a band that drew fans like Johnny Thunders, Richard Lloyd, and Keith Richards, Peter Perrett was a musical force on the London scene of the late 1970s. After a few rocky, drug-filled, drug-fueled years, Perrett got sober but never hit the straight and narrow, and he’s still making great music. Amy Haben caught up with him at his London home last December and spoke with him for PKM

Many of you have probably heard the Only Ones’ best-known song, “Another Girl, Another Planet.” I consider it the most romantic punk rock song, even though most speculate it’s about heroin.  A crush of mine gave me a mix tape with the song on it almost twenty years ago and I fell for him right then and there. With singer Peter Perrett’s unique vocals and guitar sounds that lend to the feeling of shooting through space on a pink cloud –  it hits even the most jaded character (think Vincent Gallo in Buffalo 66) in the guts.

“I’ll always flirt with death, I’ll get killed, but I don’t care about it. I can face your threats and stand up straight and tall and shout about it. I think I’m on another world with you.” -Lyrics from, “Another Girl, Another Planet”

The Only Ones – Another Girl, Another Planet:

The Only Ones came roaring through the scene in 1976, playing pubs and venues around London. Peter’s natural charisma brought about fans as well as praise from fellow respected musicians. New York bad boy Johnny Thunders, who was a Doll as well as a Heartbreaker, even felt compelled to approach the skinny, British singer to compliment him on his voice. A strong friendship continued after that fateful night. After the Only Ones’ demise in 1981, Peter and his wife, Zena, made a full-time job of selling dope out of their house. When I asked him if he was worried they would be robbed or shot, he replied that even the worst thugs wouldn’t dare out of respect for Zena. She was the best cook in town—the item on the menu being crack.

The Only Ones -photo © courtesy David Arnoff

I’m surprised at how transparent and affable Peter is. It’s usually hard to get to the dark parts of a musician’s history as they want to highlight their best moments. This isn’t the case with Peter. When I told him I’d never done heroin, his eyes lit up with childlike glee. He made a comment that I could use it when I retire and have a good time. (Cue the leather vest-wearing grandpa played by Alan Arkin in the film, Little Miss Sunshine.) 

These days, Peter makes music with his two sons who were formerly involved in the Libertines as well as other hot London groups. In June of this year, I was lucky enough to witness a remote show put together by Jesse Malin and NYC’s Bowery Electric in honor of Johnny Thunders’ birthday. Peter and his son played an acoustic song called, “Thy Will Be Done,” which was written long ago by Peter with help from Johnny Thunders to an audience of rock n’ roll fans worldwide watching through their computers.

In December of 2019, I visited Peter’s London home to interview him right before heading over to a fantastic Fat White Family gig at EartH, which is in the Hackney area of London, quite close to Peter’s home. It was a thrilling evening. I will never forget hanging with so many musical heroes of mine.

photo © David Arnoff – davidarnoff.com

Peter Perrett: Even though I lean left, I’m anti-political correctness.

PKM: I feel similar. When censorship starts, it becomes exactly like the far right. Most comedy is offensive, and we need to laugh.

Peter Perrett: Everyone is getting offended. There is no humor in it at all. Humor is one of the great survival tools. It’s the thing that gets you through the darkest times. To me the internet and social media are helping mental illness grow. Facebook is making people go off on vitriolic diatribes against people they have never met. They’ll be some trigger word that sets them off, usually it’s a misunderstanding, and it makes them hate each other, unfriending each other, blocking each other, and Instagram is a narcissistic, vacuous thing.

PKM: I’m embarrassed that I like Instagram.

Peter Perrett: Listen, I don’t judge. It’s here. I would be stupid to think that people aren’t gonna take part in it because It’s part of life. I particularly don’t like the tag, “My best life,” because most people’s lives are shit and the last thing they want to see are people in St. Tropez.

PKM: I heard that you helped save Richard Lloyd’s life. Tell me more about that.

Peter Perrett: Yes. The night of October 1, 1978, the Only Ones played a gig at the Lyceum Ballroom in London. Richard had joined us during the encore to jam on our song, “No Peace For The Wicked.” With his innovative guitar style, Richard played in a yet-to-be-discovered key.  Very avant-garde. This may have been a clue to an already inebriated state. After the gig, we retired to my flat and I offered him a line of heroin. Within five minutes, Richard had slumped onto the floor and even though I am partially color blind, it was obvious his lips were turning blue. “Killed the buzz,” as they say. I phoned my drummer (Mike) Kellie, who lived around the corner, to help carry Richard to my car. I drove insanely fast, through red lights, wrong side of the road, etc., the two and a half miles to Lewisham Hospital. When we arrived, Kellie ran inside A&E and emerged 30 seconds later accompanied by a few people including at least one doctor. They put Richard on a trolley and immediately began administering CPR as they rushed him inside. We left hastily without leaving contact details. I’m glad my instincts were not of the ‘Street Hassle’ variety.

PKM: Is it true that you participated in a snorting competition with Keith Richards while in the studio making an Only Ones album?

Peter Perrett: We were recording in a small 16-track demo studio in Tooting, South London in September of 1976. I was sitting behind the desk, waiting for playback. The door to the control room opened and a mutual friend walked in followed by Keith and Marlon, who were introduced to the band before taking a seat. I asked the engineer to press play, but he was staring open mouthed at Keith for what seemed like an eternity. It was kind of embarrassing at the time, though I see the funny side now. When the track, “Hope Valley Blues,” was eventually played, Keith suggested speeding it up slightly. He explained that it was something the Stones often did. (I have since found out that it was a common practice in the ‘70s, as it was believed to make songs more ‘radio friendly.’) I have vague memories of Marlon rolling joints.


In September ‘67 I got the Velvet Underground’s first album, White Light, White Heat. Since then, it’s been all about Dylan and the VU.


Our mutual friend had turned up at rehearsal, with John Cale, around the same time. I think he saw himself as a catalyst for bringing people together. Soon after, I was told that Keith really liked the song, “Prisoners,” and was interested in producing it. We were all invited ‘round to Keith’s. Our friend took me, Zena, and the band to a big house Old Church Street, Chelsea (owned by Donald Sutherland, I think.) Keith opened the door and we all marched in and up to the top floor. It was weird. Not least because I had no idea what a producer did, or any expectation of what the process might involve. Keith sat down at a Fender Rhodes piano and asked me the chord structure, which he then proceeded to play. We all stood ‘round the piano. I don’t know if we were expected to join in, but I’d never been in that position before, where someone else was making suggestions about MY song. It felt awkward. After a while, Keith asked if anyone fancied a line of coke, and we all adjourned to sit ‘round a massive table.  This was a scenario I was comfortable with.

Peter Perrett – By David Arnoff – davidarnoff.com

You mention a “snorting competition.” There was no competition, though it may have seemed that way to a casual observer. Keith was being a generous host and I always insisted on paying my way. So we took it in turns, putting out the lines of coke. Anyone familiar with this process knows it can soon become an obsessive-compulsive ritual. “The show was outrageous, we chopped through the night and we chopped through the dawn,” (Dylan) – and the better the quality, the more intense it becomes. (Mine was straight from the kitchen in Santa Cruz, Bolivia and Keith’s wasn’t far off.)

Apart from a brief visit to a studio and another bizarre evening where Zena, Keith, and I were the three dinner guests together with the guy’s posh mother, I never saw Keith again and he never got to produce the Only Ones. The happy ending to that story was that it led indirectly to my becoming friends with Johnny Thunders. Barbara Charone, who was writing Keith’s biography, mentioned in the gossip column of Sounds’ magazine that Keith was listening to demo tapes by a new group called The Only Ones. This piqued Johnny’s interest and when we played our first gig at the Speakeasy in January of 1977, he came and introduced himself after the gig saying, “I love your voice.”

The Only Ones – No solution (BBC live)

PKM: What kind of adventures did you get into with Johnny Thunders?

Peter Perrett: Going out with Johnny was always eventful and unpredictable – you were likely to be dragged onstage without notice or rehearsal. But it was an easy gig. All you had to do was keep a rhythm and follow Johnny’s guitar and voice. There were too many highs to mention, so I will describe a low, the one downside to being friends with Johnny.

In 1977, [Mike] Kellie was seeing Babs Blackmore (Richie’s ex.) He invited me to a party at her house in the country, so I drove down with Johnny and Walter in the back. Johnny spent a lot of time talking to Steve Marriott and Walter spent the evening being the DJ. On the way back to London, we were pulled over by the police. For most people this is a sobering experience. I got out of the car to talk to them, confident in my ability to present an aura of togetherness. I answered the usual questions. It was going well. Then Johnny emerged from the back. He immediately adopted his onstage persona, slurred New York drawl and very wobbly legs. All I could offer, by way of explanation, was “He’s American!” For some reason, this seemed to satisfy them. With bemused expressions, they looked him up and down and slowly walked away. They didn’t even search us. We were lucky.

There are situations in life where you want to maintain a low profile, especially if engaged in illegal activity. It was impossible for Johnny Thunders to remain inconspicuous. It was against his nature.

PKM: Were you pleased with Nina Antonia’s book about you, The One and Only: Peter Perrett, Homme Fatale? I love that title.

Peter Perrett: I haven’t read the book. I don’t like reading about myself. I hate inaccuracies, whether caused by misinterpreted mumbled recordings or third-party recollections. Similarly, I hate listening to myself being interviewed because I invariably disappoint myself with my lack of eloquence. In the past, I have concentrated too much on these inaccuracies, when I have been told about specific incidents in the book.  In hindsight, Nina probably had a difficult subject to contend with.

Peter Perrett by Steve Gullick

PKM:  Do you like playing music with your sons?

Peter Perrett: Having been a terrible son and not so great father, it is an undeserved privilege to be playing music with my sons. They are both amazing musicians who help me justify my existence and provide me with the pleasure only music can bring. Before TV and other modern recreational activities, there was a long tradition of families playing instruments together for entertainment. They make it very easy, all I have to do is turn up and remember the words.


There are situations in life where you want to maintain a low profile, especially if engaged in illegal activity. It was impossible for Johnny Thunders to remain inconspicuous. It was against his nature.


PKM: The Only Ones were invited by Warren Ellis to reunite and play the All Tomorrow’s Parties festival in 2007. How was that gig?

Peter Perrett: It was very surreal. It was the first time I’d been on stage in 11 years. It came as a shock to the system – the commitment to be at a certain place at a certain time. We decided to drive down the day before and stay the night in a local hotel. It was the opening day of the festival, with only two bands playing. The Only Ones opened and Grinderman (Nick Cave and Warren’s band) ended the evening. We arrived at the hotel and I settled in. Stage time was 7pm. There were a couple minor problems. I was still using drugs. I’d brought copious amounts of everything with me. I still had enough heroin to last a week but, unfortunately, I’d stayed up all night at the hotel (I had “planned’ to sleep) and by 5pm I’d run out of crack. No matter how much you bring, it is never enough, and we were 200 miles from London. After an indefinite period of no sleep, I descended into the Sleep Of The Dead. Luckily, after a great deal of panic and scouring the festival, they managed to locate enough powder coke to revive me. We went on stage only 15 minutes late, which I thought was a major achievement, considering. It could’ve been worse. I remembered all the songs and the audience response was great. The Only Ones reunion gigs lasted ‘til the end of 2009.

The Only Ones – photo ©  David Arnoff  – davidarnoff.com

PKM: Do songs ever come to you in dreams?

Peter Perrett: The only significant, music related thing that came to me in a dream and stuck was the name of the band (The Only Ones) – I knew I was dreaming something special/ important and woke up, wrote it down, then went back to sleep. I have dreamt songs, but I can’t write musical notation, so I could never memorize a tune. I did recently wake up and write down a lyrical couplet; “She was skinned alive/ She was hung out to dry,” which is now a part of a song called, “Women Gone Bad.”

PKM: You stopped smoking pot and cigarettes in 2015. When did you quit the drugs?

Peter Perrett: I stopped smoking heroin and crack on a 24/7 basis back in March 2008, when I started taking Methadone. Last time I had either was in 2010. I stopped smoking cannabis and nicotine on April 8, 2011. I haven’t had a single puff of smoke of any kind since then. I need all the oxygen I can get. I started reducing Methadone in January 2015 and came completely off it in November 2015. A particularly liberating feeling. I wouldn’t take drugs now because I have my limitations physically and mentally due to the terrible way I formerly treated my body. You think you’re having fun on drugs, but once you have a break for a little while, you realize it wasn’t really fun. It’s a bit one dimensional. A lot of people take drugs in the first place to experiment and explore and try everything. So when you realize you spent your whole life just trying the same thing over and over…  A lot of people find they have depression in sobriety, so they have to find a new habit that makes them happy. I have this hobby called music that makes me happier than drugs ever did so…

Peter Perrett – I Want Your Dreams (Official Video)

PKM: Who were you influenced by as a teen and how did you get started playing music?

Peter Perrett: I just did it myself. I discovered Bob Dylan at 13. Before that, it was the Beatles and the Kinks and the Yardbirds. It was all about the sound and the fashion, but Bob Dylan was the first person to articulate things that I felt were unique. So at 14, I started writing down words and I had a tape recorder and I’d make electronic tapes. These tapes were just me bashing a desk and chanting and turning them backwards and they sounded really weird to me. Ha!

PKM: Haha. That’s really cool.

Peter Perrett: The next epiphany was in 1967, the summer of love. Syd Barrett’s Pink Floyd, the Creation, early Fairport Convention, and the Incredible String Band; were all groups that seemed really exciting seeing them live as a 15 year old. In September ‘67 I got the Velvet Underground’s first album, White Light, White Heat. Since then, it’s been all about Dylan and the VU.

I discovered the Velvet Underground at the age of 15, and so those were the two, big inspirations. My father did the one positive thing he ever did in my life and he bought me a drum. I used to bash this drum as hard as I could because I wasn’t really a drummer. So, I think he was like, “Please shut the hell up.” So he bought me a cheap acoustic guitar. I learned two chords and started writing. I was 17 which was quite late to start.


A lot of people take drugs in the first place to experiment and explore and try everything. So when you realize you spent your whole life just trying the same thing over and over…


PKM: You’ve said before that the Only Ones are more like U.S. bands than U.K. groups. What did you mean by that?

Peter Perrett: When JT and I met, we were both 24. Some people on the scene, like Joe Strummer, were the same age or older. But the Sex Pistols were three or four years younger (Sid was 5 years younger,) so a lot of bands felt like kids in comparison. In the U.K., the ‘punk’ ethos adopted a scorched earth policy. Eradicate all that has gone before and start again from scratch.  This created a pronounced schism in the U.K. A young punk said to me, “You’re great but your band’s too professional.” While Kellie’s old school musician friends regarded him as a traitor for associating with the enemy. Being able to play your instrument in NYC was not necessarily seen as a handicap. So, in London, the movement started off being fashion driven, it was predominately about image and attitude. The U.S./ NYC bands seemed more advanced in their musical concepts, but the U.K. bands matured very quickly. It felt like a special time to be on b both sides of the Atlantic. So much energy. Revolutionary.

Thunders and Perrett at Max’s Kansas City 1980 – Photo by Joanna Joy Seetoo

PKM: I heard you were kicked out of school. Why?

Peter Perrett: I was kicked out of two schools. One when I was 15 in 1967. After four years. I was just disruptive.

PKM: By talking out of turn or flirting with girls?

Peter Perrett: It was an all boys school. It was like prison. If there were girls there, I wouldn’t have gotten myself kicked out. Ha!

There were two different types of boarding schools in England. One is for bad kids that are too young to go to prison called Borstal. The other is called Public School and it’s for rich people, except a few poor kids that are intelligent. I was offered a scholarship because I did well on the exams at the age of 11 when you have to go to secondary school. My father felt education was really important. It was hell for me at that school.

PKM: So you were the poor kid at the rich kid’s school. That sucks.

Peter Perrett: It was back in the day when you would be caned by the teachers and the monitors, who were older boys.

I was too arrogant to regard anybody as competition. I like to think we were unique, particularly in that environment, and therefore beyond comparison. My main competition was against myself.


I have this hobby called music that makes me happier than drugs ever did so…


PKM: If you were able to collaborate with anyone living or dead, who would it be?

Peter Perrett: In my dreams: A duet with Mary Margaret O’ Hara or Chrissie Hynde. Or on a different level, Christina Amphlett. In real life: It would have to be Johnny Thunders, because I know it worked really well.

Peter Perrett – Sweet Endeavour (Live Video)

PKM: What does your idea of heaven look like?

Peter Perrett: A pitch black vacuum of sensory deprivation. Though I probably wouldn’t enjoy it, once I was there.

PKM: What song would you want to be played at your funeral?

Peter Perrett: If I had a choice, I wouldn’t have a funeral. I’d like to be dissolved in acid, Breaking Bad style. So reluctantly, I choose Chopin’s “Funeral March.”

≠≠≠≠

[Side note: There is a bar in the East Village area of NYC called Lovers Of Today, which is obviously an Only Ones song reference.]

http://www.pleasekillme.com

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