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The Only Ones

+ {Peter Perrett}

South London’s answer to TELEVISION, JOHNNY THUNDERS, LOU REED and others from the American new wave movement, The ONLY ONES were not around long enough to garner the respect they richly deserved. Fronted by the whiny and miserabilist songsmith Peter Perrett, the band left only three albums behind them, plus a bona fide contender for “one-that-got-away”: `Another Girl, Another Planet’.
Formed in August 1976, each band member had already staked their 15 minutes of fame in non-new wave acts: the aforementioned Peter Perrett (vocals/guitar) with the not-long-since defunct ENGLAND’S GLORY (who comprised pre-SQUEEZE bassist Harry Kakoulli, drummer Jon Newey and lead guitarist David Clarke), John Perry (lead guitar) with The Ratbites From Hell, Mike Kellie (drums) from psych/prog outfit SPOOKY TOOTH and, the oldest by a country mile, Alan Mair (bass) from mid-60s Glaswegians The Beatstalkers.
Initially managed by Kakoulli’s sister Zena, who also provided some backing vocals alongside fourth member Michael Kemp (keyboards), The ONLY ONES’ vinyl debut `Lovers Of Today’ (a deserved record of the week) was released on Zena and Peter’s own Vengeance independent, selling sufficient copies to attract the attentions of major label C.B.S.
The following April saw the release of their exhilarating and eclectic `Another Girl…’, one of several highlights from their eponymous parent album, THE ONLY ONES (1978) {*9}; its low-rent, faded glamour tales of life’s seedier side drawled out by the charismatic Perrett against an authentic but professional new wave backdrop. The record’s humble Top 60 position was a poor reflection of its quality, bearing in mind the number of two-bit amateurs clogging up the charts at the time. Lethargic opener `The Whole Of The Law’ had a maudlin and mushy appeal, while one could almost smell the dingy hotel rooms on the jazz-inflected `Breaking Down’. Add to these, the reckless abandon of `City Of Fun’, `The Beast’, `No Peace For The Wicked’ and `The Immortal Story’, and it seemed the burgeoning new wave movement had went up a gear.
With bountiful critical acclaim on their side, The ONLY ONES ploughed on, releasing a second instalment of Perrett’s doomed romanticism through 1979’s EVEN SERPENTS SHINE {*6}. Another impressive self-produced effort, the Top 50 album’s success was hindered by the snowballing tensions, both internally within the group itself and from their record company. Lyrically gelling but with no stand-out track(s) to re-boot sales from week to week, flop 45s `You’ve Got To Pay’ and `Out There In The Night’ had minor appeal, while Perrett’s voice was at times grating if a song didn’t quite fit hand in glove; exceptions to the rule were `Curtains For You’, `From Here To Eternity’ and `Miles From Nowhere’.
Perhaps as a result, a third set BABY’S GOT A GUN (1980) {*5} sounded flaccid and tired in comparison, although it did provide Perrett and Co with a long-overdue Top 40 placing. Produced by Colin Thurston and featuring a cover of Johnny Duncan’s country hit, `Fools’ (sung here by Peter alongside Pauline Murray of PENETRATION), the scuzzy edge of their debut was posted missing. `Me And My Shadow’ and `Deadly Nightshade’ sounded shockingly familiar to songs/lyrics from a time long since passed, while the anaemic `The Big Sleep’ and others just dragged on and on and on without much direction or hold.
Sales weren’t sufficient to please their paymasters, however, and, minus a deal, the group called it a day. While Perry formed Decline And Fall, Perrett tried to form a band with Gordon Edwards and Glenn Tilbrook; disillusioned he faded into a heroin-fuzzed, SYD BARRETT-like obscurity, only to re-emerge more than a decade on as PETER PERRETT IN THE ONE. An album, WOKE UP STICKY (1996) {*6}, appeared on Demon Records in summer ‘96 to some encouraging reviews. Squeakier and more fragile, the singer-songwriter displayed a bit of Britpop sensibility on a handful of cuts, including the title track, `Law Of The Jungle’ and a poignant cover of The KINKS’ `I’m Not Like Everybody Else’. Meanwhile, Perry was making in-roads again as a top session man for the likes of SISTERS OF MERCY, MARIANNE FAITHFULL, EVAN DANDO, MICHAEL NYMAN et al. The call for an ONLY ONES reunion was heard ever so louder as PAUL WESTERBERG, BLUR and The LIBERTINES shouted their praises.
Perrett had went into seclusion for long periods of time, only coming out of his shell when Alan Mair contacted him and the band in 2006, suggesting they should re-form on the back of a Vodafone advertisement pitching `Another Girl…’; it was not the first time it’d resurfaced, as the record had finally hit No.57 as a flip-side to The PSYCHEDELIC FURS’ movie theme `Pretty In Pink’. It looked positive for The ONLY ONES as they duly toured the country and played Later… With Jools Holland. Fresh tracks were showcased between 2007 and 2009 and, although an album was touted at the time, it still remains in the can.
It was fair to say that drug addiction had taken its toll on PETER PERRETT’s career, but by subsequently kicking the habit he was able to convince Domino Records to endorse his fresh songs. With the help of his musician sons Jamie and Peter Jr. (plus drummer Jake Woodward, violinist Jenny Maxwell and backing vocalist Lauren Moon), the first fruits of his labour, HOW THE WEST WAS WON {*7}, was filling a minor chart position in July 2017. At 65 years old, Peter’s inimitable vox was as endearing as ever, as was his sneering lyrical abandon; the opening title track name-checking his unhealthy but sardonic love of mega-rich Reality TV celeb Kim Kardashian (in his words: “she’s taken over from J-Lo as my number one… even though I know… she’s just a bum”). One could almost relapse back to late-70s ONLY ONES, though with many dramas (`An Epic Story’, `Man Of Extremes’ and `Something In My Brain’ among them), he could transcend further back in time to VU-period LOU REED or a bitter-sweet balladeer from the not-to-distant future.
If time was indeed not on his side, the vampiric, passion-driven PERRETT rose again from a deep sleep for 2019’s HUMANWORLD {*7}. Featuring much of the same team that served him well on his previous outing, punk poet-laureate Peter plugged into the amps for some rollicking-cum-romantic recordings; `Love Comes On Silent Feet’, `Heavenly Day’, `I Want Your Dreams’ and `48 Crash’, kicking up a quiet-ish cocktail of uncompromising cool.
© MC Strong 1994-2003/GRD // rev-up MCS Mar2015-Jun2019

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