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Heavy Load: Peter Perrett

Peter Perrett on The Only Ones, drugs and family values.

As the buzz-saw clarion of punk aggression held sway, the glamour-tinged louche sophistication of the Only Ones’ independent debut Lovers Of Today swooned into the spring of ‘77 to net Single Of The Week plaudits across the press and a three-album deal from CBS. At the centre of the storm was Peter Perrett: androgynous, fragile, possessed of a malnourished voice with a deliciously corvine crackle that promised dark, subterranean decadence unheard since the Velvets. Having delivered the timeless single Another Girl, Another Planet and a trio of the late-70s’ finest albums, Perrett retreated into the shadows, emerging only occasionally, coquettishly, with The One in ’94 and a re-formed Only Ones in ’07.

What were you like at school?

I enjoyed it to begin with. I’d sometimes be put in a class two years older than me because I was clever, and then I’d do something naughty and get put in a class two years younger as punishment. When I was nine I developed this trait of hating being told what to do, started being naughty and withdrawing my labour as a way of getting back at them. It was the only way I knew, because I wasn’t big enough to hit them back after they caned me.

Do you share the values of your parents?

My father was a socialist, so I share his values. That’s the one thing I was always proud of him for, even though we fought a lot because he disapproved of the way I looked, the fact that I had sex outside of marriage… 

I was proud of the fact that he was a socialist. Everything my father learnt he did under duress, and that’s why he wanted me to go to public school. He came from the East End working class where, at the age of eleven, he was supporting a family of eight because his dad was a drunkard and spent all his time in the pub and the betting shop. My dad had to do four different jobs: milk round, paper round, bread round, collecting shrapnel.

Do you believe in God?

When you see things go well for a total cunt, you think there can’t be a just God, and when things go wrong for me I think there definitely ain’t a just God. I believe in Jesus Christ as a human being. I think he was probably the first socialist.

What’s the biggest misconception about you?

I suppose the biggest misconception is that I was a ‘junkie’, conforming to most people’s idea of what a junkie is. I’ve never lied or stolen from anybody in my life. I’ve got very strong principles and haven’t done what most junkies do. So it’s pretty annoying to be so labelled. It’s horrible because there are lots of really horrible people around, because it can bring out the worst in human beings, because lots of people use a drug habit as an excuse for doing terrible things. “Oh, you know, it wasn’t my fault, I was using.” Of course it’s their fault. It doesn’t turn you into a fucking automaton.

What is your greatest regret?

Agreeing to re-form the Only Ones. I was still using drugs at the time, and the three of them came round in 2007 to ask me if I would do it. Part of the reason I said yes was that I felt sorry for them, and part of it was that I wanted to get out of there quick so I could go back to smoking some crack. So I agreed to it. 

When we got back together, we did some new songs, it’s just the new songs weren’t the way I wanted them to sound. Just because something worked thirty years ago doesn’t mean it’s gonna work again.

Who is the love of your life?

My wife of forty-four years. Xena and myself have been together forty-five years, married forty-four years, and we’ve got two wonderful children. I’ve written a song called Sea Voyager which imagines what it would be like if she died before me, the most horrible scenario. Most people don’t find perfect love, they don’t find their soul mate. Some people go through different relationships. And, okay, loads of people are just companions, they’re a part of each others lives. But when someone is your whole life, if they’re suddenly not there any more you haven’t got a life.

What was your biggest waste of money?

Well, I’d have to say drugs, obviously. Obviously I didn’t count exactly what I spent, but on average I spent a thousand pounds a week on smack and a thousand pounds a week on coke, you know, from what they were worth. I mean, I didn’t pay that money, because I used to get it wholesale, sort of ‘kilos’ at a time, so obviously I got it a lot cheaper. But it was about an ounce of each a week for thirty years, so it’s, like, about three million or something.

What in your life are you most proud of?

The sentimental part of me would say my children and my relationship with my wife and the fact that we’ve been together so many years, which doesn’t happen that often. The other part, the practical, artistic part – which for me is the same thing – would say my body of work. I’m not ashamed of any of the work that I’ve done.

What will be written on your tombstone?

The saddest epitaph is wasted talent, I suppose. I spent so little of my time doing what I do best. You’re supposed to use your talents to your utmost ability. Which I suppose the greats have done. I wouldn’t have done stuff just for the sake of it. All the time I was taking drugs I didn’t pick a guitar up. I didn’t even try to write songs, because I just enjoyed taking drugs too much. So I had to stop taking drugs just to write more songs. I set out to avoid mindless repetition, and I guess I achieved the opposite… Mindless un-repetition.

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