Pete Way: "If I’d have put it off another day... it would have been too late"
In his first interview since suffering a heart attack, former UFO, Waysted and Ozzy bassist Pete Way reveals just how close he came to death...
It’s a sunny end-of-summer Sunday morning and Pete Way is getting ready. Not for a big roast; the former UFO, Waysted, Fastway and Ozzy Osbourne bass player is vegetarian. Not for a steady Sunday lunchtime session down the boozer with some old pals. He’s lacing up his Converse for a gentle, mile-long stroll.
“My problem now,” he tells Classic Rock, with an exaggerated exhalation of breath, “is that I’m just bored. I can’t do anything. Nothing too strenuous, anyway. And boredom has always been my downfall, you know. But the doctor says I have to take it easy. So, you know, that’s what I have to do…”
And for once, just once, Pete's doing what the doctor ordered. He’s never been one for medics and their sensible advice.
“But maybe, now, after this, maybe I should….”
Finally, at the age of 66, Pete Way is discovering that he's not invincible.
There’s a good reason for Pete’s enforced boredom and his new found restraint.
Earlier this month, during a short business trip to Hanover, Germany, the 66-year-old woke up wheezing and dizzy, short of breath with pains in his chest. He popped out for a walk before necking a couple of strong German schnapps.
“I thought the schnapps might ease it,” he says, like it’s the most sensible solution you’ve ever heard.
The next day he returned home and was rushed to hospital with a heart attack.
Typically, he didn’t want to go. His wife, Jenny, put her foot down and insisted. She dialled 999 and the paramedics were so concerned they rushed him straight to the Royal Bournemouth General Hospital. Under observation, cardiac specialists found he’d suffered a heart attack and there was a blood clot on his lung.
They got to him just in time. “If they hadn’t seen me when they did, if I’d have put it off another day - which is what I would have done, well, i just wouldn’t have gone, I’d have ignored it, which is what I always do - then it would have been too late. They wouldn’t have been able to save me. It was that close.”
They kept him in for the best part of a week. There were tests and scans and needles - “they were struggling with the needles, I said to them: ‘Look, you may as well let me do that, I’ve probably had more practice than you, ha, ha’” - and then more tests and more needles and they let him go home with a prescription of beta blockers and blood thinners and a grim warning not to overdo it. Or else.
He’ll have to take the blood thinning drugs for the rest of his life. It seems like a small price to pay, he says.
“I’m going back next month for electric shock treatment to the heart. I don't know what that involves. It sounds terrifying. I might need an operation and I might need a pacemaker but I don’t mind that.
“Lemmy had one. Slash had one. He [Slash] sent me a get well message while I was in hospital, which was nice of him. I’ll have to get in touch and ask him about his pacemaker, see how it all works.”
Pete Way’s heart problems today are a legacy of his drink and drug-filled yesterdays, a glorious rock'n'roll heyday of platinum albums, sold-out shows and teenage adulation - all fuelled by a giddying diet of booze and drugs.
There are, as he quite rightly points out, plenty of men around his age with dodgy tickers and heart problems.
But few of them, he doesn’t mind admitting, “shoved half of south America up their nose” for the best part of three decades.
“I only have myself to blame. I put my heart under a lot of strain. I know that.”
But if you could change that, if you could go back to 1977 and talk to the 26-year-old good-time-loving Pete Way, would you tell him to slow down?
“Well, I could tell him - but he wouldn’t listen, hahaha, I know that,” he says.
“Look, I have no regrets. I can’t have any regrets . I’ve had a brilliant life. I wouldn’t want to change a thing.”
Diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2013 - which he beat after intensive sessions of radiotherapy - Pete has been putting the finishing touches to his album, Dancing on the Edge, an album which has been nearly four years in the making.
It’s becoming his own Hysteria, he jokes. “I had so many nice messages from people and UFO fans - it’s genuinely humbling,” he says. “And yet I’ve given them nothing. I feel like I’ve let them down a bit - the album has been written and part recorded for so long… and then all these things have come along and derailed it.
“I’d like to say thanks to all the good people who have been in touch, left nice messages. It’s helped me through it all, it really has.”
It’s hard to pinpoint the exact moment when Pete Way’s overworked, four-to-the-floor heart began to falter.
“I’ve not been feeling the best for a couple of years now,” he says. Still, he put that down to the radiotherapy and the creeping years.
“But when they tested me, all the results were haywire. My blood pressure was through the roof. I had the pulse of an Olympic athlete. It was all wrong.”
His blood was too thick, his veins too narrow. The blood wasn’t being pumped around his body so his stressed heart was having to work twice as hard.
“They think, at some stage, I must have done something to damage one of the valves.” He doesn’t say what. But, there again, he doesn’t have to.
In Hanover, he woke up on his final morning feeling dreadful. “It was always worse first thing in the morning. I got up, went for a bit of walk around, but I still felt bad.”
Although he drinks “only sparingly these days,” he says, Way decided the best remedy for this malaise was a couple of quick-fire Schnapps.
“I just thought it might make me feel a bit better,” he says.
He was struggling to breathe. He caught the flight back to Stansted and didn’t even drink on the plane - “which was a first for me, I bloody hate flying,” he says - because he felt so ill.
“I just put it down to stress, but Jenny was having none of it. I was short of breath, sweating. She called the ambulance and they took me straight in.”
He remembers asking the doctor what time he could leave that night and the doctor shaking his head. ‘I don't think you’ll be leaving just yet, Mr Way,’ he said. ‘You’re staying with us for a few days’.”
Blood thinners managed to clear the clot on his lung. They got to that in the nick of time.
“They said all this had been building up for months, years even - and they got to me just in time.
“But I never thought about it. Never. I just carried on.
“The only thing I ever worry about is Aston Villa. [Villa were relegated from the Premier League last season after an abysmal campaign.]
“I blame them for this, hahaha. They’ve caused me so much misery over the years - but I can’t let ‘em go, can I? They’re my team.
“I still go to see them. I’m going up next week. I ignore everything else. I shrug it off. I don't let anything bother me. The only thing I take notice of, the only thing that bothers me, is Villa.”
They’ll be better now, though, he says. Now they’ve cleared out some of the dead wood and Roberto Di Matteo is the manager. His ailing heart is counting on it.
“They got some stick from the crowd last season and you could see that affected them,” he says, shaking his head. Pete Way knows about hard-to-please crowds.
“We’ve played some dives in our time. We’ve had audiences booing us, throwing stuff at us.
“You have to ignore it, concentrate on your own thing. Get that right. Get that right and they'll come back, they’ll appreciate it.
“Playing in front of a difficult crowd is no different if you’re a footballer or a rock band. The minute you cave in or don’t try - you may as well not bother. You have to stick it out and concentrate on what you do.”
UFO were good at that. They never caved in.
Aston Villa, not so much.
The new Pete Way solo album - due for release back in 2013 and postponed every year since - is virtually complete. It’s been on the back burner for so long now that the man who wrote it keeps going back to it and re-writing some of the lyrics.
“Well, I just think it’s a bit dark, you know. A bit too druggy. I like it - but I’m not sure everyone else will. I want to keep the words relevant. And, sometimes, you know, after living with these songs for four years, you find yourself coming up with better words, better lyrics.
“I think, on occasion, I was perhaps spoiling a song by trying to cram in too many drug references. It’s maybe not for everyone. So I’m changing that, bit by bit.”
The album has been produced by Mike Clink, former Guns ’n' Roses producer and UFO engineer, and features Slash on guest guitar duties.
“There are five or six days of extra guitars to be done. We’re doing that in Atlanta, Georgia, next month,” he says
“Then some more vocals - and that should be it.”
The album is scheduled for release - although, granted, this may change - for February/March 2017.
“I want to be better, fitter and I don’t want to be settled, here at home. I don’t want to be going for little walks. I want to be on the road. That’s what I do. That’s my job. That’s what I do best,” he says.
To coincide with the release of the long awaited album, Way’s biography, written with renowned music journalist Paul Rees, should also be hitting the shelves.
Tentatively titled A Fast Ride Out Of Here - a knowing nod to the old UFO barnstormer Shoot Shoot - the book has been meticulously researched by Rees and features Way in typically expansive mood.
“I haven’t tried to hide anything,” he says. “I’ve kept nothing back. It’s all there. The full story. There’s no point in writing your biography and leaving stuff out. I’ve tried to be as honest as I can be.”
But he’s not laid the boot in. He’s not really that kind of bloke, he says. “I don't really want to do that. Instead of having a go at someone in the book, I’d rather just leave them out. I think that tells you all you need to know.”
He found it cathartic, if exhausting. All those questions, he says. Constant questions, about stuff that happened a lifetime ago, shows and tours lost in a blizzard of coke and booze.
The book is currently with the lawyers. Despite Way’s assurances that he hasn’t defamed anyone, it may be there for some time.
So today, uncharacteristically, he’s relaxing. Taking it easy. Listening to the doctor. Getting ready for next year, the revival.
“I haven’t fully recovered from the prostate cancer. I had 11 tumours and the radiotherapy was intense. I’m not quite fully back from that, fully functioning, but it’s better. They say it takes two years to properly get over it.”
In a previous interview with Classic Rock, Way declared he was straight - off the drugs, off the booze. Virtually teetotal, he said. Virtually, but not quite.
“What I can’t stand are those people who quit this, quit that and go on and on about it, all holier than thou, like they’re better than you, better than me.
“I will never do that,” he promises. “It’s such a cliche. I still have a drink, sure. I can go for days without drinking. I might have glass of wine with my dinner today and then not have another one for days.
“I don’t smoke. I used to run a fair bit. I walk. I keep in shape.
“I’m ok, you know. I constantly fight the alcohol. It’s a difficult beast because it’s so socially acceptable. It’s there, it’s always there.
“But I don’t drink spirits now. I drink a little wine. That’s all. And drinking is not my priority. Life is.”
“You know as Lemmy used to sing - ‘that’s the way I like it baby, I don’t want to live forever’ but then you get to my age, and you go through what I’ve just been through… it makes you think.”
He pauses for a minute, grasping for another line.
“And as my old friend Bon used to say: no stop signs, no speed limits.
“That’s how I’ve lived my life. I’ve been very lucky. And especially lucky on this occasion. I’m just happy to be here, telling you my story, telling you I’m all right because it nearly wasn’t ,” he says. “It nearly wasn’t.”