The One & Only: Peter Perrett, Homme Fatale (Revised edition)
Thin Man Press
The second edition of Nina’s biography of Peter Perrett is a subtly different proposition to its 1996 predecessor. The new version is rewritten and is topped and tailed by new content. Doctor John Cooper Clarke provides a pithy preface, whilst an additional final chapter and Q+A cover the last 19 years. Physically the new edition is smaller and denser and less glossy. There are some new photos but they tend to be smaller and have less visual impact than before.
Nina does a good job of putting the consistent waywardness of Peter and of the Only Ones into perspective. She documents Peter’s pre- and post-Only Ones vehicles, England’s Glory and The One respectively. Neither match the commercial or artistic success of the Only Ones but both play a valuable part in explaining Peter’s musical trajectory.
Reading the new interview material it is clear that Peter now regrets how much of his personal life he exposed to Nina back in 1996. Certainly his tale is a harrowing one: long-term drug addiction, adultery, repeated arrest, imprisonment, his children being taken into care and destitution. Although Peter is now clean the medical consequences of drug use over so many years have impacted greatly on both him and his wife and manager Zena.
So why bother with what could be merely a misery memoir? Because of the terrific music Peter has made. Nina is good at pinpointing the essence of what makes Peter’s songs great. She allows the gallows humour of the Only Ones to shine through, particularly the amused scepticism of guitarist extraordinaire John Perry. She has captured the affability of bassist Alan Mair and the born-again enthusiasm of drummer Mike Kellie. Repeatedly snatching defeat from the jaws of victory the Only Ones story would make a lousy Hollywood movie but a terrific Play For Today.
We are fortunate that Nina has persevered in her quest to tell Peter’s tale, not once but twice. She is too close to her subject for objectivity, but she makes up for this through her passionate and committed writing style. Only occasionally does she topple into florid melodrama, Mills & Boon becoming Pills & Doom.
The new closing chapter repositions the Perrett saga as a love story between Peter and Zena that began when Zena was a teenager and endures to the present day despite many and myriad challenges. This relationship is depicted through the lyrics of Sea Voyager (sic), one of a clutch of excellent songs written by Peter and performed live by the Only Ones since their return to active service in 2007 (John Perry claims the band has never actually split up but is prone to long pauses). Nina could and should have written more about this fertile era: the triumphant Shepherds Bush Empire gig, (subsequently released on DVD), the ecstatic crowds in the UK and beyond, remastering and expanding the studio CDs and more. Crucially an exploration of Peter’s new songs is missing.
Anyone buying the book in an attempt to clarify the exact current status of the Only Ones will be disappointed. The statement on P254 that Peter’s son Jamie is now a member of the Only Ones is news to me, and I suspect to many others. Confirmation that Mike Kellie has been replaced by Jake Woodward comes as less of a surprise.
With current pop music musically becalmed, the qualities exemplified by Peter Perrett and the Only Ones – fire, skill, grace, economy, passion – stand out like beacons. If reading this book draws a new generation to the extraordinary body of work recorded across the three CBS studio LPs it will have done a great job.
Throughout the late 1970s Peter wrote and sung some of the finest songs ever recorded by a British rock’n’roll band, and the Only Ones provided the perfect musical setting for his compositions. This book tells you how and why. It’s The Truth (sort of).