Heading down to Concorde 2 on a blustery Tuesday night I was a lot more excited for the return of Peter Perrett in 2017 than I had been for the brief return of his seminal band The Only Ones, back in 2007. It was great to be able to take my mum along to see the frontman from one of her favourite bands from the late 70s punk/new-wave scene. That was her era and, as a result one that left a lasting impression on me, but that wasn’t the main reason I was excited. You see, I’ve been dipping into Perrett’s debut solo album, How The West Was Won, which came out earlier this year. It has been gripping to find the songwriter in such vital form, equal parts tender and sardonic. The new album finds a far healthier Perrett (he was scarily thin in 2008 when I saw him on Jools Holland with The Only Ones) accompanied by his sons, Jamie and Peter Jr, with their band Strangefruit and it’s bloody brilliant.
There’s a decent crowd gathered at Concorde 2, although I was a little disappointed to note that they were mostly drawn from the ranks of old punks. I mean no offence to that old guard, it just would have been nice to see a few more younger faces in the crowd, because I really feel like this new material deserves to reach a new audience, another generation. I was too late for the support band, taking up position just in time for the band to tear out onto the stage. Perrett looked great, dressed all in black with impenetrable wave-rider sunglasses covering his face, preventing me from being able to say he had a twinkle in his eye! He seemed confident, happy, almost youthful. It was the end of a short run of dates around the UK, as he’s 65 now touring isn’t a night-after-night slog, there’s a little breathing room around the dates. Yet up there on the stage with the bright lights and a young, sexy bunch of musicians surrounding him he seemed to shed 20 years.
He started off with key tracks from the new album, ‘Sweet Endeavour’ opens up strong, sounding a little like Courtney Barnett and, by track three, we had the luscious ‘An Epic Story’. Starting out hushed and sweet with shuffling tom-toms it builds tension before breaking into a killer romantic chorus: “If I could live my whole life again, I choose you/Every time”. This is of course followed by a thick blast of melodic guitar, making it fit in neatly alongside the very best of what The Only Ones had to offer, part of what made them a bit of a curio back in the day. When punk was typified by raw energy and aggression along came The Only Ones, with a huge dollop of romance and guitar solos.
It’s something I’d warrant was a huge influence on Peter’s son Jamie, who is a veritable guitar hero tonight, dancing his guitar around the stage like a whirling dervish, which is justifiable considering how superb a player he is. His antics lead to him having a guitar tech on stage, passing him a freshly tuned instrument after almost every song. Peter notes this at one point in the show, saying, “He’s just got so many guitars he wants to show-off to you”, only for Jamie to point out he’s playing one of his dad’s, whose rhythm playing shows that his guitar is no prop either, performing a vital and prominent role throughout the night. Peter Jr. seems a more understated character, but is no less proficient on his instrument, pinning everything down with his steady bass playing. Both sons have been around the block a few times as musicians in their own rite, most notably as brief members of Babyshambles – but having experienced their own father losing 20 years of his life to heroin and crack addiction, they didn’t have much truck with the culture around that group and parted ways.
This was an emotional night, full of striking moments I’d love to rave about: Jamie duelling guitars with his Strangefruit bandmate Jenny Maxwell’s violin on the epic ‘Living In My Head’, the pure lyrical and musical brilliance of title track ‘How The West Was Won’ totally nailed live, to discover via ‘Woke Up Sticky’ that Perrett had another band with another album I’d totally missed way back in 1996 and the honesty and hilarity of the excellent ‘Something In My Brain’. I could easily go on but I’d be remiss to ignore how amazing Perrett’s ‘greatest hit’ sounded in the encore. ‘Another Girl, Another Planet’, that hymn to heroin addiction, has always been one of my favourite songs long before I figured out the metaphor. To hear it performed so well, by such a revitalised Perrett, was a real treat, and Jamie’s guitar playing was off the scale – how does he get those amazing guitar noises on the intro? Yet even more than this, it was exciting to hear the band trying out new songs in their encore. With Peter Perrett reportedly free of drugs (including cigarettes and joints) since 2015, there’s a good chance we’ll get a second album with this fantastic new band and his new lease of life and creativity. I for one will be watching and waiting with baited breath.