Over a lifetime a handful of songs retain a near pristine freshness no matter how many times you hear them. You’ll be standing in a club, or a kitchen, only half-aware of the background soundtrack, then intuit the intro, up your antennae, and lean into the groove. This invariably happens with The Flamin’ Groovies ‘Shake Some Action’, and equally so with The Only Ones’ ’Another Girl, Another Planet’.
Both those records were initially commercial failures – singles that didn’t chart – by the lights of their mid-70s day, and that’s part of it in that they weren’t prematurely blasted into contemptuous over-familiarity. As important though is that they make the listener wait; in the case of ‘Another Girl, Another Planet’ a full fifty seconds before Peter Perrett’s voice is heard. Meanwhile the intro transfixes as your mind orders what you’re hearing.
The Only Ones were so damned clever, and to mangle metaphors while ‘Another Girl, Another Planet’ was their mountaintop there is so much more to them beneath the surface. Their story sheds much light on how music really developed through the 70s, and those continuities deliberately obscured with the onset of punk. In telling that story Simon Wright traces the histories of the four band members, the processes first bringing them together, and subsequently to fashion and release their eponymous debut.
It’s The Truth is a concise (130 or so pages), business-like book As far as possible it allows the band members to speak, share their particular memories and observations. Its strong and clear structure provides a chronology as well as offering signposts towards deeper investigation. Given the assiduous recounting of early sessions the absence of a discography comes as a slight surprise, but enough can be gleaned from the the text to track all available ‘non-canonical’ recordings through google/discogs.
The introduction links the band to Simon’s own biography; as a teenager in the early 70s his life was changed by Roxy Music and then The Sex Pistols. He’s in a famous photograph from the 100 Club Punk Festival while his short-lived band Trash signed for Polydor and were produced by Shel Talmy. It’s not hard to appreciate why The Only Ones hold such a place in his pantheon.
What I found most interesting though were all the little by-the-bys flashing past; brief mentions of David Sandison and Richard Williams. Sandy Denny and Terry Melcher attending the January 1977 show at Fulham’s Greyhound, and Denny offering to sing backing vocals. While Perrett’s South London pre-history is relatively prosaic the other three have intriguing back-stories. John Perry was part of the Bristol underground, playing Glastonbury in 1971 with Flash Gordon, while Mike Kellie was a Birmingham pal of Steve Winwood, and subsequently in Island bands Art and Spooky Tooth. Alan Mair, having played in The Beatstalkers, became something of a clothing and footwear entrepreneur with stalls in Kensington Market, before succumbing to the itch to play music again; it transpires David Bowie wrote ‘Little Bombardier’ for his son.
That these four characters should come together in the summer of 1976 and fit so well seems from this distance a remarkable synchronicity. It certainly allowed them to be, in the words of Sounds journalist Pete Makowski: “a punky rock’n’roll band who had not been stylised to present an image”: with Perrett quite content they be a difficult listen so “our fans would be only intelligent people with idiosyncratic tastes”.
Those intelligent people with idiosyncratic tastes would do well to pick up this book. Not only does it provide telling insights into an enduring band, their enduring debut album (and that song), but something of the times around it, and along the way shining light on such under-considered trifles as So Alone, Speedball Records, and The Hope & Anchor’s Front Row Festival.
It’s The Truth is published by Shakespeare Editorial: buy a signed copy here