Peter Perrett: "Music is less dangerous to your health than other escapes"

a portrait of Peter Perrett
(Image: © Steve Gullick)

Before his just-released new solo album, Peter Perrett’s last one came out in 1996. That’s a full 16 years after his final album with the Only Ones, the seditionaries who blazed a brief, brilliant trail across the post-punk skyscape, best known for their era-soundtracking 1978 single Another Girl, Another Planet.

Decades of drug addition served to numb his creative spirit, but the now clean-living Perrett has finally returned with How The West Was Won. Reassuringly, it shows that his songwriting chops are intact, along with his dry wit, sharp lyricism and sneery drawl.

How come you finally made a solo album?

I did four gigs in the summer of 2015. The physical aspect of rehearsing for those shows meant that I was playing guitar again and my mind was back in a place where it was capable of being creative. So I wrote a couple of new songs and it just sort of enthused me. The momentum started rolling from there.

Once you were up and running, did the songs start flowing again?

Absolutely. My output over the decades has been minimal, to say the least. So when I do do something, I want to do it to the best of my ability. Now I’ve got less distractions than I had earlier in life. Music is the only thing that really fills me with that driving passion. I’m fortunate to have it as an escape. It’s more benign and less dangerous to your health than other escapes. It’s something that can extend your life rather than shorten it.

You’re touring later this year, too.

In the seventies, and even when I was active for a couple of years in the nineties, playing live felt like an exorcism – all your inhibitions could be released on stage and it was very liberating. Nowadays I have to be much more reserved and concentrate on saving my breath and energy for singing.

The Only Ones reunited for some live shows back in 2007. Was that a conflicted time for you?

It was enjoyable because the fans were amazing and they made it almost like a religious experience. The only drawback was that my voice wasn’t great, because I hadn’t got myself physically healthy enough to do it justice. I’m very self-critical, and I wasn’t at the top of my game. If I’d had any capabilities of being able to exercise logic in the decision to re-form for those gigs, I would’ve said no to it, but I didn’t want to disappoint the people who’d been my brothers thirty years before. So it was a hard position to be in. I was using a steroid inhaler for my lung problems and, like most things, I used it to excess.

Are drugs definitely a thing of the past for you now?

Yeah, in every way. I knew that if I wanted to survive at all I had to change my lifestyle. After I gave up hard drugs I carried on smoking skunk, then took methadone for a while. But I gave up smoking anything six years ago because my lungs were suffering the most.

At the very last moment, you think about survival and any last will and testament. That’s the only reason why any urgency has taken over my psyche and I’ve been working hard to get things back together. I know there’s a limit to my time, that I’d better do things properly while I can. Thankfully I’m still here.

How The West Was Won is out now via Domino Recording Co.

Peter Perrett - How The West Was Won album review