Legendary music writer Peter Makowski has died, aged 65

Peter Makowski
(Image credit: Brad Merrett)

Some people called him The Pole, others just ‘Polish’ but to us he was Pete – or sometimes “Fuckin’ Pete”, usually because his copy was late and we’d be cursing him (“Just waiting on 5000 words from Fuckin’ Pete”). 

His real name was Peter John Mark Makowski (pronounced Ma-kov-ski), born in London to Polish parents who moved to Britain after the war, fleeing not Nazis but Communists. Pete's grandfather Artur Jerzy Gorski had been the Editor of Polish magazine ‘Nowa Epoka‘ [New Era] in 1930s Poland. He became one of an estimated 22,000 members of the Polish intelligentsia and military executed in 1940 by the Soviet secret police in what became known as the Katyn Massacre (opens in new tab). Pete’s dad Jerzy Makowski also did time in Stalin's Siberian gulags. 

Joseph Stalin didn’t like anyone who disagreed with him and thinking differently ran in the Makowski blood.

In London, as if to drown out the past, the Makowski house was filled with music – Elvis, Hank Williams, Edith Piaf – their music system their most prized possession. Pete’s sister Yvonne, four years older, remembers playing him Buffalo Springfield, The Electric Prunes, The Band, Steppenwolf, French singer-songwriter Jacques Dutronc and more. “I’ll never forget the look on Pete's face the first time he heard [The Byrds’ 1967 album] Younger Than Yesterday,” she says. 

When their father got a new pair of headphones, the two of them would sneak downstairs at night to listen to Todd Rundgren in the dark. “Our tastes only started to differ when he discovered bands like Grand Funk Railroad,” says Yvonne.

Makowski’s tastes ran heavy. He was one of the first music writers to take hard rock and heavy metal seriously. He joined Sounds music weekly aged 15 as a messenger boy, and was soon reviewing albums. When no-one at the paper wanted to review Deep Purple's Made In Japan in December 1972, Makowski did the honours. The following week the phone rang in the Sounds office. It was Purple guitarist Ritchie Blackmore. "Thanks for the review," said Blackmore. "How would you like to come on tour with us in Europe?"

It was the first of many stories he filed for the paper. Pete recently made a list of interviews he’d done over the years. He was hoping to track them down and republish them online. This is just 1974: 

January: Sweet, Deep Purple, Average White Band; February: Ritchie Blackmore, Hawkwind, Cockney Rebel; March: Russ Ballard, Peter Sinfield, Golden Earring, Edgar Winter, Brownsville Station; April: Jan Akkerman; June: PFM, Uriah Heep, Ronnie Lane, Stray, Fruup, Lynyrd Skynyrd; July: Sparks, Jon Lord; August: Greg Lake, Sweet, Grand Funk, Badfinger; September: Todd Rundgren, Trapeze; November: Deep Purple, Johnny Winter, Steve Harley; December: Alvin Stardust, Deep Purple. 

"When I joined Sounds, in 1974 I think, Pete was so kind to me," says former Classic Rock Editor At Large Geoff Barton, "and I was in awe of his relationships with Purple, ELP etc. I remember he wrote a truly amazing piece on Sweet. He went on the road with them as they were trying to establish their ‘rock credibility’ but all the crowd wanted to hear was Little Willy – chaos naturally ensued." 

Together, Barton and Makowski co-wrote probably the first-ever guide to heavy metal, spanning two issues of Sounds.

Makowski had a side gig as a press officer for the likes of Black Sabbath, Hawkwind, Motörhead, the New York Dolls and more. (In fact, Pete was their press officer when NY Dolls drummer Billy Murcia tragically died in London in 1972.) When punk hit, Makowski championed the Sex Pistols, Johnny Thunders & The Heartbreakers and The Only Ones, and played guitar in the band he formed with fellow writer and troublemaker Giovanni Dadomo, the Snivelling Shits. (The band originally only lasted for two singles but re-formed in 2018, playing five gigs, including the Rebellion Festival.)

Polish

(Image credit: Ross Halfin)

Geoff Barton became the Editor of Sounds and introduced Makowski to photographer Ross Halfin with the words, “You’ll be bad for each other.” But what was bad for their livers and septums was great for rock fans, creating a partnership that spanned three decades and created many legend-building stories on bands like Aerosmith, Rainbow and UFO

Or at least they did when Pete managed to hit deadlines.

Barton once sent Halfin and Makowski to the US to interview Rush. "I bet Ross a fiver, possibly substantially more,” says Barton, “that he wouldn't be able to get a photo session cos Rush were being quite precious at this point. Ross, to his credit, cornered Geddy backstage and took a photo of him holding a cardboard plate upon which Ross had written the words ‘Barton you lose’.” 

So they had their front cover pic. Now all they needed was Pete’s article. Back then the cover went to print 10 days earlier than the rest of the mag. "But even with all this extra time at his disposal, could Pete deliver his copy on time? No, he could not!" says Barton. "We ended up printing some waffle written by Neil Peart instead. I was so angry. Did I forgive him? Of course I did. Impossible not to."

At Pete's funeral, Halfin revealed why the story had been late: Pete had been holed-up in a hotel room with a famous war photographer doing coke. Ross was furious and Pete placated him: "Don't worry," he said, "if we get the sack, we can find you a war to photograph."

Another time they were sent to the US to cover Pat Benatar but Pete and Ross got drunk in the airport and missed their flight. So they did what any of us would do: they blagged their way on to Concorde and stuck it on the record company's bill.  Benatar's record company Chrysalis weren't pleased. 

“Their press officer was a lovely lady called Bernadette Kilmartin,” says Barton. “We used to call her ‘KillHalfin’. No doubt she wanted to murder Makowski as well."

Their Sounds cover story on Canadian band Anvil changed that band's lives and was the focus of the award-winning 2008 documentary Anvil! The Story of Anvil. Classic Rock reunited Makowski and Halfin with the band on the movie's release.

Anvil

Peter Makowski (right) reunited with Anvil in 2008 (Image credit: Ross Halfin)
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Steffan Chirazi – who went on to write for Kerrang! and Sounds and is Editor of Metallica’s So What! magazine (opens in new tab) – got his start courtesy of Pete. “When you read Pete’s stories,” says Chirazi, “you were there, in his shirt and shoes, experiencing what he was experiencing front and centre. For me he was up there with Lester Bangs."

Halfin and Makowski worked on dozens of stories for Classic Rock in the 00-10s, new interviews that invariably included a flashback to an encounter in the 70s, when Pete had first met those artists at their peak. They were an amazing double act: friends and peers with the bands, they were treated as such – travelling with them, staying up all night with them – and bringing back stories that crackled with humour and insight. 

Polish

Ross Halfin and Peter Makowski: "They were an amazing double act." (Image credit: Ross Halfin)

"When he cleaned up his act – and he's been clean for the last 30 years," says Halfin, "you couldn't touch him as a journalist."

The two men worked again recently. Halfin has been working on a Rainbow book and reached out to Makowski to write a chapter. "He didn't want to do it at first," says Halfin. "I told him: 'Look, no-one writes about Blackmore better than you'. And he gave me a really great piece. Maybe it'll be a fitting epitaph."

Writer and PR James Sherry was the drummer for the reunited Snivelling Shits. He’d first met Pete in the late 80s when they both worked at Metal Hammer. When they became friends again in the early 2000s, Pete convinced him to join in a Snivelling Shits reunion. 

"We played a handful of brilliantly chaotic gigs that culminated at the Opera House in Blackpool as part of the 2019 Rebellion Festival,” says Sherry. “When the pandemic happened, Pete got stranded in Thailand where he remained for most of lockdown. We got together in July of this year and he was his usual self, full of ideas and fun. I can’t believe he’s been taken so quickly. One of rock‘n’roll’s great characters has gone."

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The end came quickly. Pete went to A&E because he wasn’t feeling well and they discovered a brain tumour. He died seven weeks later. Yvonne was with him. They played Sympathy For The Devil in the hospital, the nurses dancing around him, the rest of the ward loving it too. 

He died on Wednesday 3rd November. Jimmy Page and Tony Iommi were among those to pay tribute, with Page – who'd become a friend and spoke at Pete's funeral – commenting that Makowski should "be praised for his enormous, upbeat and positive contribution to musical journalism. I will miss Pete."

We will too. And we’ll miss that feature on the Ladbroke Grove scene we commissioned from him in 2007. He never finished it. I doubt he even started. Fuckin' Pete.

Scott Rowley
Content Director, Music

Scott is the Content Director of Music at Future plc, responsible for the editorial strategy of online and print brands like Louder, Classic Rock, Metal Hammer, Prog, Guitarist, Guitar World, Guitar Player, Total Guitar etc. He was Editor in Chief of Classic Rock magazine for 10 years and Editor of Total Guitar for 4 years and has contributed to The Big Issue, Esquire and more. Scott wrote chapters for two of legendary sleeve designer Storm Thorgerson's books (For The Love Of Vinyl (opens in new tab), 2009, and Gathering Storm (opens in new tab), 2015). He regularly appears on Classic Rock’s podcast, The 20 Million Club (opens in new tab), and was the writer/researcher on 2017’s Mick Ronson documentary Beside Bowie (opens in new tab)