“It’s a little bit more-ish apparently!” The Professionals’ Paul Cook and Tom Spencer on why heroin can ruin bands

Interview by Adrian Hextall

35 years later, the band formed from the ashes of the Sex Pistols by Paul Cook and Steve Jones is back. Revitalised, re-energised and reinvigorated, the band have now released their new album What In The World on Automaton Records.

What In The World  finds The Professionals on electrifying form, delivering some of the most ballsy, honest and downright brilliant songs of their career.

Paul Cook and Paul Myers were reunited on stage touring with Vic Goddard’s Subway Sect. There the idea sprang to revisit The Professionals. New frontman and guitar player Tom Spencer was invited to come to rehearsals, to sing and play guitar while Steve Jones was being lured back to the UK to join. As it became obvious Steve wouldn’t be heading over, and with rehearsals feeling better and better – the new line up was born.

The Professionals are also joined by a stellar cast of guest guitar players including original member Steve Jones (who plays on three tracks). Duff McKagen (Guns ‘n’ Roses), Mick Jones (The Clash), Phil Collen (Def Leppard), Marco Pirroni (Adam & The Ants), Chris McCormack (3 Colours Red) and Billy Duffy (The Cult) also join the party.

As we go to press, Chris McCormack has now been confirmed as a full time member of the band. 

We sat down with Paul (PC) and Tom (TS) in a former holding cell (now part of the bar at the converted Magistrate’s Court Hotel in Central London. Initial chat is about the impact online media has these days and how websites rather than printed matter can help drive promotion of a band. With thousands of hits per month it sounds promising for a new release even if only 10- 20% of people actually follow through to the article.

TS: We’ve both got partners who spend their lives staring in their iPhones, we don’t. So we’re very aware that other people do it all the time. That’s the thing you mention, follow through, they start to tell you 1000 facts because of articles like this.

PC: This is a multimedia website or is it just mainly music or is it like…?

AH: MyGlobalMind purely do rock and metal, nothing else

PC: That’s it. That’s what I like to hear.

AH: [As we start the interview proper, as Basil Fawlty might say… “Don’t Mention The Old Band..” Previous interviewers did but of course the pair want to focus on The Professionals not The Sex Pistols] I’m allowed to go on a bit longer because I’ve not mentioned the old band…

(Laughter)

PC: We’ll do that at the end. We can have one question at the end.

AH: To be honest I’m really interested in the new album. How did it all come around? If we can start the reunion back in 2015 was it just on the back of somebody said you know what there’s a lot of material here can we put it out for you or…?

PC: No. What happened was I knew a guy at Universal and they put a compilation together for the Professionals in 2015.

They put a three CD package together, I thought yeah I want to do it, someone might be interested. And I was speaking to that guy and he said, “Yeah well that sold out straight away.” And I thought well that’s weird I didn’t know there was audience for it you know. And the three original members of the band were still here.

Steve Jones is now living in Los Angeles though. He’s got a radio station over there and that. So we and three of our other guys we started messing about you know let’s have a get together and thrash about doing the songs. We did that and it was fun. These songs I haven’t played them for about you know forever. They’re quite good songs you know they’re not bad at all on the original album. We’re having a bit of fun and then we said what we’re going to do, because Steve is not going to get involved obviously, if we want to take this any further. So that’s where Tom came into the picture, who I worked with before briefly on a couple of little things and he was around- funny enough we met at a rehearsal.

TS: Yeah

PC: When you were rehearsing with The Men They Couldn’t Hang, who he plays with. He was in the other room he said “Hey why don’t you come down next time, have a seat and I’ll learn a couple of songs.”

And that’s how that evolved. Tom got involved, it was great and we played the songs and we had done a gig at the 100 Club to coincide with the release of Universal, sounding great. We thought ‘this is good let’s move it forward’ and that’s when the album when thinking about new songs in the album came into to being really.

TS: I still thought I was just standing in temporarily. You know despite it was feeling really good, there was still always this thing of will it reignite Steve Jones’ interest in doing something new. You know then it did ignite his interest because of the album but eventually it became obvious he was never travelling over to do the gigs here. 

AH: Looking at what happened first time around with the band, you hit all of those blocks and barriers didn’t you.

PC: Yeah.

AH: There was, the inability to get Cash Cows out with Andy Allan [lack of contracts and payment problems with the labels] and the problems around him. By the time you’ve gone over to the US to do a tour, there was a car crash that you were involved in that obviously put paid to that. Then there was the thing with the option to tour with the Clash or not – which of course didn’t happen.

It kind of drew a line under the band as well and all fizzled apart. This time around seems even though say the labels aren’t there to promotes everything, actually it seems a little bit more fluid and its working for you.

PC: Yeah almost definitely just talking about it recently when we were talking about the old Professionals, what happened back there, I’d forgotten how chaotic it was and all the things surrounding with Steve out there.

TS: And the thing I mention to everybody, its one thing to get a band and an album together without heroin in the mix.

AH: Well there is that.

PC: That helps yeah.

TS: It’s a little bit more-ish apparently.

PC: It was a chaotic time and like you said we had a deal there, Virgin- but we didn’t even get that together. They wanted to give us a big advance to start with; we put the kibosh on that for some reason and for one reason or another, and then amazing that we even got an album out thinking about it at the time. At this time around, everything has been going really, really nicely which is great; makes a nice change.

AH: Presumably that’s solely down to the fact that there are wiser, smarter heads on shoulders these days. You’ve seen it, you’ve been there, you’ve done all these things and actually you know what doesn’t work and what will work.

PC: Yes exactly and it’s been… we’ve been quite hands-on me and Tom from the word go with the song writing, the production and the album sleeve and the cover. I’ve never been more hands on in any project that I’ve ever been involved with, which is great you know. Just making sure everything is right and we’re doing it how we want it to sound and how we want it to be perceived and stuff like that so it’s been quite nice having that control.

TS: Like he said it’s not by numbers we haven’t formalized it. We’ve luckily managed to create a great game between us I mean and that so I’ve always the bands I’ve been in, I think that’s essential to capture that… we’ve got 4 people that share the same sense of humor. We like to fight, we got other party after the gigs and stuff like that. We’re not just sat in the room working out is the best way to formalize the Professionals. Do you know what I mean?

AH: If you weren’t up for it and energised, you wouldn’t capture the energy and feel that the band should portray anyway.

PC: Yeah which I think we’ve captured that on the album as well. We’ve captured a good moment there but unfortunately for those reasons what you just mentioned, it didn’t work out with Ray [Ray McVeigh]; the original guitarist. And I just feel if this isn’t going to be fun and we’re not going to be happy doing this, we’ve got to part ways you know. And that lead to the situation moving onto the guest guitarists. Ray, we parted company with Ray and there was a situation vacant there and got the address book out and see who was around. Firstly we got Steve Jones involved which is really important; passing on the baton and all that you know. He was very happy to do that. And it just evolved from there really and everyone was really up for doing it. It was just great all the people I talked to.

AH: Its interesting the mix in terms of the way you put these together as well because as far as I can tell everything seems perfect. You’ve even got Billy Duffy on guitar as a guest as well.

PC: Yeah because they went into the studio together originally to do the 3 songs. We had the first 3 or 4 songs, we sent them over to them and they both went in the studio for a couple of days and got them out and that was the end of that. We got them and then we moved onto the next ones which were it was after that I got… Marco [Marco Francesco Andrea Pirroni – Adam Ant, Sinéad O’Connor, Siouxsie and the Banshees and many others] in there.

TS: Marco came into the studio.

PC: We sort of chipped away. After we got Steve they were great, once we got, now its Steve and Billy down on the album, you know what it’s like once you say to people and we’ve got them and them on it everyone is oh yeah. First everyone is a bit reluctant like what’s this all about, I’m not sure I want to get involved. Once you’ve got one or two names on it, it runs and runs.

TS: And then when Paul was in LA, Phil Collins played… Duff Mckagen

PC: Yeah.

TS: They are on it and then the other one that was tricky was Mick Jones [The Clash] who is only local to us but his for his-

PC: Yeah he was the closest too. He’s not reclusive… but he hasn’t been doing that much for a long time. So… I got his mate involved in it and managed to persuade him to get him on.

I’m really glad we got Mick out to do it. I don’t think he’s started anything for a long time. So it’s great to get him on the album. I really wanted him on there just for the fact that just let people know he’s still around.

TS: Yeah

AH: Got you and you’ve got Victoria [Liedtke – Hey!Hello!, Fierce Ideas] singing on there with him as well.

PC: You know Victoria do you?

AH: Yeah I first saw her when she was in “Hey!Hello!” with Ginger.

PC: That’s our connection with Gav [Gav McCaughey – The band’s manager]… that’s how that worked out. She came down and he was looking for some kind of ethereal vocals to go with that track which she did.

TS: I’ve worked with her before she’s great you know. We kind of got to a point thinking of guests to work with. We weren’t sure who was going to sing the it [Victoria’s vocal]. Then, in the studio Victoria went at it and in a minute she was singing exactly what you want. Victoria is kind of known for that and I think she’s great.

AH: Yeah definitely and given the sort of proximity of people like Victoria for example, if you come back say to Camden Rocks next year, potentially you can pick Chris up and you can pick her up, for the show.

TS: Chris is in the band now, Chris has joined the band.

AH: Full time?

TS: Yeah

AH: [PENNY DROPS NOTES UPDATED!].

TS: He was around this time of getting the guests in, we had some gigs coming up and it was the wrong time to look for a permanent replacement, so we just said to Chris we persuaded him to, we said will you guest at these next two gigs and on the albums. So he plays on one track. We did the two gigs and during the course of those rehearsals it just fitted him it was brilliant. We got on socially and playing wise we couldn’t have hoped for a better fit to deal with exactly what I said with completing the game with. It’s just perfect. So he’s now a full time member.

AH: I was sure all the photos I’ve seen were just the 3 of you.

 

TS: Yeah but that’s because he joined slightly too late. We’ve done for our sessions with Chris- we’re in a position of publicising the fore-piece, but it would be wrong to have him on the cover of the album and he’s just guesting on one track.

It’s a slightly awkward situation, but it also makes us want to make another album next year to get him on it because it’s all so good I felt a bit bad for him not- he’s not as involved as us.

AH: It’s nice to see him actually coming back and doing what he doesn’t so well. I mean he’s been so tied up in admin for those few years hasn’t he?

PC: We’ve got him out of Camden yeah,  playing rock n roll which is what he does.

TS: We came back from New York the other week and we had a big drink in a bit while we were there and we got back and me and Paul was saying “We’re going on the wagon now, sorry Chris we’re not going for a pint. His response “You didn’t drag me out to drink fucking tea, get down the pub.”

So he fought us back off that wagon. It was fair enough to him, fair enough.

AH: No that’s not unreasonable at all, I like that I like that. Phil [Collen] presumably though was pretty much a shoe-in when you asked him because you’ve done what two Man Raze albums together now?

PC: Yeah it was and what he played was great. I mean slightly different flavor to the you know usual rock n roll stuff that we’re used to. What great guitarists though. It was lucky enough I went to a LA as Tom mentioned earlier for a holiday really and Phil was there and I stayed at his place for a couple of days, got him down through just home recording. Duff was there just went around his place; he’s got his own studio in there. It’s like bang-bang done and out which was fantastic.

TS: I got to learn Phil’s part live that’s the scary bit because he’s such a good player you know what I mean. Also when he does his… Def Leppard stuff that’s another world but see him playing, that’s the same- basically playing Johnny Thunders he’s just so good. It makes you realise how good he is which is great.

AH: Yeah and he’s got the Delta Deep sideline as well doesn’t he?

PC: Phil doesn’t stop, if Def Leppard tour he’s doing that or he’s in the studio with someone else, he just can’t. He walks around his house with a guitar on because he can’t think of what else to do just sit down making a cup of tea and it’s like this man…

AH: I spoke to him about almost 6-8 months ago when he did his autobiography. He’s got guitars in the bathroom.

TS: I just moved to my first house where there is enough space on the left to play the guitar on the toilet. My whole life I’ve always had toilets too narrow to ever do that. All the space was on the wrong side-

PC: There is a toilet there if you want to try it out. [the Holding Cell in the Hotel still has the old aluminium toilet in there, albeit non functional!]. 

TS: Even that one that would get in the way because this house has a bidet, you’ve got be there. I couldn’t play the guitar and poop before but now that’s fantastic.

PC: You’ve got posh beat there [laughter]

TS: All that happens at the moment is my kid pisses into it, it’s the only way because he’s only 3.

AH: Given the commitment that you have to this, this is clearly something you wanted to go places. You’re already talking about how you make number two as it were with number one then with the line-up next year.

TS: I’d love to do that, this is a dream come true for me. This project… calling it project, this band starts off we never knew quite how far it’s going, then you make an album and suddenly you realise you’ve got something. I think I and Paul have the same feeling it feels great and we’d love to turn it into something… to carry on. When it feels this good, it’s hard to think- it’s a horrible thought to think of it stopping. More, more, more.

AH: Yes and of course projects for both of you. You met as you were saying through working on something else… the list of your other projects……

PC: Yeah and people still have been asking me what have you been doing since the last Professionals album… amazing…

I did and made a conscious effort. Once we agreed to do this I just stopped doing the other ones. I was doing the Sharks last year made an album with Sharks and just said look I want to concentrate on me for a change. I just wanted to concentrate on the Professionals and getting great album done and out which is what I’ve done. So I’ve put everything else on the back burner really………..

TS: The same here, I’ve had to start doing that. I’ve always been in the other bands more of a co-lead guitarist so I’m kind of an addition to what they’ve got.

So that meant I could not have done their last few gigs. I’m still going to play on the new album, I’m still you know- they are still my mates and my family if you like. You know the truth is I’d love to just do one thing really well rather than being the hired hand which I assume in my stage and career was my role. So it’s really nice to have bio being in the band publicly which I haven’t done…

AH: Proper band.

PC: Proper Band.

TS: Proper Band.

AH: The B word not a project.

PC: Yes

TS: Yeah now I said that word and it’s the worst word isn’t it because it doesn’t do that but you know…

AH: It does suggest a short space of time and then I’m off to do something else.

TS: Yeah

PC: Yeah this is an ongoing situation. It’s a new line up, a new album… we’re hopefully moving forward like I said onwards and upwards. I don’t want to get involved in this just doing the retro old Professional stuff, doing the onset and that’s it. That’s what happens with Pistols when we got back together all the time you know, we’d done the tours and all we do, oh I want to write some new songs.

AH: I was going to say was there a desire to do something,  to write anything new?

PC: Well it was mooted but I don’t have the enthusiasm for it. I’m sitting here some new songs- you know, all the songs they are great and it’s great to go out and do that as an item but we couldn’t agree on what tea we wanted let alone write a song.

TS: I must confess I to forget he’s in the Pistols but I’ve got to say I’ve got this confession that ’96 Finsbury Park reunion gig is my all time favourite gig. I was too young the first time around and I was just blown away. Actually it was one of- because it’s great for the band apparently as well considering its disastrously history.

AH: Yeah I was going to ask did it exercise a lot of demons that, in terms of this is how it should have always been?

PC: Yeah it did it was great at all what we did in that 96 world tour. We were doing it properly then all set up properly, equipment was great, the sound was great, professional it was. but we didn’t move on forward, it did like you said “exercise demons”, but they sort of came., the longer it went on those demons came creeping back in you know… and reared its ugly head again which made life a bit more difficult again to like move it forward if you were.

AH: Whereas what you’re doing now, you actually enjoy and it’s fun to do.

TS: Yeah exactly. Just makes your mind bubble doesn’t it, a follow-up to Never Mind the Bollocks song writing wise.

PC: It would’ve been pretty hard to follow. I think that’s probably the main reason why we didn’t want to sit around and do it; it’s just a thought of how we’re going to follow this up. I think it could’ve been done if we really wanted to.

TS: Definitely.

AH: You always knew that it was going to get compared to.

PC: Yeah of course.

TS: Of course

AH: You’ve got Yard strictly you’ve got-

PC: Yeah and up the ante

TS: Maybe it’s one of the things like Fawlty Towers [classic British Sitcom – 2 seasons, just 12 episodes ever made],  they stop when they did because its definitive maybe… we want more but maybe there is an argument for no more maybe?

Fawlty Towers and the Sex Pistols that’s what they’ve got in common.

AH: It’s that era. Sometime about the 70s isn’t it.

TS: Yeah this is sound it is, is the same new era.

PC: There is the next album title Forty years on Fawlty Pistols spelt Fawlty as Basil Fawlty. We’ve done it that’s it co-produced it.

AH: What about the 40th anniversary of Never Mind … Are you actually doing anything for it or is it something that’s going to get released- might come out as a limited edition I suppose?

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Never-Mind-Bollocks-Anniversary-Deluxe/dp/B074CW14ZZ

PC: I think they’re going to release a limited edition… Virgin- not Virgin, Universal they have got a special edition coming up. But they’ve done that so many times.

AH: I was going to say yeah.

PC: I don’t know how many more times you can… it bores me to death obviously really. Speaking about it… its great now because it is a 40 year anniversary and who would’ve thought we’d be here speaking about it now 40 years on, never in my wildest dream would I thought that back in 76. But it’s like I don’t mind, what we’re talking about now is in connection with Professionals and blah-blah-blah, but it does not bore me to death, but I don’t really get involved when they’re talking heads to talk about the Pistols and those punk rock programs and all that. I’m just saying oh God how much more is there to say now.

AH: You can only wring a towel so dry.

PC: Same old stories and people are rewriting it a little bit as it goes along you know and I just don’t really get involved in all that really. I just leave that to Glen, Glen likes doing that.

 

The Professionals album What in the World is out now. 

http://www.cookandjones.co.uk/

 

 

 

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