PAUL MYERS in conversation with Phil Singleton 25th March 2007
The interview is presented in three parts.....
Part Two. Ray McVeigh, "All Washed Up", the car crash, America, the drugs.
The story continues.......
Phil: What else do you remember from when you did join The Professionals? Previously they had Andy Allen in the group, who played bass with them on record. Do you know what happened to him?
Paul: I met Andy once. It was probably a bit like the Subway Sect, Phil. I know they were planning to get rid, they didn't like the way Andy looked. Long hair, he looked like a hippy. All I know is that there was this transition between one minute he's in there, as you know on the Just Another Dream video he's in it, and then lo and behold, Andy's gone. They told him. I don't think he was too happy about it, but they told him. And then I was installed.
Pretty soon after that you did a John Peel session, didn't you?
I don't even remember. Really? You can probably fill in a lot more, Phil. I can't even remember that. Then when I joined we got Ray McVeigh in.
So were you in the band first?
Ray joined slightly after me. I remember being at the audition when Ray was there. I didn't join the group because it was 'Cook and Jones' - I'm not a musician, things like that didn't actually rock my boat - I joined really because I thought maybe there'd be some travelling involved in this. That's what I was into. I thought maybe we'd go on some tour of some exotic land, and after the Subway Sect and being blatantly ripped off, and Bernie justifying it, I was pissed off with all that, ending up with nothing all the time, and so I thought maybe I'd earn a bit of money as well. It sounded quite good.
So you didn't have to respond to an advert to get in the band...
Oh no, I wouldn't do any of that. It's too much like hard work for me. I just met them in a studio. I was up there to see The Clash, I wasn't playing at the time. I went up there to see Paul Simonon, and Steve and Paul were in another studio. We bumped into one another and they knew me from going to Pistols' gigs. They said "we hear the Subway Sect split up., I said "Yeah, ages ago" and Steve just said "We're looking for a bass player, do you fancy it?" But they also knew me from that film they made, All Washed Up.
Oh yes, The Fabulous Stains...
Yeah, that dreadful film. Well Caroline Coon rang me up when I was in the Subway Sect and said they wanted me to come along to maybe be a member of the group in this film. At the time Paul Simonon was going to be the singer and I was going to be the bass player, and Steve the guitarist. Then they got Ray Winstone in.
That would have been strange, wouldn't it? Almost like a version of The Professionals.
Yes, right, very much so. I remember Don Letts being at the interview with Lou Adler (film director), but I didn't know Lou from Adam. I ended up in this hotel suite. I think Steve and Paul were there, and Don Letts. Caroline Coon was there, discussing this possibility. But it all changed and I didn't play bass. I thought, "that's ok, what the hell." It was a bit like that. So, as I said, I met Steve and Paul in the studio and said I'd come down Denmark Street, and it just started from there.
Was it an exciting time? I know you joined partly for the travel?
Was it exciting? It's funny you should say that, Phil. All I remember of the 70s was drab grey skies, Camden Town being a bit of a hovel, and it was confirmed when I saw that film, Punk In London on DVD a few years ago with the Subway Sect on it. It showed you the road outside "Rehearsal Rehearsals" in Camden where we rehearsed, and the whole road was full of litter. It was during that time, and that's exactly how I looked at the 70s actually. Very drab, very grey, a real struggle. What I remember about being in the Subway Sect, the worst thing of all, every Friday having to charge up to Camden Town and having to hunt Bernie Rhodes down for our £15 each a week. That's how much he was paying us. Relatively it's more now, but even then it was virtually nothing. I just remember all those miserable times, like that. I don't remember much excitement. Doing the gigs was good. Also with The Subway Sect, because Bernie managed The Clash, he liked to do things easy, and we were all fed up with being The Clash's support band. All that kind of thing. Looking back now, I don't remember a great deal of excitement, and partly that's why I thought, "Ah, The Professionals, it can't be any....." Although, I loved what the Subway Sect were doing; I loved The Subway Sect. I still think Vic (Godard) is one of the great songwriters, however it was bloody hard work, y'know, it was hard work. So I thought, if nothing else we might actually be paid on time. I had my job anyway; I loved being a lifeguard, so I had nothing to lose. So I thought "yeah, it's ok."
Did it work out like that in The Professionals; did it fulfil what you'd hoped?
Did it fulfil? Not really, no I don't think it did. I liked being in The Professionals, but I loved being in The Subway Sect. It was a different kind of music. (Paul paused to consider again the question). However, at first it did, it really did, but - I can only speak for me - what happened in the end was I had a major drug problem at that time, and I think a lot of.... (pause), it suffered, everything suffered. We were going on American tours and I'd wake up full of fear. Looking back on it now I'd think you're meant to be excited about going to America. But, I was petrified, thinking I am going to be really, really ill. Which I was during the first three weeks of the tour. Horror stories like that. However, being in American was amazing. I'd never been in America. What I think messed things up with The Professionals was the car crash (November 1981). It couldn't have happened at a worse time.
What I thought at the time - because to me The Professionals were fantastic - but as a fan I was always frustrated that firstly, nothing seemed to happen in England, and secondly there were always these big gaps between things, like waiting for Join The Professionals to come out.
I don't really remember. Obviously it was a lot to do with Steve and Paul. All I remember was a whole series of dreadful managers. Which is the pattern it seems, it's not the exception. It's the rule usually. We had some dreadful managers, absolutely awful. I think that was really detrimental to the group, I really do, culminating in the car crash when the album was just about to be released.
It was virtually the same week, wasn't it?
Yeah, the same week. I was in plaster for six months after that.
What do you recall about the accident? Is it something that you can recall?
It is actually. I recall the accident really clearly, Phil. I remember I was in the back seat and I thought our American driver.... for the last week prior to that there were a few near misses, and I remember it was about 2am in the morning and suddenly I saw these head-on lights coming towards us, and I shouted at the driver "you're on the wrong side of the road!" and then the impact. He wasn't on the wrong side of the road, the car crashed into us and the guy killed himself. But I was conscious all the way through it. My leg was really badly fractured. I remember a Police motorcyclist turning up saying "Don't worry about that guy, he just needs a hearse." What really angered me was there seemed to be a massive delay in cutting the car in half, Phil. All the while we had to stay in there. By the time we got out it was like a Hollywood film set. All the news cameras were there, it was as though they'd waited for them. To be in chronic pain - because I had bad fractures to my leg and part of my spine - and to have a microphone thrust in your face...
Is that what they did?!
Yeah, they did. There were bright lights, and this guy put a microphone in my face, and I just told him in no uncertain terms just to get it out of my face. At first, I just thought I was winded. I'd been thrown onto the seat at the back and I didn't realise the extent of my injuries. The pain didn't hit me till I looked at my leg and my foot was pointing at right angles. That's when the pain hit me. I don't know the time span but it must have been at least 20, 25 minutes, even half an hour, before they got us out. I was in agony. So to have all these film cameras there wasn't the best thing.
You must have feared for your band mates as well? Ray and Paul were in the car with you.
Ray was in the back with me. There were two girls in the back who were really annoying me because they had nothing wrong but they were screaming which made things even worse. Ray was in the corner at the back, he'd broken his hand, and I knew he was OK. I was concerned about Paul, he was at the front. Now Paul wandered off, I really thought Paul was dead.
Because Paul was unconscious with the driver, and then Paul came to and was in shock, and then he wandered off from the car. So I was calling to Paul because I was a concerned about him, but I couldn't move because of my leg which was smashed to bits. I could see Ray was OK. I was quite conscious. Although I was really badly winded, that went and then the pain came on in my leg, but I was really conscious about what was going on. I asked Ray if he was alright and I was shouting to Paul to make sure he was OK, and then he got out of the car. But then I was taken to a different hospital to the rest of them, Phil. So I didn't know what had happened. The scariest part was that we were in the car and they covered us with a big tarpaulin blanket and all you could hear was a massive chainsaw going through the roof where they were going to divide the car. So when they pulled the car apart, when they took us out - the reporters, cameramen and lights, it was just unbelievable. I'd never experienced anything like it.
Funnily enough, how I'd heard about the crash was listening to Kid Jenson's Radio One show. It was the following night and he actually played four songs from the album.
Did he? Something else that sticks in my mind is when they took me to the hospital I couldn't sit up, so I thought, oh God I've broken something in my back. This fear that I'd be paralysed came over me. Apparently I'd fractured a bone at the bottom of my back, so I said to the doctor, "I can't move." They took me straight down to surgery, but before they did that, I asked them if I could ring my Mum! I said "Look, I gotta ring my Mum" and I rang. It was about 8 or 9 in the morning in London. I didn't want to worry her and I said "Listen Mum, I'm OK, we're all alive but we've had a car crash, so if you hear anything I don't want you to panic." And with that they took me down to the operating theatre.
They operated on you there and then?
Yeah, there and then, they had to. I had fractures of the tibia and fibula and a broken bone in my back, but fortunately that was a stable fracture, that's what they called it, which healed on its own. So I was in hospital for six weeks. The other three flew back home.
How quickly were the others out?
The others were out quite quickly. Ray had a broken arm, although Ray would exaggerate if you talked to him (laughing). I just want to make it perfectly clear that I was the most badly injured!
That's right; we've got that on record!
Thank you! That's what I like to hear! I was the most badly injured; Ray wimpishly exaggerated his broken arm (laughing). I think Ray and Paul flew back after about a week.
Steve was elsewhere so he wasn't involved in the crash.
Yeah, Steve wasn't there (at the accident). But I was in hospital a long time. It happened November 5th and I don't think I flew back until December.
So were you just isolated and stuck there on your own?
The thing is, it was the most fantastic time, Phil! I absolutely loved hospital. I didn't want to leave.
Were you getting pampered?
Well, we'd played some dates and I had all these lovely American girls ringing me up. I spent all my time speaking on the 'phone. I can't even remember who they were. They were weeping; they said "I thought you were dead." In the end I gave up asking who they were. It was surreal. If you're going to be in a hospital, be in a hospital like that! Then a nurse, who was a radiologist, took a shine to me, and when I started getting better she'd sign me out because that meant she would take total responsibility, and take me back to her house, then bring me back in the morning. I mean it was blissful. It was absolutely fantastic. However, when I got back to London, I'll always remember this, Phil, I got back to my Mum's and she said "Do you want a cup of tea?" I broke down crying because I was back in the real world. It was nothing to do with my Mum but, y'know, I was back in the real world. And I think, looking back on it, Phil, I think part of the reason I loved being in a band is it's an escape from the real world. I think that's the reason I used drugs; to escape from the real world. 'Cos the real world can be.... And I'm sure that's a common thing with people, but I'm just talking about myself. I get back to London and that's when I think all the shock hit me. "Oh God, back in the real world." Fortunately the doctors in America did an absolutely fantastic job, brilliant.
Six weeks in hospital wasn't bad considering how bad the crash was.
Yeah, it was pretty good. The worst thing was, another four months I was in plaster. I had a dropped foot. All the nerves had withered away and the doctors over here said I might not be able to walk properly again. So I was adamant that would not happen. I did exercises every day. I got a Yellow Pages and did step-ups and got my foot working. But when we went back for the second American tour I still had a walking stick. The worst thing was having to get into a car again over there.
So you really did find that frightening?
Oh, it was really frightening.
Did you feel like that back in England?
I did. A couple of friends took me out in a car and I couldn't deal with it. Because that winter, Phil, was a really bad winter, there was lots of snow over here, it was horrific. I always remember going out with Paul (Cook). He had this Volkswagen Beetle and we went up to see Helen, y'know Helen (Wellington-Lloyd) that knows the Sex Pistols, and she lived down this really steep slope. It had been snowing and Paul started his car and we just slid down to a T junction and he couldn't stop the car. We were looking at each other going "oh my God, here we go again." He did manage to stop it. My fear went on for a long time, for about a year. The worst thing about having to go back to America was the fact that we were going to have to get back into cars again. It was really frightening.
How was the morale in the band going back for the second tour after what had happened?
I think that was kind of the beginning of the end, it was starting to fall apart a bit then. Lots of things happened. We felt, I know I did, that Curdy, the manager at the time.... I don't think he even rang up to find out how we were.
After the crash, do you mean?
Yeah, that kind of thing. He was the manager and I was quite disgusted about that. However, I have to take responsibility in that when I came back to London, to escape, I went straight back into smack. I'm telling you this because this is what happened to me. I'd be in plaster, I couldn't walk, but at midnight, every night, a mini-cab would come and pick me up and I'd go and score. Every night. That's how mad it was as a way of escaping. And it wasn't just because of the crash, I had the problem before. So by the time I went back for the second tour I was a mess.
The story continues in part three.
Top portrait adapted from a picture submitted to www.cookandjones.co.uk by Bev Davies
Phil would like to extend special thanks to Ian Stewart
All material ęPhil Singleton / www.cookandjones.co.uk
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