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The Only Ones / David R Black (Manchester Academy II), 1 June 2007


ImageWell it didn't beat my Sparks record. When I saw those bonkers Mael brothers last year it was approaching 32 years since I'd caught them first time round on a school trip. As for The Only Ones, well it was just a mere 27 years since I saw them (though bizarrely they were selling the same memorabilia - or replicas thereof - as they did all those years ago!), although this delay obviously wasn't down to any lack of interest on my behalf. The band imploded a year or so after I had seen them, and other than the odd rumour of a possible Only Ones reunion they've stayed apart until now - apparently prompted by illness on the behalf of Peter Perrett and drummer Mike Kellie. Indeed, apart from the brief re-appearance of Perrett in the guise of his early 90's band The One little has been seen of any of them.


And so it was that I trudged to this gig somewhat apprehensively. Could they still deliver or was it better just to remember them the way they were? I had my doubts, but before they could be erased or otherwise we were treated to support act David R Black, a Placebo-like three piece, with a singer - presumably Mr DRB himself - who looked like a cut-price Brian Molko, even having the same curtain haircut. Still, they played with a fair bit of power, and featured some nice crisp basslines and a certain grasp of melody. They weren't my thing by any means, but boys and girls with cropped hair and lots of tattoos certainly seemed to like them.


And then... it was time to confront those fears. Ladies & Gentlemen, The Only Ones. Being completely honest, those doubts weren't helped when I first laid eyes on them as they walked on-stage. Because whilst Kellie looked better than might reasonably have been expected, the tiny, thin, frail Perrett really doesn't look in good shape. I'd seen recent photos in various magazines, but even they didn't prepare me for what he looked like live and up close. Admittedly, Perrett was never exactly a picture of health in the first place - indeed when I saw them back in 1980 I remember being amazed by how baggy his leather trousers seemed - but now, well lets just say on all these years of heroin abuse have clearly taken its toll. There's nothing of him - I honestly don't mean to sound distasteful but his arms look something like you would see in some WWII POW photo. As for the others - bassist Alan Mair, who has clearly aged better than the others, looks like your friendly uncle, whilst guitarist John Perry has started to resemble your amiable village butcher, although, with that constant smug expression, I couldn't help thinking that with a pair of glasses on Perry would look not unlike that camp, aloof vicar on Dad's Army.


Still, most eyes were on Perrett, and although he looked a little nervous on this first date of the tour that followed their ATP appearance, he couldn't resist a smile when he saw the audience reaction, and no doubt felt the warmth they exuded. "Sorry we've been so long" he said with a grin, before the bands opened with their classic first single Lovers Of Today, but as great as that John Perry riff sounded, the spotlight was definitely on Perrett. What was his voice going to sound like after all these years? Well, to tell the truth, not great initially - whilst its frailty came as no great surprise, strangely it sounded somewhat higher. There was a brief moment where I thought that it all seemed a bit too like some macabre freakshow with the skeletal Perrett singing one of your old favourites in a slightly speeded up voice, but from the start the band sounded on such great form - Mair taking in his stride the fact that his bass string snapped on the very first number - that you had to stay with it.


ImageAnd it was worth it, not just because the band have such a great wealth of material, but because Perrett's voice improved as the gig went on - he was clearly touched by the sight of people who presumably weren't born when the band split up, singing along to albums tracks like The Whole Of The Law and Why Don't You Kill Yourself. There were lots of other highlights, too - basically the cream of those three fine albums, though some of their more commercial moments like singles Out There In the Night and You Gotta Pay were conspicuous by their absence. Highlights included the wonderful slowie that is It's The Truth and a fabulous The Big Sleep, which included a memorable moment when Perrett sang the line about not having the strength and then allowing himself a little laugh.


Admittedly there were a few less successful moments - As My Wife Says was played in the style of the version on the live album rather than the excellent one on the b-side version of Another Girl Another Planet, the one new track ("we only had time to learn the one new song", said Perrett!) called something like Dreamt I Could Fly didn't sound fully cooked, and there was the odd duff note here and there, but it would probably be churlish to expect a band that had been apart that long not to have any. The stop/start ending of Programme, however, was breathtaking. And then, after Perrett announced they were playing another new song despite his earlier admission, the band launched into their signature tune, the mighty Another Girl Another Planet, surely one of the great pop songs, here in all it's glory.


The set closed with The Beast, with Perrett changing the "you can lead a horse to water but you can't make it drink" line to "you can lead a horse to water but you can't keep it alive", and as the instrumental section that ends the track began, the band kicked on to another level, keeping going despite Kellie's nods to end it. The Beast is a great track by anyone's standards - even The Only Ones - but this was something else. It was immense - and I don't use the word lightly. Indeed, it was worth the price of the ticket alone, and a hard act to follow, but they came back for an encore all the same - Perrett now minus his trademark black glasses to hide behind, and looking even more frail. They concluded with a version of Me And My Shadow which saw Perry having a Hendrix-like moment with his guitar and mic stand, and which could gladly have gone on for another ten minutes as far as I was concerned.


So, a success. Remember this, because history gets re-written and in years to come the re-formed Only Ones might be remembered as having ruined a few myths and legends, like the Velvets with their so-called rubbish reformation - despite the fact that people I know who actually saw them live in the early 90's thought they were great.


And that's what The Only Ones were, too. Great. As always...


Author: Keith Astbury