The Professionals have just blown us away. They sailed through a number of gutsy new tracks from their freshly released album What In The World, and they’ve treated us to three Sex Pistols tracks in light of the 40th anniversary of Never Mind The Bollocks. It was enough to make one member of the audience climb up the front of the stage and dive into the unaccomodating crowd in a bid to relive his youth.
Although they have lost a couple of members, The Professionals performed at their album launch in The Garage like they’d been playing together for years. Before the show, I caught up with former Pistol Paul Cook and their charismatic frontman Tom Spencer in The Courthouse Hotel to find out more about reigniting The Professionals’ sound.
So, how did What In The World come about?
Paul: We started with the three original members minus Steve Jones. We’re all local and Universal had just released a retrospective of The Professionals and we thought we’d get together and have a mess about and start playing. It sounded great. Steve wasn’t gonna get involved because he’s in LA so we got Tom in and it all rolled from there really. We didn’t wanna just play all the old songs. That’s how the new album came into being. Moving it forward really, because it’s a new line up, new Professionals and a new album.
Tom: The title is the last thing we did. Paul came up with it… it’s actually a line from one of the songs called ‘Rewind’. And of course, when you pick a title now, you check that no one’s done it and the only time we found it was a Bowie track on Low which is 40 years old this year.
Which was the first song you wrote?
Tom: We did a few songs and wrote them up together with acoustic guitars and booked up rehearsals. Our writing relationship developed during the course of the record.
Paul: We did them in batches of three really. We wrote three songs; ‘New Generation’ was the first one and we progressed from there. Like Tom said, just sitting around on acoustic guitars, bouncing ideas off of each other.
What inspired your tribute to Lemmy and Bowie in ‘Gone, Going, Gone’?
Tom: Well this song is the only one on the album credited to the whole band. It was an old riff that never was used for the original Professionals. Just the opening riff, so we took that back to the drawing board. There’s a famous story where Steve Jones broke into Hammersmith Odeon stole loads of David Bowie’s equipment in between the last Iggy Stardust shows- that’s notorious. When I worked at the Hammersmith Odeon as a teenager, Motörhead were touring and their ‘bomber’ lighting rig was stolen. So of course, when they died within a month of each other, I saw a nice link. Not only between the two but between me and Steve Jones. And then a set of lyrics came.
You mentioned Bowie earlier… is there a theme?
Tom: That’s a different thing. We were just playing the name game and what would sum all the songs up. ‘What In The World’ is quite a big statement. Is it a question or an exclamation mark? But it’s both, isn’t it?
Paul: It’s just a comment on what’s going on; where we are at, at the moment. It’s like holding your hands up and saying what the fuck is going on, you know? The album song wise is personal really. Just growing up, growing older disgracefully.
You ended the album on ‘Monkeys’ which is a shout out to the world leaders?
Paul: Yeah, that’s along the same lines of what’s going on at the moment. People or sheep… following sheep really.
Tom: Idiots following idiots. Like Donald Trump… it’s despairing. We don’t really touch on politics but this is the closest we go. There’s not much you can do about it. Most of the world is as thick as shit. Is that fair to say?
Paul: At the moment, it’s crazy times we’re living in. I guess the whole album is a reflection on that really. We’re just writing about what’s going on with us in the world today.
Tom: We were out in America doing some press when that shooting happened in Las Vegas. So we were answering some of the questions like this, then something like that happens. And the same day Donald Trump’s got a problem… it’s mad. One radio station, they went to play Ted Nugent after announcing the thing. He’s a member of the NRA (National Rifle Association)! It’s insane!
You also have a song about Extremadura- is that about the place?
Paul: It is. I had the idea of ‘Extremadura’ when I was driving through Spain. Driving through the countryside and really feeling the place. It was like a kind of finding yourself song in a kind of pilgrimage sort of way and experiencing, the other side of the coin, what’s great in life. It was a really spiritual kind of place.
I was gonna ask about guests… how did you know who to call?
Paul: It didn’t work out with the original guitarist and we parted company, unfortunately. That left a vacant situation for another guitar. We got Steve to do some guitar which was great. He really was ok with us doing The Professionals without him. So I thought, we’ve got a space here, let me get my phonebook out to phone up some friends.
Tom: He’s got a very cool address book by the way. It’s not like a normal address book.
Paul: So I phoned them up and they were all very enthusiastic about it. Which was great. It took a bit of persuading with some of them but with persistence, we got there in the end.
Tom: The persuading was just for the lazy ones. The thing I found is some of the other guys, Duff McKagan and Billy Duffy, they were all massive Pistols fans when they were kids because they were that slight bit younger. So they loved being on it, which was great. The persuading with Steve Jones… he doesn’t get out much… and Mick Jones.
Paul: It was the Joneses. It wasn’t a problem, they just need a bit of arm twisting.
Tom: Then, we got Chris McCormack into guest on the album too and then we had a couple of gigs just as a guest but then the shoe fitted- it was great. The next album we do, he’s going to be on it properly.
So how long did it take getting the album together?
Paul: A year on and off. We were working in batches… Is that long to make an album? Zak Starkey, Ringo’s son, he really kindly lent us his studio to record all the backing tracks. We finished it off with Dave Draper in Tower Studios in Worcester. We finished off there. It was kind of all over the place.
Tom: So you go to Zak Starkey’s millionaire mansion to Dave Draper’s ex-wartime bunker in an industrial estate outside Worcester. Two extremes, but I think we captured those extremes. Dave Draper is a great producer and there’s nowhere to go but to listen to the record. Whereas can you imagine Zak Starkey’s house? It’s full of cool stuff.
Were you easily distracted?
Tom: He’s got some of the best memorabilia in the world. There was a sign that said the ‘wibbly wobbly way’ and I said what’s that? And he was like, that’s John and Yoko’s sign from when his Dad lived in the house of John Lennon.
Paul: Like a live cut out of Marc Bolan, saying ‘To Zak, all the best.” Pictures everywhere… it’s great.
Tom: Most importantly, a picture of him as a kid sitting on Keith Moon’s lap and apparently they always said he was born to take that job because Zak Starkey plays in The Who now. So it’s kind of brilliant.
Paul: Great environment to work in. We had time to digest what we’d done. I would have hated to have gone in there and taken 28 days to do the whole thing. That might work sometimes but it was good having a bit of a sit back and listen and go back. It was good having the time to do that.
I was wondering because you’re on Pledge Music, has the whole process been a lot easier?
Paul: Tom was the one with the idea to do it on Pledge. I was a bit sceptical about it. But it’s been great, the reaction’s been great. It does give you that bit of security really if you haven’t got the money and the time to make an album how you want it to sound, without just rushing in and thinking “oh how much money do we have left?”.
Tom: Our Pledge has gone past 500% now. We didn’t go greedy and set a big target, we set a target of what we’d already spent. Now, because it’s gone beyond that, we have to think like a record company and think what we need to spend that on. We won’t go down the pub with it. We could get a press agent. We could become a record company. And we got two record deals out of it as well, one in America and one in Germany and they’re doing separate releases and that’s because of the publicity Pledge has generated. It’s all very nice!
Paul: It’s all going swimmingly which makes a nice change. Being in bands before, everything is so chaotic. I was rushing around last minute. It’s been nice.
So is making an album your favourite part of being in a band?
Paul: The way this one went, it’s been great. It can be a bit of a chore sometimes. Me and Tom were kind of the main writers and recorders on this. Other times when you have four or five people involved, you can just get too many opinions and everyone wants this and that. It gets a bit controlling. It’s been great with just the two of us.
Tom: I think the thing is to do both. But when you’ve done really long tours you can’t wait to be home and make an album. So the idea is that you rotate. Now it’s time for tour buses!
Is there a tour yet?
Paul: I think we’ve got to give people time to digest the new stuff. We might do some towards the end of the year
And it’s 40 years of Never Mind The Bollocks… Are you gonna perform any Sex Pistols songs at the launch?
Paul: Just for old times sake. We don’t really play them with The Professionals at all really. We thought, seeing as it’s to the day, 40 years, we thought we’d do a couple yeah.
How did you pick which songs?
Paul: The ones that were easiest to learn.
Tom: There was one particular member of the band that couldn’t understand the rocket science.
Paul: We’re going to do ‘Bodies’ and ‘Pretty Vacant’. Why not!
The Professionals new album What In The World is available now.
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