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Interview with Alan Mair of The Only Ones (Includes interview)

The Only Ones, fronted by the enigmatic Peter Perrett, enjoyed considerable success, particularly in the UK, in the late 1970s and early 1980s. The solid four-piece, featuring Perrett, Mair, guitarist John Perry and drummer Mike Kellie, eventually went their separate ways in 1982 after six years together.

In the summer of 2006, their most famous song “Another Girl, Another Planet,” named “arguably the greatest rock single ever recorded” by the AllMusic website, was used in a TV advertisement for Vodaphone, which led to renewed interest in the group and their subsequent reformation in 2007.

Officially they are still together, although things have quietened down a little on that front of late (the last time the band performed in the UK was at the Rebellion Festival in 2012); the perfect opportunity then for Alan Mair, a teenage friend of David Bowie, to start spreading his wings as a solo artist.

“Most of this year, I’ve just been working on my own songs – that’s kind of been my main focus,” notes the sixty-something bassist, who describes his music as “alternative rock,” chatting to me from his home in London. “I’ve got a studio in my house as well so I thought it was time to start getting some of my own material released.”

The experienced musician, a veteran of two great rock ‘n’ roll acts (his first band The Beatstalkers were known as “the Scottish Beatles“), put out his debut single “Four Winds” late last year and is releasing a second song, “Stairway to Hell,” in August. Both will be on a forthcoming album, out “towards the end of the year,” entitled Field of One.

“It’s taken me a long time!” he laughs, reflecting on why he’s only just got around to pursuing a solo career. “I started recording in the ’80s and had record company interest – a couple of different companies gave me some money to develop songs – but then that didn’t really materialise.

“At the time it seemed to be getting harder to release your own material, so I think I just put it on the back-burner and carried on, produced a couple of bands…

“But when The Only Ones got back together, it was much easier to see that the whole system had changed and you could actually start releasing your own material and be on the same platform as everyone else, so this seemed to be the right time to start doing it.”

Alan on stage back in the day.

Alan on stage back in the day.
Natasha Bennett

Did the aforementioned lack of activity in The Only Ones camp (they did play a couple of gigs last year in Japan, minus Mike Kellie) encourage Alan to forge ahead in his new venture?

“Yeah, we had been in the studio and it hadn’t really worked… There are some songs which we’re still working on, but it hadn’t really set us all on fire. No real reason – the band were doing some great concerts – but we were in the studio and we didn’t think it was strong enough to keep working on.

“I was expecting us to make a fantastic album and then when that wasn’t happening, I thought, ‘instead of putting my energy into The Only Ones, I’ll put it into my own material.’ So it definitely played a part…”

As revealed earlier, the new single is called “Stairway to Hell.” It features Zal Cleminson and Ted McKenna of The Sensational Alex Harvey Band on guitar, bass and drums and will be available to buy and/or download from August 24.

“‘Stairway to Hell’ I actually wrote a long time ago,” recalls the friendly Scot, who used to make and sell shoes in Kensington Market in the early 1970s, employing a young Freddie Mercury for a time, “with a friend of mine who did the lyrics, and part of it was a result of my experience with The Only Ones.

“Drug use was kind of escalating each year and, to me, it was one of the reasons that the band was starting to lose its direction, so I left. I left because the amount of drug use that was going on I didn’t think was conducive to the band being great, and also because I didn’t indulge in it.

“At the same time, the use of heroin everywhere was really escalating. It not only affected musicians, it seemed to be affecting everyone, so really it was an anti-drugs song based on my experience. As I say, it was a friend of mine who wrote most of the lyrics and he had the same situation in his life…

“Looking at the lyrics, I think they’re quite naive now because at that time we all thought that you could change the perspective of people using drugs, but you can’t. It’s down to the person to eventually make the changes themselves.”

Alan also told me the story behind the first single: “Well ‘Four Winds,’ without going too much into the spiritual, is just to do with the universe; the four winds being the summer solstice and the winter solstice, and again, some of the lyrics were written by my friend Dave Smith…

“‘Four Winds’ was to do with the power of the universe and its unknown energy. I always feel as if there are other energies in the universe, so it was to do with spiritually and just the power of being.”

Mair has been writing and recording music in his studio for over 25 years, and although he has more than enough material for future albums (“I’ve probably got about 80 to 100 songs that are in a finished state”), he will probably always be best known for the part he played in bringing The Only Ones to the forefront of the British punk/new wave scene.

What made the band, who Alan believes will return to active service next year, so special? Why are they still so loved?

“I guess there’s a uniqueness and also the albums were just four musicians playing to the best of their ability… The third album (1980’s Baby’s Got a Gun) had more effects on it from Colin Thurston‘s production, but when “…Planet” was picked up by Vodaphone, a lot of people thought that this was a brand new band!

“We’d obviously created a sound that didn’t sell out in any way, or that you could describe as ’70s, ’80s, ’90s or ’00s. There’s something about the sound of the band which is current whatever year it’s played in. Also, when the albums were remastered, I heard even more. There were acoustic guitars in there that I’d never even heard…

“I think the albums being remastered gave them another lease of life as well, and of course over the years a lot of people had been copying Peter’s vocal style, thinking that no one would notice!

“Obviously the Internet’s helped spread the name of the band even more, but I think it’s because it organically sounds as current as any other bands just now…”

Alan Mair’s new single “Stairway to Hell” will be out on August 24.

For more information, visit his official website.

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