PAUL MYERS in conversation with Phil Singleton 25th March 2007
Paul Myers, bass player with The Professionals, has remained one of the most elusive figures to inhabit the world of punk rock and "Cook and Jones" since effectively retiring from the music scene following the demise of The Professionals in 1982. It therefore came as a tremendous thrill to be put in touch with Paul, who up until now, has never spoken about his time with The Professionals or of his memories of his other celebrated band, The Subway Sect. What made the interview better than I could have hoped for, was that we hit it off straight away. Paul was great fun to talk to, very honest, and blessed with a terrific sense of humour.
The interview is presented in three parts.....
Part One. Sex Pistols, The Subway Sect, Bernie Rhodes, Joining The Professionals.
After a chat about golf, swimming (Paul's a fanatical swimmer) and comparing dental notes, the conversation moved onto punk rock.....
Phil: Before we go onto The Professionals, I thought it would be a good idea to wind the clock back a little bit further and ask you what, or who, inspired you to pick up a guitar?
Paul: I have no musical background whatsoever. What happened, I was going to a Grammar school with a couple of friends, and I was a soul boy Phil, I was into lots of Northern Soul and 70s American Soul. I had no interest in going to watch bands whatsoever. But two of the guys I went to school with used to go and watch bands and they'd always come back and say..., I remember them saying you've got to see this band, Dr Feelgood it was, but I never went. They'd say "we've seen this great band". Every week there was a better band than the one before. They said Dr Feelgood were fantastic, then Eddie and the Hot Rods. Then one day they came back and said "You have GOT to go and see the Sex Pistols." I said "Who the hell are they?" This was about their third gig. Usually I just refused, but for some reason I said "I'll go along". So I went along to see the Sex Pistols. I always remember it was at the Nashville Rooms in West Kensington. I came out of there and thought, "That's it. I wanna be in a band."
It had that effect on you?
Yeah, because I didn't like bands. It wasn't just the music - the music sounded fantastic - but it was the attitude. It was something I'd never even experienced before. It was one of those defining moments. 'Cos you can go and see hundreds of bands and they don't leave that effect. I always remember - as well as the attitude - Glen Matlock's beginning bass line to No Lip and Steve Jones coming in on guitar, it just sounded fantastic. We actually had a tape of that (gig). In those days a tape recorder was about twelve foot long and weighed about three tons, so I don't know how we got it in there. The tape's been lost now. It was a fantastic tape; it was about the third gig the Pistols played. After that, with these two guys I went with, we formed a group, The Subway Sect. That's how we got into The Subway Sect. In those days it was mad, Phil. We just decided to form this group and within a month we were meeting Malcolm McLaren.
How did all that happen?
It's just weird. What happened was, the other two, Vic (Godard) and Rob (Simmons) from The Subway Sect used to see a lot of bands anyway. Just by going to see the Sex Pistols they'd see loads of people there, Malcolm, Vivienne (Westwood) and you could just walk up and talk to them. They weren't elusive. We'd started rehearsing, but we'd never played. Rob and Vic had played a little bit, but I'd never even played a bass guitar. For three weeks we were going up to Malcolm McLaren saying, "look we've got this group together." He gave us a deadline. He said "if you've enough songs why don't you play the 100 Club gig?" That gave us a target to aim for. In three months time we're playing this 100 Club gig, and that's what it was like in those days.
That was of course the Punk Festival.
Yeah, it was the Punk Festival, and what happened, Malcolm was really good, he said "obviously I can't give you any time, 'cos I'm with the Pistols, but I want to put you over to Bernie Rhodes." Bloody Bernie Rhodes! The less I say about Bernie the better. But, the good thing about Bernie was, we were able to have rehearsal rooms now. We used The Clash's rehearsal rooms, so we managed to get loads of rehearsal time.
It must have been extraordinary to be all of a sudden in amongst all this that's going on?
The thing is, it wasn't, because these people weren't kind of superstars, these were just ordinary people. So I never thought "wow", it wasn't really like that. Just a whole group of people, it was a bit like the clubs I went to that played American Soul, it wasn't like everyone in London went; there was a small group of people that went to specific clubs on specific nights. It was a bit like that going to see the Sex Pistols, where you'd recognize lots of people.
Who was most helpful to you back then? You've mentioned Malcolm...
Well Bernie was helpful. He let us have the rehearsals place. Definitely Malcolm for putting us onto Bernie, and initially without having a rehearsal place we would have been stuck. Without condemning him totally, we needed that rehearsal time. So they were both helpful. It was mainly those two.
You picked up the bass guitar. Did you decide amongst yourselves what instruments you'd play, or were you inspired by seeing Glen Matlock at the Nashville?
It was nothing like that. I picked up the bass guitar, Phil, because it had four strings and I thought it would be the easiest thing to play. Plus the other two, Vic and Rob, had a few chords. We had a guy who'd done a bit of drumming, a friend of mine (Paul Packham). I picked the bass up, and just sat in my room and basically got my fingers going, and that was it.
From that point on, did you think "this is it for me; this is what I want to do?"
Yes, I did think that. I think it was part naivety. Yes, I thought it was fantastic as time went on. But it's a mad thing sometimes, after the 100 Club gig, we end up playing Yves Saint Laurent's birthday party in Paris. Not that they wanted to see us, but Bernie got the gig. Weird stuff in the first six months, but then reality set in unfortunately and the fairytale slowly ended.
What makes you say that?
It wasn't so much with the group, but Bernie did exert an insidious influence, I have to say. Lots of gigs we never got paid, and lots of this stuff I've only found out recently what happened then. We were really gullible. Bernie had been around the music business, he was a very shrewd guy; I can't knock Bernie for that. He was a very shrewd bloke, however we were very gullible. I've heard that we were offered a record contract and I only found this out a couple of years ago. There was a lot of stuff that went on through Bernie, whether he told us or not was down to him really. Ultimately it was the way Bernie got Vic to go off on his own, "you don't need those, Vic." Bernie did play a really, really big part in us splitting up, without a doubt.
How did you feel when it happened, when it was all over? Did it just peter out, or did Vic say "I'm off."
I have to say Vic dealt with it in a real unassertive way. He told me, but he didn't want to tell us. He kind of evaded it. He told me, but I don't think he actually told Rob to his face, probably because of guilt. Even to this day, Rob has held onto that. I did feel we were treated really badly, however with me it was "OK, I'll do something else." I didn't dwell on it, 'cos I could see the writing on the wall, what was happening.
It was a few years between that and The Professionals, so what sort of things were you involved in between times?
That's the thing with me; I'm either playing in a group or.... I didn't go off and join other bands. I went off and became a lifeguard. I thought, The Subway Sect have ended, and I was prepared for it because we were getting bugger all money, Phil. We had no money at all. So when it ended I thought right, like I do, I'm a bit of a survivor, I gotta do something else, so I found this lifeguard job, and I thought that would be really quite good in the summer. And I became a lifeguard. Believe it or not, that was a real asset in joining Steve and Paul when we formed The Professionals.
Actually it was hilariously funny. I'm good at sports. To this day, I'm not a musician. I met Steve and Paul in some studio, and Steve said "We're getting a group together, do you fancy playing bass?" I said "Yeah great". So I went along to Denmark Street where they were rehearsing, and Steve and Paul were saying "Do you know this song?" I'd say "Yeah I love that, love that Dolls song, love the Velvet Underground." They'd start playing it and every song I'd have to say "But I can't play it!" It was a disaster, and I could see Paul who was more serious... you could see him thinking, this bloke hasn't got a clue. However, Steve really loved my sun tan! He kept going on about this sun tan. After about an hour of not playing anything whatsoever, Steve said "You've got the job!" Paul said "hang on, hang on, we've got some other people to see", y'know, the sensible thing. But Steve was adamant, he said to Paul "No, no." and goes to me "Where did you get that sun tan?" He was more interested in the sun tan!
That's all thanks to your lifeguard job.
Yeah. It was great. At first I was doing my lifeguard job and I was playing with The Professionals. Even when we went on a tour of America I had a load of time off work which they gave me, because it was spring and it was an open swimming pool, Phil, so they'd give me time off in the winter and the spring, they were fantastic. So it worked out like that.
The story continues in parts two and 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
This feature is copyright to www.cookandjones.co.uk and the author and may not be reproduced without written permission.