Richard Vernon Interview

How did you come to audition for The One? Via the Melody Maker ad or by other means?

I had heard on the grapevine that Peter was looking for musicians and around the same time saw an ad in the Melody Maker. I remember a friend gave me Pete's number and I rang him for an audition date.

What were you doing before auditioning for the band and were you an Only Ones fan prior to auditioning?

I had my own band called Helter Skelter before auditioning for Pete. We were signed to Rough Trade, then later Island Records.
It was a great little band and had such potential, but we were screwed by having all the A&R people fired - we were left in limbo unable to make a second album, despite our first single etc receiving great reviews. I could tell the momentum was being lost and around the same time heard about Peter auditioning.
I was a fan of The Only Ones and for me it was a chance to develop musically and also to put behind me the disappointment of my own band getting bogged down in record company crap.

What were the auditions like? How many times did you have to audition and What was played?

The auditions were pretty exciting actually, I remember I had been told to learn Planet and The Big Sleep. I had done that and was quite comfy, but also tense and fired up - a nice kind of tension!
I thought Pete was a bit bonkers actually, but later I realised he was really shy meeting new people.
I was not sure how aware he was of details, but I know I only made one tiny error on one song and he spotted it immediately!!
We played for quite a while and started working on new material. He had 'The Shame Of Being You' pretty together and we worked on that.
It sounded great and I was really desperate to stay involved. I don't remember which other musicians were there, I did see the guitarist out of The Fixx (Jamie West Oram) packing up as I went in.
Miyuki was on keyboards already and I went with a drummer friend. We somehow got asked to be the rhythm section that day, although the drummer did not get the gig. We played with a few different guitarists and Jay was about the 4th that came in. I got called back a week or so later and we rehearsed more songs. I have no idea what though.

Aside from Peter and Miyuki, who was already in the band before you were selected?

No one.

What was your initial impression of Peter?

Physically he looked fine. I mistook some of his shyness for madness, but mainly my first impression of Pete was actually very accurate - he was slightly chaotic and really ill equipped to deal with every day life, but as an artist and performer he was simply brilliant. I had worked with incredibly average singer songwriters who had vast egos, whereas Peter was really easy and accommodating. He was utterly creative and would think nothing of changing whole songs to fit something one of
the band played. That was immediately apparent when I met him.

Can you remember what was played in the first band rehearsals? Mainly Only Ones material or new stuff?

It was all new material, the bulk of which ended up on Woke Up Sticky.

How did the band usually work? Would Peter bring songs in as home demo's? Were the band given creative freedom? Did Peter jam with the band much?

Peter would just play songs acoustically and we would join in or discuss an approach. We all had total freedom. Peter had a Dutch football approach - get people he trusted in and give them the freedom to express themselves. I think sometimes we overplayed, but equally we were all pretty aware of what was needed. I still feel that it was a perfect creative environment.
We did jam a lot and songs came that way too. I used to leave rehearsals exhausted, but happy!

What were your feelings on the Cultured Palate EP being released, considering they were considered to be just demos? What are you memories of the recording sessions and was anything else recorded during the sessions?

I don't remember them being recorded as demos. I'm pretty sure that we were recording our first release and knew it. I love that EP - again, some overplaying but some of it was bloody great and we were a new band finding our feet. Recording was easy and rewarding. It was pretty much self produced and I remember us playing really well and having a real laugh as well. The band was really unified and Peter was on top form. I recall all of us having a great time recording and discovering that Peter was a demon table tennis player - he had a sort of villainous Chinese serve, which I found really hard to return!

Woke Up Sticky is sometimes criticised for being overproduced. What were your thoughts on the choice of producer at the time and how do you think
the album turned out?

I think it was over produced - I liked it at the time, but now I feel it could have been better. We should have gone for someone who was more timeless, maybe a John Leckie type. Marc's sound and approach was very 90's and compressed. The band voted on the choice of producer and I was one of the ones that voted for Marc. With hindsight, I think it was a mistake. I remember Steve Brickle, the manager, was dead against it - but we outvoted him. Maybe he had a more objective view and we should have listened to him. Marc was a lovely guy, but he and Pete spent too much time out of it when we needed to be working and creating. It made the atmosphere too tense sometimes, and I don't have many good memories of making that album.
We had been arguing about money too and the tension was palpable sometimes. Marc was totally starstruck around Pete and that inflamed the atmosphere. There are great things on Woke Up Sticky, but I think that is despite, not because of, the recording environment. I listen to demos of some of the album songs and they were better. I do think it's a great album in places, but it could have been an all time classic - I really believe that.
Later we went in to a studio to record a cover of 'Does Your Mother Know?' by Abba. We went in, threw the track down and produced it ourselves. It was so easy and exciting. I remember thinking we would have easily been capable of taking that approach again.

What were your thoughts on the song selection?

I can't remember what didn't make it to the album. I think the song selection was good. Again - we all voted for what went on the album.
The song choices were right, the versions were not. Marc used to, quite rightly, get rid of unnecessary overplaying, but he was guilty of dictating way too many smart arse arrangements which added nothing to the songs and stunted the band.

What were the sessions for Woke Up Sticky like?

I don't have good memories of it. I could feel the band losing it's way, although there were great things happening sometimes. Peter would often not get to the studio till 4am, when we had all been waiting since midday or early afternoon. Jay and Steve were using the downtime to record Jay's solo material, which lent a slightly awkward air to proceedings too.
I could see why they were doing it, but it took away from the focus. I guess they would say we had plenty of spare time as Pete would be late anyway and they were right.
Peter did enjoy recording and I really enjoyed it when it was good, but can't help remembering times when Peter would have taken something and come to the studio and be vile to Steve the drummer, it was so awkward and embarrassing. Equally, he would do it to me and I would either tell him to fuck off or be genuinely hurt by his attitude.
He would then feel guilty and do his best to put things right. It would just be an emotional roller coaster and bloody hard work. Marc could have seen this and helped the atmosphere. After all, the environment is crucial to recording, but he was often too out of it and totally unaware.
It was not all bad though, I remember one night sitting up at 5am doing the bass on 'Nothing's Worth Doing'. I was using some weird old effects unit and I was sort of lost in the groove and moment.... I looked down to my feet to see Jay and Peter totally stoned turning all the knobs maniacally and looking really pleased with themselves. It was hilarious and I remember thinking "what the hell am I doing here?" I wish more of the recording had been like that though!

Is there much in the way of outtakes/alt versions from the sessions?

I don't think so. I have loads of demos of the songs pre the album but I don't think there was time for different versions of things during Woke Up Sticky recording.

A number of songs such as Mutilations In Space, Five Minutes To Midnight and those featured on the live album were never released properly.
Were tracks such as these ever recorded (demo or finished) by the band?

Wow - I can't remember any of those!!! I have no idea, sorry.

Do you have any recollections of tracks being played live/in rehearsals but not recorded at all?

There were lots of songs that came together after Woke Up Sticky. Too many to list, but I remember they were much more spiky and urgent, much snappier arrangements - it's a real shame we never got to record them.

When/where was the last recording session as a band, and what was recorded?

My memory is not great, but I think maybe when we went in to the studio to do the Abba song would have been the last time.

Tracks such as Hostage To Fortune, Smokescreen, Waiting For The Resurrection, Geordie Girls, Solid Ground, Man Of Steel, Troika, Close Enough To Touch have been mentioned, but weren't played live by the band. Do the titles seem familiar? Did the band ever work on these songs?

Hostage To Fortune and Man Of Steel I remember , Troika too actually, but I don't recall the others. Are you sure it's called Geordie Girls? That doesn't sound like Peter!

Do any gigs stick out in your mind as being particularly memorable or enjoyable? And do any stick out as being particularly bad even?

Nearly all the gigs were enjoyable, it was where any arguments or business nonsense was forgotten. When the 5 band members were alone playing, it was always a joy. None of the gigs stick out as special, because so many were fantastic. Because of that, I only remember a few bad ones.
I remember in London at one of the gigs, when Pete was incredibly late for the show and I had a huge row with him as we were walking onstage. We walked on not speaking and Pete was obviously annoyed and upset, as was I. The set list was arranged, but he ignored it and went straight into a gentle, controlled intro to Another Girl Another Planet. None of the band looked up, we just all came in on cue and were off and into the song perfectly. Pete and I looked across at each other and smiled. I could have killed him 5 minutes before, but just playing together, doing what we loved doing sorted it out. At that moment, I was totally happy and really close to him. That's how the band felt, I was either really sad or really happy - not much in between.
I remember telling Alan Mair the story once in a club in Soho and he totally understood. He told me to hang in there - that the art, the good times, were worth the bad times. He was right.
I remember so many hilarious moments that I should write a bloody book, but one time in Japan sticks out. We had been told that work permits could be hard to get, so we were to travel to Tokyo as tourists. The promoter told us to come through customs separately and not draw attention to ourselves. Peter, Jay and Steve had sat together on the plane and Jay especially had been drinking gently but consistently since leaving the U.K. After a 13 hour flight, he was spectacularly drunk and tired.
We arrived in Japan in a heatwave, Jay decided he needed 5 minutes sleep, so just lay down briefly on a baggage trolley. Peter could not handle the heat, so stripped his shirt off, leaving him topless and wearing a pair of pink, slightly flared trousers. Even then, Pete was shockingly thin and with his shirt off in a conservative country like Japan, there were literally hundreds of people around the airport staring at him. I could not wake Jay up, so had to wheel him through customs as he was.
The promoter was waiting for us and having asked us to be discreet, I watched his face sink as I wheeled through an unconscious velvet hatted guitarist, alongside Peter, who looked like a topless Belsen victim in pink flares and sunglasses.
Strangely though, it all felt normal at the time, as did dancing to a hairdryer with a Japanese politicians daughter in a hotel room. That's another tale though...

Jay and Steve formed The Genteels to kill time during the long bouts of inactivity in the band. Did you go off playing with anyone else whilst The One were still an ongoing concern?

No, I was pretty content just doing the band. Jay especially was ambitious to be a singer songwriter and have his own band. At the time, I was annoyed and felt he should have contributed more to The One, but with the benefit of hindsight and experience I think he had to do what he had to do. I don't blame him at all, although it was not for me.

Over the course of the band, what was it like working with Peter?

Overall, Pete's attitude was great. I wish we could have not argued about money and I wish he would have not messed us around so much by missing rehearsals, radio sessions and interviews, but otherwise it was a great time. He is one of the most creative people I have ever worked with and he encouraged me so much as a musician. I really developed into the player I wanted to be with him. He had a huge love for music which was always present. Around Woke Up Sticky, his attitude was not great, but that was a relatively short period in the bands life. Later on, his attitude was good again and I think the bands best times were at the beginning and end. We started to rehearse differently towards the end. I remember Jay and Miyuki were increasingly and understandably fed up with Pete's absences and would not always rehearse. so me, Steve and Peter would work things out and the other 2 would show later and put some glitter on it. It accidentally worked really well, but the band ended soon after. I look back on my time in The One as a really happy, fulfilling time. It was 70 percent good, 30 per cent nightmare, but I would happily do it all again.

No end date was ever given for The One. When would you say the band actually ended? Straight after the Amsterdam gig?

I knew that the band was over as we rehearsed for the Holland show. It was where we started and I knew it would be where we ended. I said this to Steve Hands recently and he was surprised and said he thought we would carry on, but I just had a feeling.

Was any one person the main instigator behind ending the band? Did Peter wish to continue? Or was it not even that definite?

The last gig I remember we played brilliantly. It was a great show and later a load of strippers appeared - no idea why. I had a lot to drink and still worry that there are some photographs of that night.
There was no instigator for the end of the band - it was just circumstance. The Genteels had a record deal, Pete was pretty unreliable, Miyuki had run out of patience with sitting in a rehearsal room waiting for Peter and I had run out of energy trying to keep people enthusiastic. Peter did want to carry on as did I - I think Steve did too.
Jay and Miyuki would have carried on with firmer management of Peter maybe? I don't know. I remember a really good conversation with Peter on the tour bus on the way back from Holland.
He was really enthusiastic about another album, so was I and we chatted for miles about the possibilities. He was really happy, I was too, I remember, but I don't know if I was deluding myself.
On one hand, I was seriously excited about recording, but I knew it was over and was really sad about it.

What were your thoughts on the disintegration of the band? Do you think thing's could have been handled differently?

No, I don't think there was a way back. Earlier in the bands career, I think a different manager would have handled Pete differently. Steve Brickle was and is a lovely guy and very capable business man, but he was not an experienced manager and did not quite get it right with Peter. We really needed Lou Reed or Iggy Pop's manager - Pete would have seemed easy by comparison!! Artistically, we needed more understanding, perhaps just being put in a studio alone for a fortnight after those Holland shows?
I bet we would have recorded the best music thus far, I don't know. By then, Steve Brickle had run out of patience too. I can't blame him - maybe another 2 years would have seen us send him to an early grave!

What have you been up to since The One?

Well, I went through a horrible divorce which was a low point in my life, but eventually came up for air. A chance meeting with The One's old tour manager led to me joining The Mission in 2002 and I've been doing that for the last 7 years. I had lots of preconceptions about the band, but they turned out to be a fabulous rock'n'roll band and have been a big part of my life since playing in The One. We played 4 nights at Shepherds Bush Empire the week after The Only Ones did, and I thought of Peter doing his thing on the same stage. I've been writing some film music recently too and really enjoying it. It's all a bit disciplined, but I like it and am looking forward to doing more.

Nothing was heard of Peter between The One ending and the surprise Only Ones reunion, bar a handful of guest appearances with The Libertines and Love Minus Zero. Did you keep in touch with Peter at all and were you surprised at the news of The Only Ones getting back together?

I was not surprised about The Only Ones, I met Alan and John once or twice and they were really passionate musicians, I don't think you could keep them away from each other. It can only work with Peter being lead by someone like Alan, and I always felt Peter trusted him deeply. That reminds me that I had only heard Peter's versions of stories about him being mistreated by The Only Ones. I used to think they were bastards, but then I heard their side of things - hilarious. They deserve each other..... that's partly a compliment though!
I did see Pete after the band split, but not as much as I would like. Life seems to keep getting in the way. I really miss our conversations about music and especially football. I don't even know what he thinks about Arsene Wenger. I'm gonna ring him and find out...

Interview © 2009
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